Hold your breath, ladies and gentlemen, for you are in the presence of greatness: quite possibly the finest tuned Toyota AE86 to ever grace the world…
The niche verb ‘to eighty-six’ is a useful one to have in your vocabulary. It means to get rid of something or someone, and it’s one of those age-old terms whose origins have been all but lost; some claim it came from 1930s numeric restaurant slang, where number 86 meant ‘we’re all out of it’. Others say it came form Prohibition-era New York City – specifically a bar called Chumleys, which had a separate exit at 86 Bedford Street for the punters to leg it out of when the feds arrived; when there was a raid, they’d 86 the customers. Whatever the truth, it’s a handy phrase to know.
Of course, to petrolheads like us, that number has an entirely different meaning. ‘Eight six’ translates to ‘hachi-roku’ in Japanese, and that’s the common nickname of the fifth-generation Toyota Corolla, model designation ‘AE86’ (hence the nickname), launched in 1983.
This was an eminently popular model, not just with mainstream punters – although that’s invariably the case with Corollas of all generations – but with the tuner fraternity too. Why? Well, aside from the rakish array of options available (coupe, saloon, fixed-headlight Levin, pop-up headlight Trueno), it offered a frankly magnificent platform for tomfoolery. Lightweight cars with rear-wheel drive will always be entertaining and, back in the early 1980s, the allure of disc brakes, a four-linked rear and an LSD were undeniable.
And the jewel in the crown was the 1.6-litre 4A-GE engine – a highly tuneable fuel-injected twin-cam, with a variable intake system and revs for days. Throw in a generation of budding drift aficionados, and the hero status of cult manga series Initial D, and the hachi-roku’s place in the pantheon of all-time greats was assured.
An important model, then. So when boss-man Jules got on the blower to tell me about what he reckoned was ‘the best AE86 in the UK’, you can imagine the spike on the excitement-o-meter. The car’s owner, Conrad Bradley, took the editor’s compliment with a smile. “The best in the UK?” he pondered, stroking his chin thoughtfully. “That’s very kind. But – and I don’t like to brag – I’d say it’s more like the best in Europe.”
Clearly this is a car worth knowing about. And we’re going to wade in with a massive spoiler right away, because there’s a detail about this sparkling build which is really going to irritate the purists. You see, that revered 4A-GE twink is such an integral part of the AE86’s legend, people see it as sacrosanct, as untouchable. But you won’t find that engine here. Lift the lightweight carbon fibre bonnet (a J-Blood item sourced by Newera Imports, incidentally), and what you’ll find gazing malevolently back at you is a 2.0-litre BEAMS engine.
What’s that, you may ask? Good question. Essentially, it’s one of the best production engines ever crafted, in terms of quality and durability. Designed in conjunction with Yamaha and manufactured by Toyota, the name stands for ‘Breakthrough Engine with Advanced Mechanism System’. Designed from the off to be very light, it features as standard a forged crank, aluminium alloy pistons, titanium valves and, in the case of the 5th-gen ‘black-top’ engine you see here, a semi-drive-by-wire throttle. It is, in short, bloody clever.
But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Why did Conrad choose to build an AE86 in the first place? “I originally bought this car, a 1987 AE86 Levin GTV, as a track car to have some fun in,” he explains. “I had watched a lot of videos on YouTube and they looked like a good base for fun – lots of rpm, rear-wheel drive and tail-happy! I was always into cars and bikes, from the time I got my licences at seventeen, it just spiralled from there. For some reason I was never satisfied with a ‘standard’ product, so that is when the modifying bug crept in. You could say it all just got out of control.”
Indeed we could, in the most glorious way. Conrad was clearly of the correct mindset here, to do the whole thing properly, so he didn’t just grab the first eighty-six he saw – he put the groundwork in to ensure he had the best possible base.
“I looked at about eight or nine AE86s,” he recalls, “but the majority of them were pretty rough on the bodywork, modified badly, or were just abused as drift cars in a previous life in Japan. I was actually looking at a different 86 when I spotted a clean white example lurking in the corner, sat on 14″ Watanabe wheels. Further investigation revealed that it was rust-free, had a full interior, and also had a couple of other subtle mods, including strut braces and a fancy rear diff. When I asked if it was for sale, the answer was ‘no’ as it was the guy’s personal car. He tried to sell me the other one that I’d originally come to look at, but I was no longer interested… so eventually he caved in and let me buy the white one!”
