Low on power (even lower on creature comforts), cursed with the dreaded drift tax, and increasingly tough to find decent OEM parts for, the 80s-era Toyota Corolla has quite a bit working against it in terms of a project car. But guess what? It doesn't matter, because Toyota's lightweight, front-engine, RWD workhorse carries one of the most loyal followings of any Japanese vehicle, not only from past and present owners, but enthusiasts in general. Its storied history, underdog aura, and representation of an era that seemed hellbent on producing fun-to-drive vehicles rather than technological marvels that regularly "borrow" design language from competitors is enough to figure out why these cars are so highly sought-after some 30+ years later.
You don't have to remind Myke Adams, owner of this drift-ready 8-6 and if we're being honest, he can probably school you on the ins and outs of the 80s icon being that he's owned and worked on quite a few over the years. This version carries a little more emotional baggage being that it's an actual Levin model that he imported from Japan. More accurately, he imported it on his own and without any help from a 3rd party service to handle all of the red tape and countless documents that come along with it. Admittedly, that probably wasn't the best move, as he states, "the process I did myself was stressful. I recommend not importing a car yourself unless it's something you LOVE." Well, Myke definitely loves his car and at the very least, he holds onto a sense of pride in knowing he made a dream become reality all on his own, even with the headaches associated throughout the lengthy process.
Less than 6 Degrees of Separation
This Corolla wasn't found through an auction site or a random IG for sale ad, but was the result of reaching out to a friend overseas and explaining that he was in search of an 86 to bring to the U.S. "After chatting with my friend in Japan, he said he would just look around for one. I honestly didn't think I would find one I could afford but he was able to find this through a friend and it was just fate." The car was in no way perfect, but that's to be expected from a chassis with this many years on it, not to mention this car had put in plenty of work with its previous owner. "It was a very well used track car and the previous owner drifted for many years on legendary tracks out there!" Once it was in his hands, Myke assured himself that he wouldn't go overboard as he had in the past, adding, "I wanted something comfortable enough to daily drive and to be able to track it too. I started cleaning the car and adding little bits here and there."
On the outside, the deep paintwork that covers the top half of the car is in excellent shape and offers a sharp line separating it from the silver-wrapped lower half. Playing host to RunFree bumpers, sideskirts, and the brand's 30mm extended flares, that bottom section offers the sort of bulk and sharp angles needed to add some attitude to the otherwise innocent factory lines. Of course, the wheel and tire package, based on 15x8.5 front/9.5 rear Work Meister S1 with meaty Toyo Proxes R888R,also plays a part in the Levin's attitude adjustment.
Small Details Make a Big Difference
The aero and wheels that accompany a healthy drop courtesy of custom coilovers are easily spotted by just about anyone, but there are finer details, like the Zenki front grill center garnish, LED headlight conversion, Redline taillights, and carbon fiber rear garnish, for example, that require closer inspection. The small changes that Adams regularly makes to the car are enough to update and personalize its overall style without going so far out that its unmistakable nostalgia is lost. Bold and purposeful, its presence now is a huge departure from its 80s debut.
Prior to taking ownership of the Levin, the previous owner had swapped out the original engine for a factory supercharged 4A-GZE. A custom intake manifold was bolted in place, fed by an HPI cold-air intake and on the exhaust side, you'll find a custom down pipe attached to an HKS exhaust manifold and a complete Takumi Reinhard exhaust system. It's not a powerhouse by any means, but the addition of boost increases the fun factor substantially, as Adams notes, "The supercharger gives it great torque at lower speeds making it easier to initiate drifts on Japanese-style tracks with more turns and tighter angles. I don't really plan to modify this set up. In this day and age, I just enjoy driving it more than making it look more aesthetically cooler to look at, unlike my previous set ups." No fancy polished surfaces or color-coordinated hardware - this bay is strictly business, providing a significant jump in power compared to the factory mill while maintaining that legendary 80s Toyota reliability.
Just as it would look in Japan, the cabin features a set of mismatched Bride seats - a black fixed back Zeta driver's bucket, and an adjustable red Brix II for a passenger. A multi-point roll cage surrounds both occupants and just behind the Vertex deep dish wheel is a factory gauge cluster plucked from a 1st gen. MR2, the same source the boosted engine came from. Look around and you'll spot a number of aftermarket gauges that lend a hand in keeping tabs on what's happening under the hood.
It's this sort of well-rounded, firmly grounded build type that doesn't get nearly enough credit. Where the wildest aero, biggest power numbers and most outlandish use of wheel and tire packages often reigns supreme, a build like Myke Adams' Levin stands out in its utter simplicity and timeless feel. But again, you don't have to remind him, he's all too familiar and his attachment to the mid-80s icon is iron-clad. He closes with this, "To drive a Corolla hard is unlike anything else you will ever drive. Driving without power steering or ABS makes you the complete controller of whether you live or die in that go-kart feeling car. You can feel every bump in the road - it makes it that much more fun to drive. Everyone thinks that it's an easy car to drive and entry level vehicle for drifting when in reality, it can be the opposite - low power and twitchy steering make it tricky. It makes you push yourself to drive harder and faster and these days I've found so much joy just driving on canyon-like roads and the mountains near my area. Just driving the car makes me love it more every time. I'll live the hachiroku life forever."