"She's alive! She's alive!", is what we imagine project car owner and professional Formula DRIFT driver Dai Yoshihara was saying when the turbocharged K20C1 Honda engine fired up for the first time inside of his 1986 Toyota Corolla GT-S. The AE86 made its debut at our pre-SEMA Toyota Supra reveal in downtown Los Angeles at Bowls L.A., followed by four days of oohing and aahing inside the Turn 14 Distribution both at the 2019 SEMA Show.
After Las Vegas, the widebody hachiroku was shipped east to Indianapolis where it was put under the microscope at the annual PRI tradeshow. That was in December, now it's June and just like many of the wildest SEMA builds we've seen across the years, this Type R-powered Toyota never saw the light of day for the longest time—until now.
Note: This is Dai's personal project car, which is pretty damn cool considering I've known him for over ten years and haven't seen him take on a big build outside of his professional drift cars, which don't really count, anyways.
AE86 HACHIROKU ROOTS
Most of us know Dai for his achievements in Formula DRIFT as one of the longest-competing drivers in the series, as well as the 2011 championship when he piloted a 533hp LS-powered Nissan 240SX (my have times changed!). In 2014, he moved on to the Subaru BRZ that he continues to drive today. What many folks don't know is that in Dai's early career (in fact, before he even had a career) and prior to moving to the states, he learned how to drift in the winding touge roads outside of Tokyo in an AE86 Sprinter Trueno. He tells me the hachiroku was the perfect car to learn in and that it already had a lowered suspension and limited-slip when he bought it, plus, it only cost him 200 bucks!
As a teenager, Dai was also slaving away at an ENEOS gas station where he stockpiled disposed tires to reuse for drift practice (guess it paid off!). It's been over twenty years since Dai was flicking his original AE86 around and a part of him was missing that feeling of drifting something so raw, balanced and lightweight. So, when the opportunity arose to pick up this particular Corolla GT-S from good friend Chris Marion of KW Suspension, it was all the motivation he needed to begin creating something that would pay homage to the car that made it all possible.
DESIGNED FOR FUN, NOT FOR TROPHIES
First things first: nailing down the game plan. Since this AE86 won't be doing any competitions, Dai didn't feel the need to go "too crazy". It had to make a statement at SEMA and PRI, but ultimately it just had to feel quick, nimble and light, also capable of handling both drift and grip duties. By no means was it intended to break any lap records or go toe-to-toe in tandem battles, which gave Dai a bit more creative freedom.
PARTNERS IN CRIME
It's important to note that this whole thing wouldn't have happened without the help of Eimer Engineering and Evasive Motorsports. Evasive was responsible for the vehicle's teardown and ripping out the neglected 1.6-liter 4A-GE, plus supporting the build with things like the carbon interior and those sweet EVS Tuning GTLM side mirrors. Chris Eimer is the backbone behind Dai's pro drift cars, so it was only fitting he did all the heavy lifting and custom fab work when it came to the AE86 project.
During the months leading up to SEMA, it's important to note that this car didn't look like much (you can check out the full build recap from our friends at Front Street Media). Everything had to be restored, changed out, or upgraded. I won't go into too much detail, but some of the main tasks included modifying and rewelding the factory crossmember, installing a 7.5-inch rear end, replumbing the brake and clutch master cylinder, cutting up the inner wheel wells, fabricating a competition-spec rollcage and preparing the spare tire well for a fuel cell. Countless other little jobs and details had to be done but we'll get more into that in the final feature later on.
SPRINTER AERO WITH PANDEM KIT
The factory hatchback aero (or what was left of it) along with the pop-up lights were ditched for the JDM Sprinter body kit, bumpers and taillights. Dai installed Levin-style headlights customized with Honda Accord Euro R projectors, a cool little modern touch. As for the widebody, it's a Kei Miura-designed Pandem kit. Reminiscent of the TRD N2 time attack cars of the past, the Pandem styling looks right at home on the AE86. According to Dai, Miura also laser-scanned the car to ensure the most accurate fitment possible. A one-off custom carbon fiber hood finished the exterior before it was painted Honda Championship White.
Inside, you'll notice a contrasting blue which is in fact, Cavalry Blue borrowed from the Toyota TRD Pro color palette. There's also a custom shifter and hydraulic e-brake installed (drift ready, of course), as well as limited edition Sparco seats and carbon fiber throughout.
CHASSIS READY FOR ABUSE
Suspension and braking weren't overlooked with KW building a custom set of three-way adjustable coilovers while big brakes came by way of StopTech. Techno Toy Tuning lent a hand by making a custom panhard bar and trailing arms. It's worth reiterating that Eimer Engineering did everything in its arsenal to ensure the entire chassis was reinforced and ready for track abuse.
CIVIC TYPE R ENGINE SWAP
Now I saved talking about the engine bay for last because, well, that's where all the suspense is... Dai had zero interest in leaving the 'ol 4AG in there, or swapping in a more typical S2000 engine or SR20DET. He decided to break the mold and be the first to pluck the 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder out of the new FK8 Civic Type R. The K20C1 VTEC engine hit all the right notes: fits in the bay snuggly (albeit mounted longitudinally) and brought with it reliability you know you can expect from a Honda. Dai's particular engine is also a crate motor that's often supplied to open-wheel race cars in the Formula 3 and Formula 4 feeder series. It comes spec'd just like the production model Civic Type R with 306hp and 295 lb-ft of torque (from 2,500 to 4,500rpm). Is that enough power? Well, considering the stripped down AE86 is around 800 or 900 lbs lighter than the current FK8, I think it'll do just fine.
IT STARTS, NOW WHAT?
Dai explained that the Type R engine and S2000 six-speed manual transmission were mounted securely in time for SEMA, but there were still some missing components to sort out. At PRI, the "AE86 R" was more or less complete minus the wiring and fixing some sensor issues. It took another 4-5 months before that was solved, and the car finally started for the first time, which is where we are today.
Let's be clear, this isn't like throwing in a B18 from an Integra or K-Series out of an RSX. The Type R's K20C1 is a brand new, direct-injected, turbocharged engine that few have cracked (Think MoTeC). Dai enlisted the help of Link Engine Management and over the last month they've been working together with Eimer Engineering on figuring out the proper mapping for the car. One of the biggest challenges is that Link is based in New Zealand, so they've only been able to test and tune the car via e-mail. Sound like a headache? It is, and it means the tuning process is going slower than usual. Also, due to travel restrictions, it's been near impossible for the Link team to fly out to California and work on the car in person; however, I'm told after continued trial and error with this remote tuning process, all that is about to change soon.
That's where we're at today... I wish I had more exciting news to share and Dai echoes the same sentiment; however, it's a promising sign to see the AE86 R finally start up and see that all of the pieces are meshing well together outside of the ECU tune.
REMEMBER WHEN DAI...