Spend enough time featuring and driving modern performance cars and you begin to develop a somewhat skewed outlook on things. This is not necessarily a bad thing. After all, we can't really complain about either how fast and effectively the automobile is evolving, or how the aftermarket scene is currently flourishing. Sit your butt down in a car from the 1980s and the general ambience will further emphasize what a big jump has occurred in the last twenty years. So what the hell am I talking about? Well, if that aforementioned derriere happens to land in a Toyota AE86 Levin, like the one seen here, a few definite characteristics will not only shine through but really make you wonder. Are 600-plus horses, so commonly found in tuned cars today, really necessary to have fun behind the wheel?
We met up with Miguel Varella-Cid of New EraImports.com and NewEraParts.com, which specialize in selling cars and parts straight out of Japan. He is, without question, car crazy and has recently finished building one of the most complete street-going hachi rokus we have come across. As Miguel explains, he wanted to create the ultimate AE86 that would have to impress equally on the street, on the circuit, and on the occasional drift day. Not an easy task to say the least, but with these objectives in mind he went straight to Techno Pro Spirits in Japan, a shop with plenty of experience tuning these little Toyotas.
It was decided to spec the engine up to 200 hp (remember this is a 1.6L engine), which would guarantee ample performance for the 900kg-or-so hatchback. The first-generation engine the car came with was already fitted with some high performance carbs but this didn't fit in with Miguel's plans so it was replaced with a 4A-GE engine from a later model AE92. Techno Pro Spirits paid a lot of attention to the head, which was gas-flowed and fitted with a race-spec valvetrain in the form of TRD N2 springs and Toyota Yaris (yes, the tiny city car) one-piece bucket shims. Wild 304-degree Tomei cams are used, which allow for a maximum 11mm lift, perfect for getting as much air and fuel as possible into the cylinders. The crankshaft is taken from the five-valve A111 engine and is mated to AE101 connecting rods, which in turn are connected to 82mm special high-compression Techno Pro Spirits pistons. An 0.8mm thick head gasket is used to raise compression to the staggering 11.5:1 needed to develop the 125 hp/liter required to reach the horsepower goal.
AE101 individual throttle bodies are used with aluminum trumpets to make sure every cylinder gets an equal amount of air. A special baffling system makes sure hot air stays away from the intake, but for the time being no form of air filter is used. The cam covers (both left-units with individual oil caps) are painted in an eye-catching red crackle finish matching the hue of the high-performance ignition leads. An SW20 MR-2 fuel pump feeds the four 327cc/min Denso injectors while fuel and ignition maps are managed by the Freedom ECU, which is set to cut the engine out at 9250 rpm.
Chassis rigidity isn't much of a selling point for these hachi rokus, especially the hatchbacks, which do away with a closed rear structure. As such, Miguel was very happy that his car was already fitted with a Cusco bolt-in roll cage, which is padded in soft foam. For a car that is over 20 years old this Levin is in outstanding condition with hardly any rust spots and exceptionally sound bodywork.
The suspension consists of special TRD adjustable dampers tuned to offer the best possible performance when pushing hard. Also from TRD are the bushes, while Cusco adjustable pillow-ball tie-rods, rear anti-roll bar, and strut bar keep things nice and tight. The Nobby Booth front strut bar deserves special mention as it not only looks superb with its carbon main bar, but with three fixing points it really stiffens up the front structure.
Since Miguel loves to drift, his Levin is fitted with steering knuckles from a GT-V, which add a little bit more lock to the steering, helping place the car in more extreme and controlled slides. A TRD two-way LSD (with 4.778:1 final) has been specially shimmed to lock earlier and makes sure the perfect amount of traction is shared between the rear wheels for optimum performance and, of course, lurid power slides.
The gearbox is next in the cards for this hachi roku with a full TRD close-ratio gearset being fitted. Miguel is currently deciding which ratios would work best for his application; probably one of the hardest choices to make on such a well-prepared car. Pick too short a gear ratio and you will be hitting the limiter early, too tall and you will risk running out of puff at the wrong moment.
