When I heard we were running a Carbs Only theme this month, I knew that for my contribution from Japan I would have to come out with something indicative of the local scene. And what could be more JDM than a drift car, or to be more specific, a drift-oriented AE86 – one that has ditched fuel injection for the rawer, more responsive feel of carburetors.
There seems to be a universal acceptance that if you can drift an AE86 well, you are, without any doubt, a serious driver. After all, getting the most out of the lightweight and underpowered Hachiroku takes serious skill. You need to be proficient with managing the momentum of the car and using weight transfers to your advantage, while at the same time keeping the rev-happy little 4A-G on the boil with continuous up and downshifts and the odd clutch kick. On a recent outing to Nikko for a drift event, I came across this kouki Corolla Levin.
It’s not often that you see TRD’s iconic N2 overfenders fitted to a drift-spec 86, so you can imagine how it instantly stood out to me. But it wasn’t only that aspect that piqued my interest…
The driver obviously knew what he was doing, and on the day it was probably the best driven Hachiroku cutting sideways laps of the circuit. Then there was the sound of the engine. It had a different buzz to the rest – a more intense concoction of mechanical sounds. The revs seemed to rise faster too, and they were put to good use keeping the back end out for pretty much the entire lap of the Nikko course. On the straight sections the car was swung left to right in a series of perfectly executed manjis - the final one always perfectly timed to set the car up for a smooth entry into the next corner.
That was it – I was sold. I had to see more. As the first session ended I walked up to the car and the guy that popped out was none other than Takahashi-san from the N-Style crew. Taku, as his friends call him, is as devoted to the AE86 platform as anyone could possibly be, and owns a few other cars including a super-clean AE85 Levin notchback that I featured in 2013. While that car continues to evolve – now running a shaved engine bay along with a few other additions – the need to build a proper drift car for circuit duty was an obvious progression.
That’s exactly what he’s done with this car. Thankfully, there was enough time before Taku-san’s next session to quickly take the Levin outside the circuit and grab some shots of it under a warm-toned Japanese winter sun.
No matter how you approach this car, you will always come to the fenders first. TRD developed and manufactured these fenders for the N2-spec AE86 that raced in Japan back in the car’s heyday, so as far as overfenders go you really can’t get any more legit.
Hiding under the front flarings are a set of SSR MkIIs -13-inch beauties that measure 9-inch across, complete with all the scuffs and patina you’d expect to see on well-used vintage wheels. They’re mated to stretched 195-wide Toyo Proxes R888 semi slicks, which provide the sort of feel and response that Taku likes. Given the 86’s light weight, it takes a while to put some temperature into the tyres, but once they are hot they grip hard and allow for the crazy angles Taku holds through the corners at Nikko.
Speedhunters love – thank you Taku!
Seeing Taku did away with the rear bumper – and in fact some of the rear lower panel too – there are some mismatches along the trailing edge of the overfenders, but to me that just adds to the purposeful feel of this car. Different wheels are used at the rear, but at the time of the shoot the Levin was wearing a pair of 14×9.5-inch black RS Watanabes shod with narrow 185/55R14 Kenda Komets.
It all makes for a very fresh looking car – one that fuses period-correct touches with a contemporary style. In other words, it’s all sorts of badass!
The N2 look is carried through to the rear with a lightweight FRP tailgate onto which a TRD type rear spoiler has be riveted. The matte white really accentuates the body additions, and as Taku says, it weighs less than a conventional paint job and is easy to get freshened up too. Talk about being function oriented!
Of course, you have to give props and support to all your friends in the scene, right?Built For Fun
Having already established a pretty good looking exterior it was on to the engine. Taku has no idea how much power the 1.6L four-cylinder 4A-G makes, and he doesn’t really care – all he knows is that he’s used the right base for the build in an AE92 small-port engine, and that it feels just right out on track when he leans on it continually for an entire 15 to 20-minute-long session.
The engine has been built to take the abuse, and after some honing and boring of the block it was fitted with 82mm forged pistons, strong H-section connecting rods and an AE111 crankshaft. To make the most of the rev-happy nature of these engines, Taku fitted a wild 312-degree cam on the intake and a 304-degree cam on the exhaust side, which make the best of the fuel and air mixture that the Weber carburetors flow in. Mid-length velocity stacks provide good response throughout the rev range, and the sound, well, you just have to go to Nikko and hear it for yourselves!
The mechanical music also comes courtesy of the wild exhaust manifold that Garage Tomita custom fabricated for the application. The race-inspired design helps maximize power at the top end, which is pretty much where this engine spends most of its time.
The overall theme of purposefulness is carried out in the rest of the engine bay too. Details like the Braille Lithium-ion battery that weighs next to nothing, the lightweight FRP bonnet and that little liquid-filled fuel pressure gauge for an old school touch.
Cooling is important too, so Taku runs a large-core radiator complete with electric fans borrowed from a Prius.
Mounted in the back of the hatch are a pair of electric fuel pumps to keep the necessary pressure constant as the car gets violently drifted around Nikko.Making The AE86 Slide
The last step on the road to creating the perfect drift Hachiroku is of course the suspension. Taku went straight to the best and the Levin now benefits from a full Tec Art’s spec Aragosta adjustable coilover setup, which gives him the adjustability he needs to fine tune the car for a variety of drift circuits.
Making sure he has enough steering lock to hold long drifts and pull himself out of trouble when the time comes is a set of SNR knuckles along with 40mm extended lower front arms. With Taku’s fancy footwork and wheel skills, it all comes together to make the 86 dance though the corners.
Keeping weight in check was an important aspect of the build, and for that reason the entire interior was stripped back to metal – save for the door cards and the top section of the dashboard.
It all feels pretty spartan, but then again this car has only one objective to fulfill: be the best possible drift car. Job done I’d say. I personally like the Mooneyes antenna stopper applied to the indicator stalk and the perfectly positioned solar-powered illuminated ashtray – a must have accessory if you like to drift with a cigarette in your mouth.
With all the factory instruments and electronic equipment removed, Taku took advantage of the space to create his own custom meter panel. Here he’s added a pair of Defi gauges and a Defi Advance ZD Club Sport Package – the latter able to display the readings from as many sensors as you care to add through a nice LCD display unit.
A bolt in half-cage adds a bit of rigidity to the 30-year old chassis, and just in case he rolls over there’s a little more protection there too. Taku runs a fixed Bride Low Max bucket for himself, while those lucky enough to ride with him have an old school Bride recliner to get comfy in.
And behind that is where the water tank has been fitted. This comes in handy during the blisteringly-hot Japanese summers, and holds enough water to satisfy a couple of spray jets on the front bumper that mist water onto the oil cooler.
As I grabbed my final few pictures the time came for Taku to head back to the paddock and prepare for his next outing – there was still lot of fun to have.
With this story we wrap up The Carbs Only Theme, but if you like what you’ve just seen in this AE86 you’ll be happy to hear that Larry and I shot quite a few features that day. And that said, this definitely isn’t the last JDM grassroots drift build you will be seeing from us over the next short while…
Dino Dalle Carbonare