Toyota Corollas are known to be some of the most reliable cars on earth, so why the hell would someone put in rotary engine in one?
That’s an interesting question indeed. KE70 Corollas in particular have become super-popular performance build bases over the years, and for good reason. They’re straight forward, easy to modify, and most importantly rear-wheel drive, hence why petrol-heads do all kinds of weird and wonderful things to them.
The most common engine swap is without a doubt the 4A-GE, an engine known for its reliability and tuneable nature. Sticking with Toyota, there’s also the 1UZ-FE, which I’ve seen in all kinds of forms in these cars – normally aspirated, single turbo and even twin turbo. Another popular option is the 1JZ-GTE engine, or if you want to go all-out a 2JZ-GTE, both of which can make serious power. We can’t forget the 3S-GE Beams and the older 7M-GTE, either.
A much less common engine found in the bay of these cars is the Mazda rotary, but this conversion can be an awesome re-power option. Case in point, Danie van der Westhuizen’s 1983 KE70 Corolla, aptly named the Rotarolla.
When Danie bought the Corolla back in 2012, the basic 13B conversion already in place. In that guise it was capable of 14-second passes down the quarter mile, but in hitting the strip the drag racing bug really bit.
Danie bought a 9-inch differential from a friend, and then had Arthur from AJ Racing – one of the best rotary engine builders and tuners in South Africa – freshen up the motor. Things just progressed from there, and in the time since the whole car has essentially been rebuilt.
The Corolla left Toyota’s production line with gold paint, but Danie grew tired of what was a dated look and opted to have it resprayed in the deep bright blue you see here.
For street use the Corolla runs on 17-inch Lenso Eagle wheels with 205/40R17 tyres at all four corners, but come race day (or when a photoshoot burnout is called for) the rears are swapped for a pair of era-correct Work wheels shod in Mickey Thompson or Hoosier slicks.
The drivetrain was massively upgraded, and in its current form a chromoly prop shaft connects up to the aforementioned 9-inch diff complete with Strange centre and solid spool, before transmitting the power to the wheels via 33-spline axles.
While the suspension remains stock, the brake system has been upgraded with Toyota Hilux D4D calipers and BMW discs in the front, while the rear setup is from a Golf GTI.Don’t Wankel Around
Let’s get to the real party piece of this ride – the 13B single turbo engine setup. When the Mazda motor was first put together it ran a Turbonetics turbo and 76mm exhaust system, making around 300kW (402hp) at the wheels through a Toyota Hilux D4D gearbox. A while after this, Danie met Marius from FullBoost Performance who helped him develop the car even more, changing the turbo over to a Holset unit and upgrading to a 100mm exhaust.
With these changes made, the Corolla was taken to the Tarlton International Raceway quarter mile, where it ran a 10.66-second ET straight off the trailer.
The car ran with this setup for about three years – then Danie had an itch for more upgrades. The Hilux gearbox was nearing the limit of what power it could handle, so it was replaced by a BMW E36 M3 6-speed, a transmission known for its strength with big-power applications.
The guys from Racing Boys, another South African rotary performance shop, helped Danie with a few more engine upgrades, with Arthur then piecing the 13B back together again.
The turbo was swapped for a Holset HX55, and the engine’s fuel system upgraded with a pair of Bosch 044 pumps, an Aeromotive fuel pressure regulator, and FTF hoses and fittings throughout.
A Turbosmart Pro-Gate50 50mm external wastegate controls the boost, and there’s also a Turbosmart Power Port blow-off valve in the mix. Four MSD Blaster SS coils supply a strong spark, and the whole package is controlled through a tried and tested MicroTech LT10S engine management system.
What power does this current setup make, you ask? At the last dyno run it put down 515kW (690hp) and 757Nm on 1.7bar (25psi) boost. This has allowed the car to run a very recent ET of 9.97 seconds at 222km/h, lifting the front wheels up to the 60ft mark.
Given that this is full-weight street car that’s driven to and from the track most of the time, Danie knows the Rotarolla can go even faster with a few tweaks.
As it sits though, the Corolla ranks #1 on the local 011 Street Society list (a group that runs no-prep, heads-up racing in the area), while also being the ninth fastest rotary-powered car in South Africa. The eight faster cars are all full-blown drag machines, though.Keeping It Simple
The interior has been kept simple with just a few functional and needed upgrades. With so much power under the hood, occupant safety is of key concern, so a full roll cage was installed. The rear seat is still preserved, but as you can see it’s been rendered pretty much useless now.
The front seats are the stock factory items, but they’ve been recovered and are now fitted with ATS Motorsport harnesses.
There’s also a Sparco steering wheel and an Innovate Motorsports air/fuel ratio gauge. In front of the instrument cluster sit MicroTech’s latest 7-inch Pro Dash Logger, which relays all of the engine vitals plus has a built-in GPS-based quarter mile ET and speed timer.
Danie has a pretty awesome Corolla on his hands. It’s fast, sounds amazing with its rotary power plant, and has great old school looks.
Oh, and as you can see from the video and photos above, it has no problem ripping an awesome burnout either.Cutting Room Floor