See, persistence and belligerence always pay off. And with the iconic and implacably endearing new toy firmly ensconced in the Bradley fold back in 2006, Conrad wasted no time in setting the thing to rights. Although it’s fair to say that, in those early stages, he possibly didn’t quite envisage just how in-depth the whole thing would get.
“The only plan back then was to fit a rollcage to keep me in one piece should the unthinkable happen on track,” he explains. “I didn’t want the usual Jap-style dash dodger bolt-in affair, I wanted a proper multi-point in there. On that basis I arranged with a fabricator to take the car for a ’cage install and set about stripping it – and this is where it all went wrong! I ended up removing the interior but also at the same time the little 1.6 screamer engine and gearbox; I was thinking ahead here that something with more power would do a better job to fill the hole.” You’re already getting a sense that this is no ordinary build, right?
“The car went to the fabricators and the ’cage install commenced. The longer it was away, the more I started to think about things like suspension, brakes, wheels, what engine to fit, and how to make it unique – and that’s where it progressed from a simple ’cage install to a full strip and rebuild.”
The work involved ended up being pretty damn serious. The bare shell was seam- and stitch-welded for strength, all the seam sealer and noise-reduction material removed, and the strut towers were reinforced and linked to the custom-fabricated rollcage. The front crossmember was then modified to take the BEAMS engine – for this was now the motor of choice – and, as a consequence, the tunnel was enlarged to allow the 6-speed Altezza transmission to squeeze in.
The levels of custom work are really quite remarkable: the most obvious thing you notice is that the wings have been modified to resemble the box arches of the 1980s (think Integrale, Quattro, or even Nova), and there’s plenty more going on behind the scenes, from the superfluous holes welded up in the bulkhead, to the fuel filler that’s been relocated behind the number plate.
What’s most sensational, however, is that Yamaha-derived motor. 210bhp at the flywheel may not win you an argument in the pub, but it’s a huge amount to put into something this light and nimble, and besides, it’s far more important to make power you can actually use than to just chase the numbers. Conrad’s been very smart here – check out the spec list and you’ll see what a colossal amount of effort has gone into this engine. It’s fully blueprinted with TODA pistons and cams, oodles of head work, ITBs, intelligent fuelling and management, and it revs until it sound like it’s going to explode… then happily revs some more. It really is incredible.
The chassis is equally mind-blowing, in order to make it so usable and fun – Techno Toy Tuning architecture joins TRD coilover inserts and ARBs, and there are meaty AP Racing 4-pots at either end. The exterior’s a geek’s paradise of obscure JDM accoutrements too, including the Run Free bumpers, J-Blood fibreglass tailgate and even a JDM windscreen… because it’s all in the details.
That, essentially, is what characterises this build. It’s an absolute riot of detail. No stone has been left unturned in the pursuit of flawless perfection. “It gets some pretty good reactions,” Conrad grins. “The plan was always for it to be road-legal track car, along with taking it to a few shows. But the build thread alone has had a quarter of a million views – 99% of people love the finished results; there were a few sceptics when the wide wings were shown, but once they saw the finished article they were convinced that I’d made the right decision.”
Indeed, every decision made throughout this inspirational build was clearly ‘the right decision’. Is it possible, in fact, that this AE86 is slightly too good…?
Improbably, that may well actually be the case. “Yes, the car is just too nice to use on track,” Conrad shrugs. “It is literally one-of-a-kind, and I dare not risk using it for fear of trashing it! So – with regret – it’s now up for sale at Appreciating Classics, and I’m hoping it’ll go to a collector who will look after it.”
Incredibly then, after this twelve year epic to create the ultimate hachi-roku, Conrad’s having to eighty-six the project. But what a wild ride, huh? He’s given the world its finest AE86, and we should all be very appreciative of that.
