The Attainable Dream Car

We all have one car we saw when we were younger that was burned in our memories and put on the ‘to own one day’ list.

The car doesn’t have to be something ludicrously expensive, just special enough to leave a lasting impression.


Maybe it was something your parents or a close friend use to have, and getting rides in it was the best feeling in the world. Or perhaps when you saw it driving by, the car’s design cues or the noise emitting from the exhaust left you wanting more.

One of my dream cars is the twin-turbo Nissan 300ZX. The Z32’s iconic wedge shape styling, its t-tops, and seeing the occasional rear bumper painted in a curious burnt color is something that stood out to me from my childhood.


For James, the car burned into his memory was none other than the Toyota AE86.


Being stationed in Okinawa at the ripe age of 18, James was quickly introduced to the local street racing that used to happen on Highway 59.

The most common car was the Skyline GT-R, but for James it was a highly modified Levin AE86 that caught his attention.


The more James watched the AE86 in action, the more he longed to have one of his own.


After searching around, James was able to get his hands on a blue zenki AE86 that had already been modified by its previous owner. It gave him the perfect excuse to slide it around a bit, but as a result the car became damaged as the drift sessions piled up. By good fortune, this led to James meeting a local who was an expert in body work, and James becoming his apprentice.

Under the expert tutelage, the concept of owning nice daily driver that you can do a little spirited driving with from time to time resonated with James, and so began the search for a stock AE86 that he could imprint his own personality on.


This kouki Levin 2-door is the four-year result of James’ vision.


Making minimal changes to the exterior was all part of James’ plan to keep the Hachiroku looking as clean and straight as possible.

Besides the carbon fiber hood, the hand-built custom headlight delete is all that really stands out to the average person.

Special note for those getting ready to skip to the comments section: Yes, the fitment of the custom headlamp is off; more tweaking is required to get it to sit properly.


To the trained eye, however, you may be looking at the front bumper and trying to figure out what exactly it is. Thanks to some plastic welding, James was able to take his favorite aspects of the kouki and zenki AE86 bumpers and seamlessly mate them together.

Keeping things period correct, SSR Longchamp XR4 wheels in a 15-inch fitment feature at all four corners, nicely tying into the two-tone theme of the Levin.

To ensure the car has the perfect stance and handles well, James had the entire suspension system overhauled.


A look under the hood reveals a relatively tame 4A-GE with few supporting modifications that include an HKS Super Power Flow air filter, and an upgraded cooling system to combat the extreme temperatures that Okinawa is known for.


The reason for keeping things simple is, well, simple. Remember that blue zenki AE86 that I mentioned earlier? James is still in possession of it, and a heart transplant between the two cars is in the works. The 4A-GE in the zenki has been fully built to deliver both power and reliability.


To my delight, the Levin’s interior retains many of its ’80s originality.

Notable upgrades include a 7-point Cusco bolt-in roll cage, Recaro seats, and a TOM’S steering wheel.

Like all projects, there really doesn’t seem to be an end in sight for this one. Besides the engine swap, the next thing on James’ list is to get the body straight take care of some rust.


Meeting owners like James who put their heart and soul into their dream car is just one of the many aspects that I love about this job. Even if it takes years to source or complete, the build process and the experience gained is what really makes your dream car special.

Ron Celestine
Instagram: celestinephotography



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I love the 86 but sadly many people understand the appeal of this cars sadly but as always a really good post


I wish AE86 is still affordable for our market, lol


Reminds me of the first car I wanted. I saw some restored mk2 Jetta coupe once and it sparked some interest. Then I spent way too much time on the vwvortex forums before i could even drive lol.


I relate to you 100%, I spent all the time on vortex looking at mk4 gtis and jettas when I was 14 then 2 years later I bought my first car a mk4 gti 1.8t. Good times i'll never forget...


Cool project, but if this is a "dream car" then you really need to expand your horizons and dream much bigger.


You wouldn't understand that it is a dream car for some because of it's legendary icon status, history, and for sentimental reasons, not just for looks or going fast. You wouldn't understand because you have your head too far up your butt and probably only consider cars like the "Ferrari" or "Lamborghini a dream car.


Snob much? Unless you're shooting for the ignoramus of the year award, you sir need to expand 'your' horizons and realize that not all people think like you.


Depends on what you want. If he's a speed freak then yeah sure. If he's not then no way. All depends on what you want out of the thing.


Solid write up and story! Well done!


Awesome car, but that oil filter relocation position is baffling! Right beside and above the headers? If that filter fails, it'll be pissing oil all over the headers....


I assume that the oil filter relocation was part full flow oil cooler setup (yes it appears to be blue as well). Since cooling upgrades to deal with the Okinawa heat were mentioned. Plus even in a RHD 86 there is not really anywhere else for it to go, and no worse than under that same header originally.
Good to see more people build nice street cars from the remaining AE86's that aren't already beat to death.
Great write up, thank you Ron!


I agree, and on 4age's it's not like the oil filter is in a bad or hard to reach spot either.


Cool post, nice to see him living out his dream.

My childhood dream car is a Gen 1 Dodge Viper, probably terrible to actually own but I would still buy one and own for a while just to live the dream.


The attainable dream car, should be one of the top five cars, any car geek wants, in my opinion. James, is living the dream, literally.

For me, the attainable dream car, is a '95 Ford Mustang Cobra R. My parents had a '95 Mustang GT, that I was supposed to get when I turned 16. Until someone ran a red light and nailed the car. Thankfully, my mother was just fine, but the Mustang was gone...and so evaporated a 13-year old boy's dreams of a cherry red V8 Mustang. I got a twice inherited older then me Ford pickup (which was still cool, but nowhere near V8 Mustang cool). But even then, I had a want for the Cobra R. I remember seeing one of the 250 built, new on the showroom floor, sitting in it, barely reaching the pedals as a 10-year old boy. The slightly bulge in the hood, to cover the taller 351. The sound, when the salesman broke the rules and cranked it up in the showroom for me. - I've owned half-a-dozen FoMoCo products since then, including a couple of Mustangs, and I've raced Mustangs in SCCA and NASA events. But never had a '95 Cobra R and the siren calls to me...


remove headlight for airflow, add foglights blocking grille


You mean "redirecting airflow" :P


"One of my dream cars is the twin-turbo Nissan 300ZX. The Z32’s iconic wedge shape styling, its t-tops, and seeing the occasional rear bumper painted in a curious burnt color is something that stood out to me from my childhood."
is this a clue to your project car...?


I have always wondered why some cars (mostly 80's styled jdm cars) have the yellow stripes on the lip of the wheel? and why are some thicker than others? does it represent some kind of crew, gang, hierarchy? can someone please enlighten me?


I think the fitment of the custom headlamp is perfect. It looks better offset like that. Character.