As mentioned earlier, the body is in great condition, which left Miguel the easy job of selecting body parts like the J-Blood vented carbon bonnet, the Budou Nouki front bumper, the Global FRP rear hatch, and the Jubiride rear bumper. To complement the exterior, beautifully finished, old-school 15-inch Watanabe alloy wheels with a polished lip were chosen. Sticky Bridgestone Potenza RE-01Rs give impressive grip while Federal tires are swapped on the rear for drifting sessions.
Seeing where you're going at night is extremely important and this is precisely why a bi-xenon headlight kit has found its way into the Levin's front projectors. (Although they would be of more use fitted to the front fenders, as this Levin just loves to hang the tail out!) As if these weren't enough, additional driving lights have been fitted behind the back front grille ready to provide additional illumination during those dark togue runs. The rear light cluster has been swapped with a late-model Trueno item for a more modern look.
The interior has been kept very simple with purposefully chosen parts. Hard to miss are the two red Bride Exas III racing bucket seats and the Nardi Classic steering wheel, a must on any drift car. The quick-release Rapfix II Prodrive boss lets you easily remove the steering wheel, allowing larger-than-average-framed individuals (ahem, like me) a bit more space to maneuver into the bucket seat. As we all know from experience, it takes more than a Dukes of Hazzard slide to settle into a race seat in a jiffy.
Gone are the stock instruments, replaced with a custom-made Defi cluster consisting of a large rpm center dial, oil and water temperature readouts on the right and an oil pressure gauge on the left. The center console retains the stock A/C controls and at the bottom an A'PEXi Rev/Speed Meter GP has the job of displaying speed as well as other useful ECU readouts. The GReddy multi-switcher and Defi control units are just below. An ARC titanium shift knob and carbon-colored leather complete what is a very welcoming interior.
So you may be wondering what this little beast feels like from the driver's seat. Well, nothing short of amazing would be the most condensed response one could come up with. Twist the key, give it a bit of gas, and the 4A-GE sparks into life with a race car-like bark. If you are cranking the engine while it's stone cold you have to hold the revs up a few seconds until the idle settles at an almost unbelievable 1000 rpm. As you may recall, the cams are quite extreme so the idle has that unmistakable unevenness, hinting to passers-by that this is by all means no ordinary Levin. The upgraded clutch is very easy to use and the Levin feels extremely easy to maneuver around the city.
Since everything behind the front seats has been removed there is very little in the way of noise insulation, so it can get pretty noisy in there but to put it bluntly: Who the hell cares at that point?
I will never forget the first empty stretch of road I found. I floored the loud pedal in second gear at around 3000 rpm and just let it all happen. As the rpm needle hit 4000 on the Defi gauge, the little 1.6L began to provide some decent acceleration but nothing could have prepared me for what happened next. As that fast-traveling needle hit the 5000 mark the quad trumpets really started to sing away, by 6000 the motor really cleared its throat and began to pull like a train. At 7000 rpm it truly starts surfing the high power curve and propels you to the next set of traffic lights with urgency more common to turbocharged cars. I hit the 9250 rpm limiter in what seemed like a split second and was surprised to discover that the power delivery gives no signs of trailing off even above 8600 pm, where peak horsepower is developed.
The acceleration is one thing, but it's the noise that really gets you. When kept on boil this high-revving motor feels almost electric; those throttle bodies, together with the Toda Power muffler generate the most complex concoction of frequencies that are guaranteed to make every hair on the back of your neck stand on end.
The handling equally impresses, with electrifying turn-in and front end bite thanks in part to the overall light curb weight of around 900 kg, while the rear is there to be played with. There is no masking the fact that a solid rear axle lives out back as it always makes its presence known when backing off mid-corner, but get on the throttle and all can be forgiven as the rear end feels directly under the control of your right foot. You can tiptoe around and use the available grip to drive smoothly or input that extra bit of power and come out of every corner with handfuls of opposite lock.
Unlike modern machinery, this Levin makes you feel like you are part of the car, a more intense driver-machine interface, and thus a more natural feeling balance. There is no traction or stability control here, no 4WD, no ABS, nothing that would blunt what a car has to do, which, of course, is to communicate with its driver. The only aspect of this AE86 that didn't completely captivate me was the braking. It just didn't feel as reassuring as most kits now available for modern cars, but we can't have everything right? So next time you need to change cars don't automatically assume big power equals big fun, because like the old saying goes: The best things come in small packages.
