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1984 Toyota Corolla Levin GTV - Back To The Future

With revs approaching five digits per tacho sweep, second gear became third, third quickly became fourth and fourth was swapped for fifth.

Brad Lord
May 9, 2011
Photographer: Alastair Ritchie

The unmistakable sound of a highly-strung, naturally-aspirated four-cylinder engine resonated across the valley. With revs approaching five digits per tacho sweep, second gear became third, third quickly became fourth and fourth was swapped for fifth. And then it appeared. Not the Atlantic series open wheeler one could easily imagine as the source of the aural symphony, but an AE86 Corolla meticulously engineered with full Toyota Racing Developments N2-spec mechanical underpinnings, and 1980s period-correct TRD racing livery. Someone pinch us.

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The year could easily have been 1985 the location could have been Fuji Speedway, Japan. But it’s not. It’s 2011 and we’re on the other side of the world, in New Zealand, meeting a man that has devoted thousands of hours to recreate a JDM legend.

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Steve Wilcock, the Corolla’s creator and custodian, has been infatuated with Toyota’s iconic AE86 for the best part of two decades. It all stemmed from a co-drive in a rally-prepped machine back in the late 1980s a chance meet that was quickly followed up by the purchase of his first AE86 road car. But that was just the beginning. Steve may only (his words, not ours) own seven examples at present but all told at least 30 examples have passed through his hands over the years. It was always only going to be a matter of time before he decided to engineer his ultimate tribute to the lightweight, rear-drive, cult-classic.

In Steve’s eyes the TRD N2 machine is the ultimate embodiment of the AE86. Drifting may have given the car’s popularity a massive boost in recent years especially outside of Japan but it was on the racetracks of its motherland, in the one-make N2 series where the venerable Toyota originally earned its racing stripes in the mid to late 1980s.

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Steve’s project began in 2005, firstly with a research and parts accumulating phase. With only a few photos of TRD’s own N2 Corolla Levin and not a lot of information, building a faithful replica was always going to be a tough ask. But Steve already had two key pieces of the puzzle: a copy of TRD’s rare Sports Modification manual from 1985 (which mapped out every single modification needed to be made to an AE86 chassis to bring it up to N2 spec), and a genuine TRD N2-spec (aka TRD Formula Atlantic-spec) 4A-G engine.

Finding the right engine was the crucial part, says Steve, Without the authentic thing it really would have been a real struggle to build the rest of the car. The 4A-G in question had originally been fitted in a Swift DB4 Formula Atlantic-spec open wheeler (hence the raised ends on its cam covers) and was initially engineered in the US. We can’t be exactly sure who built it, says Steve, but going off the information we have it was either Hasselgren Engineering or Loyning’s Engine Service so it’s the real deal anyway. The local Kiwi owner of the DB4 had purchased the racecar for the chassis, but had no need for the engine and had sold it to one of Steve’s friends. He had it kicking around for a few years, and eventually decided that he wasn’t ever going to do anything with it. So I was very lucky!

A complete rebuild ensued. The cylinder head remained as it was, but a new block had to be sourced. Not because there was anything wrong with the original, but because its factory mounting lugs had been sliced off for it to fit in the Swift chassis. A fresh 7-rib block was prepped to N2-spec and fitted out with a brand-new set of TRD forged pistons that Steve found Toyota New Zealand had sitting on a backroom shelf in its parts warehouse, gathering dust.

The car itself is built around a ’84 JDM AE86 GTV, which Steve stripped right the way back to a bare shell and media blasted. There weren’t many imperfections, but those that did show up were hammered and filed back into original shape. Steve bent-up and fitted the multi-point rollcage himself.

To accommodate the wide TRD N2 body kit a lot of metal had to be cut out of the rear fenders. But thanks to the aforementioned TRD literature offering step-by-step instructions, that job was made a little easier. The fiberglass kit is replica molded from a genuine, unused TRD set that Steve managed to locate and purchase. I spent a lot of time on the internet finding all of the parts that the local TRD dealers couldn’t source new for me, says Steve. The TRD 5.1 crown wheel and pinion came from Manila, the TRD intake came from the States, and I even managed to track down a set of rare TRD Tosco rims in Indonesia. To be honest, I really don’t think that I would have been able to build the car without the web.

Once the meticulously restored shell was painted, Steve began the laborious task of piecing the Levin back together. A 360-degree rotisserie made the job a whole lot easier, especially when it came time to bolt up all the new suspension components (read: everything from the TRD N2 recipe book) and the new brake system, which these days revolves around Wilwood 4-pot callipers and 10.75-inch rotors both front and rear.

