You all know the story… Cult classic, motorsport underdog, unbeatable tofu delivery vehicle, old school touge drifter’s holy grail and DIY modifier’s delight; the AE86 in all its guises – Corolla Levin or Sprinter Trueno, 3-door hatch or 2-door coupe/notchback – is a true legend in the world of modern performance car classics.
It’s a beautifully simple little car which totally deserves the love and respect it receives around the world. From Ireland to New Zealand and everywhere in between, enthusiasts have been building, racing and refining this car in unique ways since its inception 40 years ago.
Perhaps the AE86’s straight edges and uncomplicated design lends itself to open interpretation for aesthetic customisation, but one thing’s for sure – collecting rare body parts is a cult obsession in itself, and there’s a huge aftermarket production market to boot.
And it’s not just the cosmetic elements that people obsess over. The AE86’s best attributes – its factory-fitted 4A-GE engine and lightweight, beautifully balanced rear-wheel drive chassis – are easily tuned and modified, meaning these cars are well suited for a range of different motorsport disciplines.
When it was new, the AE86 was entered into the European Touring Car Championship and took victory over the mighty BMW M6. It even beat the Ford Sierra RS Cosworth in the British Touring Car Championship – not bad for a Joe Average Japanese coupe.
But despite its circuit racing (and rally) pedigree, when the ‘Hachiroku’ comes up in conversation, drifting is what usually comes to mind, and for good reason too.
While Daito-san definitely doesn’t shy away from the cutting the rear end of his Levin loose when the occasion allows, that’s not what this car is about. It was during a brief foray into the Japanese drift world back in the late ’90s, that Daito-san experienced the AE86 chassis’ grip potential for himself, something that led to him to build this car for circuit-based racing.
So what better place to shoot this AE86 than at the track, specifically a little circuit called Sports Land Tamada in the mountains north of Hiroshima.
When it comes to modifying Levins and Truenos, Daito-san and E.Prime are right up there with Japan’s best. And as you’ll soon see, not only is this AE86 modified for maximum performance, the execution and finish is of a show level too.
Amazingly, Daito-san put the car (and others) together in a workshop no bigger than a corner shop, and he made a lot of the parts himself to boot.
These include the half-cut rear bumper, the FRP hood, trunk, doors, front and rear fenders, and the custom carbon front diffuser and canards. I love how the side-exit exhaust sprouts out of the left-side fender and the tip contours with the three rib lines.
On top of Daito-san’s handiwork, the Levin also features a front bumper from NA Works, an Osaka-based company synonymous with the AE86, custom-modified Mercury side-steps, HPI side and rear acrylic windows, EC Works mirrors and a massive rear wing from Garage BB, albeit with custom carbon fibre supports and side plates. The paint is Subaru’s Violet Blue Mica.
The Levin usually rolls on Work Equip40 wheels, 15×9.5-inch front and rear (with -9 and -40 offsets respectively) wrapped up in 225/50R15 Yokohama Advan A050 semi-slicks, but Daito-san wasn’t going to miss the opportunity to chuck on a pair of Work Meister CR01s with budget street rubber and chuck the car around a few corners.
That blue and gold combination is quite handsome, but then I may be a little biased…
The AE86’s interior shows the refinement of decades of ownership. Everything is clear, simple and well laid out, and there’s no unnecessary clutter or unwanted weight. A custom 16-point roll cage, single Bride Zeta III bucket seat, custom aluminium dash, ATC Rallye steering wheel and an Ultra 10,000rpm tachometer are highlights. Of course, it wouldn’t be a proper JDM race car without a few Defi gauges for good measure either.
Under the vented hood you’ll still find an iconic 4A-GE, but with an extra letter thrown in…
The engine is built around a 4A-GZE block from a factory supercharged AE92 GT-Z, but one that’s now specced with a Toda Racing crankshaft and pistons and AE101 connecting rods. For extra strength, Daito-san has fitted an engine ladder frame (AKA block girdle). Up top sits an original AE86 big-port cylinder head with HKS cams and custom-painted Toda adjustable gears, which is secured with a Kameari Engine Works metal gasket.
All this work is in aid of the real power-making piece of the puzzle – a Mitsubishi TD05-20G turbocharger on an E.Prime custom manifold, with boost control via an HKS wastegate and intake charge cooling from a Trust FD3S RX-7 intercooler.
There’s also a custom intake plenum, Koyo aluminium FD3S RX-7 radiator, Setrab engine oil cooler, a modified oil pan and a Link G4+ Atom engine management system.
With a lot more power than what the Levin’s original engine could muster, the stock T50 5-speed transmission and driveline was never going to cut it. Surprisingly though, Daito-san didn’t go for an upgrade from the Toyota parts bin. He took a more obscure route, ultimately finding a solution in an R32 Nissan Skyline GTS-t 5-speed gearbox featuring a naturally-aspirated Silvia gear set and strengthening work by Takata Techno Service. The revised driveline also features an OS Giken clutch and a Cusco 2-way LSD in a MA46/47 7.5-inch rear end.
For suspension, the Levin benefits from Bilstein coilovers and TRD arms, while the brakes feature Endless 4-pot callipers and 294mm discs up front, and a 270mm disc rear setup with Endless pads all round.
Remember that cool-looking side pipe? Well, to get there the custom exhaust system routes through the firewall and cabin. I’m not exactly sure why the large pipe is not boxed in with some kind of heat shroud, but if the furnace-like temperatures reported by Daito-san after a few laps of the circuit are anything to go by, I’m sure that’s now on the list of things to do.
And that’s the beautiful thing with the AE86 – like any modern classic, there’s always something to improve, refine and upgrade. The amazing thing is, that as technology and race experience continue to develop, these old cars will only get better.
Almost four decades after the AE86 first hit the showrooms, the tuning community continues to embrace this staunch little car with pure joy and admiration. Here’s to another 40 years of the legendary Hachiroku.
Oh, and stay tuned for our next E.Prime feature car, a very special machine you can read all about later this month…
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