Base engine: Late model AE92 4A-GE
Gas-flowed cylinder head and piston surfaces
3-angle cut intake valves, 2-angle cut exhaust valves
N2 Racing TRD valve springs
Toyota Yaris 1-piece bucket shims
Tomei Power Procams (304 degree duration, 11.0mm lift)
Valve timing: In ATDC 102 degrees, Ex. BTDC 104 degrees
TRD 0.8mm head gasket
82mm diameter Techno Pro Spirits racing pistons
AE101 connecting rods machined, lightened, and balanced with oil hole processing
AE111 crankshaft with mirror polished journal surfacesTRD bearings
Machined AE92 oil pump with 3mm shim to enhance hydraulic pressure
Techno Pro Spirits uprated and (10mm) lowered engine and gearbox mounts
AE101 throttle bodies with 70mm bells
327cc Denso injectors
SW20 GT-S fuel pump
11.5:1 compression ratio
9250 rpm rev limit
Twin left-side cam covers refinished in crackle paint
Jubiride lightweight alloy pulleys
TRD competition-spec ignition leads
Techno Pro Spirits custom equal-length 4-into-1 stainless manifold
Stainless catalyst replacement pipe
Toda Power 60mm 2 silencer stainless racing exhaust
GREX/Trust 13-row oil cooler with custom carbon-fiber guide and remote oil filter housing
GReddy alloy top hose
Oshumi racing radiator and 1.3 bar TRD radiator cap
Twin 12-inch Billion electric fans with 90 degree thermo switch and override switch for drifting
Laile alloy radiator shroud
Custom-built large capacity oil catch tank with one breather from each cam cover
Techno Pro Spirits oil caps
Oil: 5W50 Trust F2 fully synthetic
All engine work, installation, and mapping completed by
Techno Pro Spirits, Japan
Late model rear axle (thicker driveshafts and larger bearings)
TRD 2-way differential specially shimmed to lock earlier (4.778:1 final drive)
TRD paddle clutch
Toda Racing 3.7kg flywheel
TRD quick shift linkage
Oberon fully synthetic racing LSD and transmission oils
TRD front coil-over suspension with adjustable caster plates
TRD adjustable rear shock absorbers and springs
Jubiride 20mm alloy upper spacers
TRD competition bushes
Adjustable lateral rod
Cusco Vacanza rear anti-roll bar
Cusco pillowball uprated tie rods
GT-V steering knuckles
Cusco rear strut brace
Nobby Booth carbon and alloy strut brace
FC3S RX-7 4-piston front calipers and discs
Endless CC-X performance pads (front), Project drift spec pads (rear)
Cusco brake master cylinder brace
DOT 4 brake fluid
Wheels & Tires
Original RS Watanabe 15x8.5 (0mm offset)
Bolt-on 15mm spacers front and rear
Bridgestone Potenza RE-01R 195/50-15 tires
Alloy wheel nuts
Global FRP rear hatch with rear wiper removed
Jubiride rear bumper
Budou Nouki front bumper
Billion carbon cold-air duct (custom fitted to bumper)
J-Blood carbon, vented bonnet
Trueno late-model rear lights
Standard skirts and fender trims with carbon-fiber stone chip shields
Privacy rear glass
Front licensse plate mounted on sprung hinge shrouded in carbon fiber (retracts flat at over 40 mph)
Driving lights mounted behind the high-flow grille
HID 5700 headlight conversion for high and low beams
Custom Defi instrument panel inside original binnacle
displaying: rpm, water temp, oil temp, oil pressure complete with LEDs for warning lights, original fuel gauge, and Defi
A'PEXi RSM with Ultra mechanical electronic speedo output conversion kit
A'PEXi G Sensor for Rev/Speed Meter
Original A/C retained
Webasto electric glass sunroof
Bride Exas III bucket seats with Bride seat rails
Custom-made floor mats
Carbon/leather gearshift boot
Nardi Classic steering wheel with quick-release Rapfix II
ARC titanium gear knob
Cusco racing pedal covers
J-Blood carbon sill trims
Pioneer head unit
GReddy Multi Switch Controller
Willians Racing Harness