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Project AE86

Having Fun On A Budget

Robert Choo
Oct 4, 2002

Everybody has their own method to the madness when it comes to having fun. Some people like to spend time with friends, while others enjoy hanging out at the beach. Then, of course, there are the couch potatoes that like to sit in front of the tube.

My idea of fun involves anything to do with cars. A perfect weekend would be installing a turbo kit or swapping out an engine. Unfortunately, this sort of fun costs money and when you have seven cars in your fleet, the "fun" can really be felt in the wallet.

However, the 1985 Corolla GT-S (AE86) is an exception to this rule. If you have kept up with my "Tech Scene" column, you know I first picked up a red '85 Corolla hatchback from fellow technical editor Gary Castillo. I bought it with a blown engine for $750.

It came with Tokico Illuminas shocks, TRD lowering springs and header, Goodridge stainless-steel brake lines, Cusco height- and camber-adjustable pillow-ball mounts, LSD rear-end, HKS lightened flywheel and roll center blocks. The bottom-end of the engine was totaled with several cracked pistons. The head was ported and had TRD valve springs, but was in need of a rebuild.

Searching the local engine depots, I found a low-mileage, high-compression red-top engine for $350, which I immediately installed with a new aftermarket clutch I purchased from the local auto parts store for $100. By the end of the day, the engine was in, ready to be fired up. However, the starter wouldn't crank over. Once a rebuilt starter was installed, the engine fired up on the first try. I topped off the radiator with water and it was off for the test drive.

I fell in love with the responsiveness of the engine. The used engine was in better condition than I could have wished, easily singing to its 7500 rpm redline every time.

Coming back from my test drive, I experienced for the first time how easy it was to drift the AE86. As I downshifted and braked, I gently turned the steering wheel and the back end of the Corolla came loose. As I accelerated, the Corolla performed a perfect drift around the turn--without even trying. I was amazed.

When I went to register the Corolla, I found, to my disappointment, that the vehicle carried a salvage title. I was traumatized. Although I enjoyed driving the Corolla, I didn't want to invest all my time and money into a salvaged vehicle.

Fortunately, a friend was able to locate another Corolla, this time a coupe. I bought the silver AE you see here for $2,500. It came equipped with 15-inch SSR mesh wheels, along with a new set of TRD lowering springs, TRD shocks, TRD four-into-one header, Tein adjustable pillow-ball upper mounts and a set of stock GT-S wheels and tires the previous owner had purchased.

I didn't need the parts since the red hatch already had all the upgrades I needed, so I sold the parts (minus the TRD header, of course) on for $700. The $1,300 red Hachi-Roku was sold to a good friend for $1,200.

However, I took all the goods out of the car, including the LSD rear-end which is now on the silver Corolla. I was fortunate enough to pick up a set of brand-new front and rear JDM bumpers for the Corolla, which cost me $600. I also purchased a Cusco shock tower brace from GReddy for $150. So far, I have only spent about $2,500 on the Silver coupe, if you include the profits made from selling the unneeded parts and purchasing the bumpers and Cusco brace--not bad for a car with full suspension and rolls on some old-school 15-inch SSR wheels.

Currently, the powerplant uses the factory panel air filter and header. The exhaust system is a muffler shop special, utilizing an old HKS muffler section.

The leakdown on the engine was great, but the compression on one of the cylinders was low. Three of the cylinders checked in at 145 to 150 psi, while one was 125 psi. My guess is the sealing of the valves is poor. On the Dynojet, the Corolla registered 86.9 hp and 82.9 lb-ft of torque to the wheels--not bad for an engine that only makes 112 hp at the flywheel and has 140,000 miles on the odometer.

As mentioned in last month's "Tech Scene," the engine will be rebuilt before any performance parts are added to ensure accurate power figures are produced from the products we plan to install. The aforementioned TRD header and a fully ported and polished cylinder head with stiffer TRD valve springs are already installed. It should be exciting as the Corolla comes together with new performance products. Stay tuned as we perform some drastic power improvements on Project AE86.

Budget Road Racer
Used Engine-$350
Atermarket Clutch-$100
Aftermarket Starter-$75
Sold Red Hatch-$1,200
Purchased Silver Coupe-$2,500
Sold Uneeded Parts-$700
Purchased JDM Front and Rear Bumpers-$600
Purchased Cusco Shock Tower Brace-$150
Grand Total-$2,500

By Robert Choo
118 Articles



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