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The Return of El Father: 1985 Toyota Corolla GTS

Updated: Jan 18, 2023

Sometimes a break can be the best thing that can happen to a relationship, they say distance makes the heart grow fonder, and that seems to have been the case for Peter Diaz and his 1985 Toyota Corolla GTS. In 2009, this particular car saw an engine failure that took it out of commission, and then life took priority as Peter and his wife focused on their careers, buying a home, and supporting their growing family. The AE86 had to wait 13 years to return, and in that time so much had changed in the car scene Peter and his friends grew up in with Team Toyminator. Nicknamed “El Father”, it has helped influence other AE86 in the northeast to start diving into the JDM accessories and original parts that were only seen in Japanese drift videos and west coast builds featured on the pages of Super Street at the time. Peter, his Team Toyminator crew, and his special Hachi Roku are one of my top personal influences for being involved in this scene, so it’s an honor to present his build and share his story.

New Jersey like many other northeast states has the best and worst of every season, this turns into plenty of time to work on project cars over the winter, and bumpy roads that have been abused by the elements. What the weather brings in parts of the country like this is also custodian-like caretaking of cars that are truly loved, and that’s where the tale starts for Peter and his Toyota Corolla GTS he purchased in June of 2000. The beginning of his journey into cars started around the age of 12 when his cousin purchased an older Toyota Corolla that he learned how to wrench on, helping replace a cracked dash and an assortment of other parts over time with other friends who would come visit. One day at the age of 15, Peter’s cousin borrowed an AE86 and took him for a drive, that was the first time he could recall that car standing out to him and he instantly fell in love. At the age of 16 and with a license to drive, he pursued owning his Toyota Corolla GTS and getting enough money to buy his first example.

In those days, an AE86 was an uncommon car but not coveted like they are today so Peter was able to own a couple before finding his forever car, although it needed some bodywork and a fresh coat of OEM red paint. The builds would start there, in November of 2000 he saw an accident that left him having to do some more repairs and drive around with a two-tone red and primer paint job for some time while building the reputation of Team Toyminator. In 2002 Peter started to take his car to the next level, painting it in the current shade of Acura Fire Pepper Red Pearl it has now, redoing the interior, and fitting a very rare set of 5Zigen Keichi wheels by SSR. The AE86 also went through some sound systems which were typical of show cars at the time, as well as a few 16 Valve 4AGE engine swaps and even a vertical door conversion; suffice it to say the car was a test bed for an evolution of car styles throughout the years. Starting in 2006 the car was slowly transitioned over to its current form, less show car and more of a vehicle that featured one-off, JDM, and generally hard-to-find parts, it was this new ethos that fueled the passion for Peter’s AE86 and brought him success. He started with a respray of the paint and bringing back the interior to OEM form, he upgraded the sound system, and added a set of Watanabe R-Type wheels, and Modiride carbon fenders and hood; this setup earned him an award for Best Toyota and Best Driven at Hot Import Nights Englishtown in 2009. Sadly, shortly after this event, the engine blew and the AE86’s hibernation began.

Usually, hibernation means gathering food and supplies before you take a deep sleep, but in the automotive world, Peter did better by gathering parts on the side while he tended to his family and career over a 13-year span. The original plan was to install a 3SGTE, but while gathering everything needed for the swap he realized it was going to require more fabrication, more money, and possibly change the balance of the car from what it was; this is why the 20V 4AGE Blacktop was chosen. The idea behind the build over all these years was to present the best modified AE86 Peter could muster up, good enough to be honored at shows but also good enough to drive on the streets and meet with friends, keeping the bond of the community strong within the classic Toyota niche. This meant only the best parts, brand new if he could find them, and the best people to work on them to ensure his plan would come together, he could’ve sold it for Bring-A-Trailer dollars but knew he wouldn’t be able to replace the memories past or to come.

The exterior is what sticks out the most, upfront is a JDM Kouki Trueno bumper with a Zenki front lip molded into it and OEM Toyota fog and fender lights. The side profile is met with JDM side skirts that are color-matched, Cashew Sports side view mirrors, and JDM rain guards. The rear of the car sees a JDM Zenki rear bumper and JDM Kouki taillights, most famously referred to as redlines. Attention to detail is important on any build and the exterior has some tastefully shaved pieces like the side marker lights, rear keyhole, and rear wiper; all of which streamline the lines of a car Peter and many other Hachiroku aficionados find so attractive.

During the transformation to its current form, Peter made some upgrades to the pieces that help connect it to the ground while also keeping other pieces the same but refreshed. Familiar are the 15x8.5 inch -6 offset Watanabe R-Type wheels wrapped in Kumho Ecsta rubber that is attached to the hubs by Watanabe lug nuts. Behind those wheels are a set of Techno Toy Tuning Big Brakes with braided stainless steel lines up front and Stoptech slotted rotors with Hawk pads in the rear, all of which are connected to the vehicle by Greddy Type S coil overs. Other suspension upgrades include Prothane bushings throughout, zinc-plated hardware, powder-coated OEM suspension parts, Techno Toy Tuning Outer tie rods, Battle Garage adjustable strut rods, Cusco pan hard bar, and a Flo’s quick ratio manual steering rack conversion kit. Although this particular car will likely never see track duty, it was important to match the performance of the 4AGE 20V swap by adding a Tomei 1.5 way LSD and a Weir Performance 4.3 ring and pinion gear set.