The red, orange and black vinyl graphics were scaled to size from photos, and the TRD stickers, which adorn the bodywork in a number of places, were also screen-printed especially.

Steve collected a few sets of wheels as the build progressed, including a set of deep-dish SSR Formula Mesh and the aforesaid Toscos. Neither ended up being exactly what he was after. At 15-inch the SSRs were too big and the TRD rims were simply too narrow. That prompted Steve to commission local Kiwi custom wheel-making company 41 to build him a couple of sets of its Rev wheels one set for slick tires and the other for intermediates. With look similar to that of SSR MKIIs, they’re well in keeping with the car. Measuring 13x8-inch (-20 offset) on the front-end, and 13x9-inch (-20 offset) out the back, they’re the perfect fit, too.

Inside the Levin, Steve has taken a slightly different route, mainly because the Toyota is actually being used for competitive racing. I didn’t really want to compromise safety, hence upgrades like the wrap-around seat, he says. There’s a wide use of carbon-fiber too, from the custom dashboard, to the console switch panel, to the bespoke door cards. A Stack digital display monitors the engine vitals, until the day Steve manages to track down a full set of old school TRD meters.

Although the 86 is still in its fine-tuning stage, it’s already shown plenty of worth. Power-wise it’s putting down a dyno-proven 200 horsepower at 10,000rpm, at the rear wheels. That’s a little more than the 215hp at 9,500rpm (at the flywheel), the TRD manual shows, most likely thanks to the TRD injection, which is used instead of carbs for tune-ability.

There are a few AE86s that Steve regrets that he sold over the years, including a rare and totally original New Zealand-new Corolla GT model.

But Steve’s not making that same mistake twice especially give the amount of effort (and financial investment) that’s gone into this one. Having just been homologated by New Zealand’s motorsport governing body as a classic’ and therefore eligible to compete in various classic car-racing events around the country Steve plans to do as much with the car as he can. With what is essentially a brand-new AE86 N2 racecar in his garage, who can blame him?!

Tuning Menu
1984 Toyota Corolla Levin GTV
Steve Wilcock Hometown Hamilton, New Zealand Occupation Construction Company Owner

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Engine Toyota N2/Formula Atlantic-spec 4A-G 1.6L DOHC 16-valve inline-4; TRD N2-spec block, high-compression forged pistons, rods, steel billet crankshaft; ported/polished cylinder head, 320-deg/10.6mm camshafts, adjustable cam gears, fuel injection and dry sump; N2 valvetrain; Bosch 460cc injectors; custom carbon-fiber plenum; K&N air filter; Jaz fuel cell; fuel surge tank; Pro Comp fuel pump; RS*R stainless steel headers; 2.5-inch stainless steel exhaust system; Dytech muffler; Link G4 EMS; Barnes dry sump pump; Earl’s oil cooler kit; Koyo aluminium radiator; Samco hoses; Cusco engine mounts

Drivetrain Toyota T50 5-speed gearbox; TRD close-ratio gear set, bearings, synchros, short-shift kit, limited-slip differential and various TRD crown wheel & pinion ratios; diff oil cooler; Tilton diff oil cooler pump, twin-plate clutch, custom flywheel

Footwork & chassis TRD adjustable dampers, front coilover race springs, rear race springs, sway bars front/rear, adjustable front castor arms, adjustable rear arms and adjustable panhard rod; TEIN adjustable front camber plates; Tilton pedal box; Quaife steering rack; alloy front strut bar

Brakes Wilwood 270mm rotors front/rear, 4-pot calipers front/rear, stainless brake lines; D2 Racing hydraulic e-brake

Wheels & tires Front: 41 Rev alloys 13x8" 20 offset; 215/50R13 DOT-R tires; Rear: 41 Rev alloys 13x9" 20 offset; Kumho V700 235/45R13 DOT-R tires

Exterior TRD N2 fiberglass body kit, N2 replica livery; Lexan windows; front fiberglass under-tray

Interior Multi-point rollcage; Racetech 4009HR FIA seat; Racetech 5-point FIA harness belts; OMP suede steering wheel; custom carbon-fiber dashboard; Stack digital display, carbon-fiber switch panel; carbon-fiber door cards; Tilton pedal box

Thanks You I would like to thank Ivan Udy from Udy Automotive for his skills as an engine builder, fantastic engineering ability and logical thinking; my partner Julie for putting up with a life consuming build; and finally my country delivery mail man who has over the last few years delivered nearly a whole AE86 to me though the post!

By Brad Lord
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