TECH SPEC TOYOTA AE86 LEVIN GTV
J-Blood carbon fibre bonnet with Aerocatches and custom bonnet stay, Run Free front bumper, rear bumper and side skirts – modified by Rukus Customs to fit front and rear wide arches, J-Blood fibreglass tailgate with integrated rear spoiler and Aerocatches, OEM steel doors, JDM windscreen, Plastic4Performance polycarbonate window kit (side windows and rear tailgate screen), late-model AE86 slotted front grille, TRD grille badge, APR door mirrors, Toyota Corolla LEVIN rear tailgate sticker, Red Line rear lights and number plate surround, paintwork by Rukus Customs, shell completely stripped, seam sealer and noise reduction material removed, seam- and stitch-welded, chassis rail strengthening added, front strut tops reinforced, strut towers linked into main rollcage, front slam panel removed and replaced by aluminium tube, custom aluminium inner wings, servo and other holes welded up in firewall, fuel filler flap welded up – fuel filler relocated to rear slam panel behind number plate, front and rear wings modified with 1980s-style flares
2.0-litre 3S-GE BEAMS (from Toyota Altezza SXE-10), Pete Whitfield built and blueprinted engine comprising: TODA forged pistons, Eagle lightweight forged rods, ACL race main and rod bearings, Toyota OEM gasket kit, TRD head gasket, TRD sump and oil pickup, Pete Whitfield head work comprising port shaping, chamber work, valve seat angles and assembled with Ferrea valves, TODA valve springs and retainers, TODA race-spec high lift, high duration cams (dual VVTi removed), TODA adjustable cam pulleys, TODA timing belt, individual throttle bodies, Jenvey ITB trumpets, custom fabricated rear tank and fuel pump compartment, Dash 8 black aftermarket fuel feed and return lines with black fittings, Bosch 044 fuel pump and filter, SARD gold fuel rail, uprated larger injectors, waterjet-cut airbox and Jenvey trumpet mounting plate with integrated air temperature sensor, fibreglass large-volume airbox (carbon dipped), 5” airbox feed hose, witches hat style air filter, Afco aluminium radiator, Spal radiator fan, TRD thermostat, aftermarket alloy crank pulley, TRD headers modified to clear chassis leg, custom fabricated centre and rear section exhaust, rear exhaust box with titanium tailpipe, MoTeC M84 ECU with advanced functions, MoTeC PDM 30 power distribution module, full motorsport-spec chassis wiring loom using Raychem DR25 and motorsport connectors, full motorsport-spec engine loom on Mil-spec bulkhead connector (so engine and loom can be removed as one unit), various additional sensors for MAP, airbox temperature and other items, Odyssey lightweight battery, battery isolator killswitch, 6-speed manual Altezza gearbox, TRD clutch and clutch cover, TRD flywheel and bolts, custom modified and balanced propshaft, powdercoated live rear axle, aftermarket rear diff (believed to be TRD)
Power: 210bhp at flywheel, 195bhp at wheels, 10,500rpm rev limit
8×15” RS Watanabe wheels, Toyo R888 tyres, Project KIKS hubcentric wheel spacers, Techno Toy Tuning T3 custom rear equal-length 4-link suspension kit, custom-fabricated 4-link boxes – welded into chassis with support bar, Techno Toy Tuning T3 adjustable front bottom suspension arms, Techno Toy Tuning T3 adjustable top mount camber plates, Techno Toy Tuning T3 billet front tow hook, Techno Toy Tuning T3 adjustable front traction arms, TRD front coilover suspension inserts, Swift front springs, TRD front and rear ARBs, TRD rear dampers, TRD rear springs, Techno Toy Tuning rear ARB billet mount and drop-link kit, AP Racing 4-pot front and rear calipers, custom front and rear AP Racing discs and bells, custom front caliper mounting brackets, custom rear caliper mounting brackets to incorporate AP calipers and OEM rear calipers for handbrake, waterjet-cut aluminium mounting plate for Tilton pedal set; Tilton pedal set with 75 Series master cylinders and throttle linkage, hydraulic handbrake, HEL custom brake lines, OEM handbrake (modified lever)
AIM MXL digi dash, custom multi-point rollcage, KEY!S deep-dish steering wheel, quick-release boss, flocked dash, carbon fibre centre console switch plate with various switches and LEDs, Bride Graduation Low Max bucket seats, Takata green Race 4-point harnesses with aircraft-style buckles, carbon fibre doorcards, carbon fibre rollcage protectors, TRS door pull straps, TRD gearknob, WRE aluminium drivers heel rest
“Craig at Rukus Customs for the paintwork and his work to make the bodykit fit the wide arches, Paul Blamire for the wiring loom and mapping of the ECU, Miguel at Neweraparts for the Japanese parts (JBlood, Run Free, Bride, RS Watanabe), Dave Rowe of EPS Motorsport for wiring modifications, Jon Webster of Webster Race Engineering (WRE) for the exhaust system.”
Words Dan Bevis Photos Matt Woods