When you open the hood of Peter’s AE86 you’re met with a selection of some of the finest bits needed to make the most out of the 4AGE engine platform. The engine was dropped in on its power-coated subframe with Cusco mounts and JSP aluminum brackets, along with an SQ Engineering front mount distributor kit and SS Works water line kit making it ready for use in the AE86’s rear-drive layout. The front of the engine features Techno Toy Tuning Aluminum pulleys and a Koyo radiator with a Ukiya86 radiator cooling plate, HPS silicone hoses connect to the engine while a Circuit Motorsports overflow tank keeps excess coolant where it belongs as Mishimoto dual electric fans keep the heat at bay. On the intake side, SQ Engineering 70mm velocity stacks help make for beautiful induction music as well as help give more response from the RS-Chita bottom mount accelerator conversion. On the exhaust side of the engine just under the Techno Toy Tuning master cylinder heat shield s a 20V to 16V header adapter for the TRD 4-2-1 header that connects to a Magnaflow Hi-flow cat and Fujitsubo cat back exhaust. Power from the bolt-on ready 20V makes its way out back through a TRD lightweight flywheel and Exedy stage 1 clutch kit for reliable trips to wherever Peter wants to go. Dressing up the rest of the engine bay is a set of zinc-plated hardware, Flo’s braided fuel line kit which also adds reliable fuel delivery, and a JSP aluminum battery tie-down since details always matter.

While the focus for those attending a car show or seeing a vehicle on the street is the exterior, the driver’s seat and its surroundings are vital to the person behind the wheel, and to admirers alike. When you open the driver-side door you’re greeted by a pair of JDM Kouki Trueno Apex front seats, a Toms Racing steering wheel, a shift knob, and pedal set that sit gently above a Phase 2 Motortrend floor mat. The other details for driver controls include an NRG quick-release hub, Cusco spin turn knob for the e-brake handle, and a Techno Toy Tuning short shifter. An older car doesn’t necessarily have to be void of in-car entertainment or comfort, when Peter is driving he can select his favorite throwbacks from his Pioneer head unit and listen to the sounds generated by the JDM Carrozzeria light-up speakers that are installed on the rear decklid; all of this with a drink held snug in his JSP cup holder. The back half of the interior is almost untouched outside of the rear deck lid as OEM rear seats are seldom used, however, a set of JDM rear quarter glass sun shade inserts help keep things a bit cooler, and in the hatch Techno Toy Tuning panels add a level of protection and spruce up what normally is a place to throw your stuff.

In the many years it took Peter to collect parts and attend to his life, things had changed. First was the members of the car-connected family known as Team Toyminator, people like Mitch, Steven, Leo, and Johnny all left too soon which in a way helped motivate bringing back this car as each had lent a hand at some point to get it where it is today. The other changes had to do with the quality of builds and appreciation of the AE86 chassis that has reached levels of the muscle cars rabidly coveted by older generations when Peter was growing up. The community built around these classic Toyotas also influenced the return of “El Father”, with the goal to hang out with the Team Toyminator crew like it was the old days he called up some of his closest friends to help get this legendary AE86 back on the road. He shared his gratitude for people like Craig with whom he dropped off his 20V 4AGE for finishing touches, and his cousin Genyi for lending a hand cutting, drilling, welding, and staying up at all times of the night to push this car to the finish line. Talented friends like Dave who did the wiring, and his cousin Junior for helping source parts, giving advice, motivating, and lending a hand. Long-time friends like paint specialist Ben, and Remi helped put on the finishing touches. Of course with the growth of the community came the massive value of retailers like Battle Garage and Techno Toy Tuning among others, to who Peter was grateful when seeking OEM, JDM, and newly made parts for his build.

Luckily for Peter, things fell into place, he’s back on the scene and sharing his passion through his car at plenty of events all over the east coast. We may all have big plans and for one reason or another are deterred or have something prevent us from making it happen, but here is a list of events attended with this AE86 that was just completed this summer: Tuner Evo in Philly. 86 Day by Machine Lush Co., Heavy Hitters Car Show, Legends Concourse curated by Prime NYC at Gridlife at Lime Rock, Wekfest East, Fitted, Clean Culture, Paws and Petrol, and the Tri-State Rollas season closer. Between all of these events is the hard work to just get there, the miles driven, detailing, plenty of tire spray, and the sharing of a lifelong passion with his children. The AE86 may be comprised of metal, plastic, rubber, and other materials; but the stories that surround them through their dedicated owners create stories you can read about or see when a car like this is displayed to everyone.

Words: M.Garcia


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