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My AE86: More Than Just Metal

Sharing my personal AE86 Toyota Corolla project comes with plenty of mixed feelings. Having owned the car for just a tad bit over 14 years, I have had a driver's lifetime of experiences behind the wheel and also under the car itself in my pursuit of creating my own dream car. The true history of this car's journey with me goes beyond driving it or working on it, it's the connections with people I have made over those many long days wrenching or having fun, particularly the absence of one of those people hurts severely.

Currently my flat tan 1985 Toyota Corolla SR5 sits in my garage here in sunny Florida, a relatively low mileage Lexus 1UZ from a Lexus LS400 sits in the engine bay, attached to a W-series transmission from an older Supra, and inside the interior is getting prepped to fill in some holes in both the firewall and the floor. It's current state is how it has sat for over a year now since it left the confines of Artillery Motorsports in Lakeland, FL when it was under the watch of my good friend Steven Schelmety. The day I called AAA to bring my car to my own residence was honestly heart wrenching because it signaled the true end of an adventure that wasn't finished, my acquaintance of 16 years, turned friend, turned brother was taken away from his wife, family and friends on February 15th 2019. With his sudden passing came unfinished business with my own vehicle and many others that he tediously worked on day and night in shop, fabricating new parts, repairing old, and massaging the ideas of his customers into reality out of the metal they rolled in the door.

The true unfinished business came outside of the shop however, the many things Steven would never get to do for the first time or ever again resonated with me as I contemplated selling the car I came to be so passionate about as well as trying to come to grips with my own mortality. Part of the inspiration for Teq Digest's inception was bringing to the forefront the Toyota based builds that could come through his shop as well as featuring businesses like his that kept the old school Toyota scene alive. Devastated in so many ways, I knew that my good friend would not quit but honor me if it was him in my shoes, so that's what I decided to do, and have slowly come to do in the following months. Much work is left to be done but I have surrounded myself with amazing people in this car community over the years who have recommended places to get the things I'm too unskilled for finished, it is just another chapter in the journey to making this dream come true.

Thank you for reading some of the hardest words I have had to put together in a while, but let me continue with a description of the dream this metal is coming together for. I want a track oriented car, something I will drive on the weekends here and there, but not try to live in, I don't have a clue where a 1UZ powered Corolla fits in competitively but for now it makes the most sense for what I want. Reliable power is what I want, the old built 4AGE had it's own problems, the Webers were never tuned right, the trip south from the cold northeast made rubber and gaskets dance and break almost every time I started the car, it was too much for less than an estimated 170 horsepower I would make if it ever ran right. I was happy with the handling however, my "JDM" homemade coilovers had a fresh set of Koni AGX strut inserts and the old springs were still functional as were all of the goodies I installed from Techno Toy Tuning. My main problem was that I wanted to drive the car as often as possible, the slow car that was fun to drive fast was a far distant memory.

So enter the 1UZ and exit the built 4AGE with it's TRD headers, HKS exhaust, HKS cams, Arias pistons, and all the other now hard to find parts installed over the years. The 1UZ makes more of less 250-270 hp at the flywheel in stock trim, but it's double the valves and cylinders of the engine it replaces, but it fits, and the weight difference is said to be less than 100lbs due to it's all aluminum construction. But even if it's 80lbs, that's a lot to load in front of a car that stripped out is close to a ton in weight, so what would anyone with both time on their hands and a great fabricator do? Move the engine as far back as possible, which is what Steven did for me. Custom mounts meant that the firewall would probably have to be cut open and resealed in order to fit the new Cube Shifter in the stock location of my old shifter assembly, I was ok with that, I'm not a purist with this car, because it's purely mine.

Swapping the drivetrain on an older Toyota or any car actually, involves a bit more than just plugging in one harness to another after shoehorning the engine in the bay. The engine's ECU will be upgraded to a Fuel Tech F400 which can control fuel and spark on all 8 cylinders while displaying it all on an integrated screen that can be placed anywhere in the cockpit. The headers on the engine had to be customized as well, I opted for a set of OBX headers for a 3UZ engine as it features the same pattern as the 1UZ, this was custom fit to fit around the steering shaft and is still in the process of being finalized. Intake-wise, a Ford Mustang throttle body will be fitted with an adapter plate by Xcessive Manufacturing that still has to be welded to the stock intake manifold, more air means more power. More custom parts created by niche manufacturers were added to make things work, an Akina Motorsports 1UZ to W-Series transmission bellhousing was installed along with a 3SGE adapted flywheel from Xcessive to bridge the gap between an engine that never came with a manual to one of the easier to source 5-speeds in the classic Toyota market. Further down the driveline is a yet to be sorted driveshaft that has to be shortened a little bit more in order to fit the 1979 Celica Supra rear end that adds the ability to withstand more power while giving my SR5 a LSD in a package that fits almost like stock under the car.

Of course handling continues to be addressed as does braking, the spring rate on the front coilovers was increased to help carry the extra weight, Techno Toy Tuning top hats add camber adjustability and I'm currently waiting for a Whiteline Front Adjustable Sway Bar to arrive in order to tear the front end apart and paint it all. Out back my trusty Techno Toy Tuning 4-link suspension is employed to sort out my rear differential's geometry while the same company also supplies their big brake kit to fit Wilwood competition spec rotors, calipers and pad at each corner of the car. The choice in the big brake kit honestly lied in the difficult time Steven and myself had rebuilding the dated rear calipers, those kits are almost completely gone and hard to find, and I wanted serious stopping power up front with the expected increase in weight and speed I should be seeing soon enough. At each corner are a set of wheels that might be controversial to some purists as they are not of Japanese origin, they are a set of Centerline Convo Pro rims wrapped in Toyo TA1R tires, these 15 x 9 and 15 x 10 inch wheels should hopefully provide enough contact patch to keep things fast, fun, and safe.

There are a bunch of other parts that I haven't listed that will be installed in due time in later articles, but I first wanted to introduce my 1985 Toyota Corolla SR5 (AE86) to all of you fellow enthusiasts. This car is more than a car at this point, it is practically a part of my family and it's metal contains memories that have already passed and can only be remembered, the goal of course is to enjoy this vehicle by creating more memories and sharing that with you...the reader. I hope you all enjoyed this post as next time I plan on updating everyone with a freshly painted interior and engine bay as well as showing off the fully completed headers, so stay tuned!


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