Far too often, I think we move on from projects before we’ve ever had a chance to really enjoy the end product.
I know that for a lot of us it’s the process of evolving and building a car to suit our own tastes that we really cherish, but I think that if you don’t take the time to drive and enjoy the fruits of your labour, you’re really missing out on a special part of the process.
Especially today, with social media and how society has a general attention deficit, I often get the impression that people quickly build and finish their cars before moving onto the next project in order to keep their followers or audience entertained.
For someone to actually keep a car long-term seems to be the exception these days, but thankfully there are outliers. Adrian Walsh is one of them.
I’m hard-pressed to think of an AE86 that has lived a fuller life than Adrian’s. It briefly featured on Speedhunters back in 2010, when he attended an AE86 track day at Mondello Park.
For a country that’s normally sideways, it was a sight to see the then 20-valve naturally aspirated two-door Corolla Levin coupe tearing up the track in full grip mode. It’s not something normally seen in Ireland.
While it was imported here in 2008-ish, it had already previously lived a full life all of its own in Japan. The Google results for ‘Shino Kouba AE86′ brings up one image in particular on Hachiroku.com.au, captured by Alexi Smith of Noriyaro.
“The owner’s name is Numajiri, the photo was taken at a Nikko Circuit practice day. He used to work for Shino Kouba workshop which is why he runs the garage name across the windscreen. I think it has something to do with Ken Satoh in regards to the bodywork” Alexi wrote on Hachiroku.com.au
“It is a complete grip car. When I rode in it, the semi slicks were almost worn out, but he was able to hammer it for most of the track anyway. AE111 engine I believe… injection with open bellmouths, tubular manifold, ECU on the floor, bolt in roll cage, completely stripped.”
But the Levin wasn’t to stay that way for long. Inevitably, it was destined for a life of drifting here in Ireland, although it did retain the same look, albeit with an SR20DET during its early competitive drifting days.
By 2014 it had undergone a complete overhaul and visual change into the Hankook colours. It was still SR at this point, and enjoyed relative success in a very competitive championship.
The following season saw Hankook withdraw from Irish drifting, which provided Adrian with the opportunity to go back to the car’s original colour.
This was also the season which saw it undergo another substantial rebuild and included the SR20DET being ditched for an LS V8 in order to keep pace with the rest of the Irish professional drifting grid. LS swaps might be commonplace in the US, but they were and remain quite novel in the land of 2JZ-all-the-things.
In its final competition guise in 2017, the Levin was about as advanced as anything else on the grid – V8, dog-box, quick-change rear end, WiseFab etc. This all comes at huge expense, and particularly in a country where sponsorship levels aren’t quite that of other prominent drifting countries, it feels all the more burdensome.
Even today, most of the Irish pro drift grid will be funding their seasons out of their own pockets. That’s not an indictment on the championship, it’s just the reality of motorsport in a country with less than five million people; there’s not much financial support to go around. Even the newly-formed Irish Drift Series is aiming to create a sustainable championship in 2020, which includes the removal of the livestream to save on costs.
Further to this, with packed grids at each event, seat time is limited and should you make it to the top step of the podium the prize money might not even cover a weekend’s expenses.
For some, the solution was to chase a European championship instead, which offered a much larger audience to attract potential sponsors and to maybe serve as a stepping stone to Formula Drift.
Adrian, however, called time on his competition career in 2018. He wanted to take his car back as his own, free of sponsors and event obligations. He also wanted to drive more, and to be able to pick and choose the events he attended while sharing the experience with his friends in the passenger seat. Having spent the best part of a decade building his ideal AE86, he wanted to be able to finally enjoy it.All Caught Up
It was just after Christmas, on one of those days between the big day itself and New Year’s where you can’t really tell which day is which, that I finally made a point to call into Adrian’s place to pore over the current evolution of his Levin.
There is something particularly enjoyable about seeing such an advanced and very Japanese-inspired car situated in a very Irish backdrop. Asides from sharing a preference for the same side of the car and road the two countries are fairly unlike, which has made Adrian’s dedication to retaining the spirit of this AE86 all the more impressive.
Without a livery, the car feels so much more like a street car. In its current state, I feel that it is a true evolution of the Levin that was exported from Japan in 2008. It starts with the full widened BN Sports kit, supplemented with the customised Origin front fenders and rear quarters, fitted with Crystal Body Yokohama (CBY) over-arches to help accommodate the 18×10-inch Sparco Viper R wheels.
18s normally look huge on an AE86, but I think that proportionately they suit the overall look of this car. It’s also an easier size to source wide rubber in.
There are a couple of neat additions, too. The roof spoiler is from an R32 Skyline which fits perfectly over the 86’s rear window. Rather than flush mount it, Adrian chose to raise it slightly to allow air underneath it…
…which allows the rear window scoop to channel said air through the rear-mounted CBR radiators. There’s four Spal fans in place as well to assist with flow.
The carbon fibre scoop, along with some other carbon bits on the car, are custom-made from a damaged Integra Type R bonnet.
Beneath the custom vented bonnet is a significantly modified LS2. As before, it’s more of a novelty to have an LS in a car here than most other motors, and it helps that this isn’t an ordinary, lazy revving engine either.
Things start with a 6.0-litre aluminium (note the correct spelling, Americans) LS2 block equipped with Wiseco flat-top forged 0.30 over pistons, Callies Compstar H-beam forged rods, Clevite Race Series rod and main bearings, and a Melling high-flow oil pump. AFR 1610 230cfm high-flow cathedral port cylinders heads with oversized valves and upgraded springs are secured with ARP head studs.
There’s also Comp Cams dual timing chains, LSR series camshafts, high-RPM short travel lifters, Hi Tech one piece pushrods, and Scorpion roller rockers. A Moroso electric water pump and baffled 8-litre sump, Holley tall rocker covers, Jenvey throttle bodies and management by a Haltech Platinum Sport 2000 ECU round things out. The result?
An all-American 8,000rpm, 600hp and 580ft-lbs.
Of course, you want to at least hear it before forming an opinion, so here’s a quick walk-around followed by a short drive on a closed road.
Headphone users be warned, it gets real loud at the end.
All 600 of those horses are transmitted through a Samsonas 6-speed sequential with a Tilton quad-plate clutch, along a custom telescopic driveshaft and through a Winters Performance quick-change differential setup with custom adapters for GT-R shafts and hubs.
Since we’re under here…
Something you might notice about the car is that Adrian was keen not to ‘butcher’ it (his words). The front suspension is all AE86 with KW coilovers, Cusco RCAs and tension rods, ARC anti-roll bar, and custom steering knuckles.
The rear is a full WiseFab setup based around a modified S14 subframe, but the original mounting points are still there on the body, should Adrian ever want to put the car back to how it was with a live axle. The rear coilovers are custom AVO items with AE86 mounts on the top and S-chassis mounting points on the bottom.
The car still has its original doors and door glass, complete with wind-up windows. It’s not a heavy car anyway, and with 600hp there was never really any desire to cut more weight out of it Also, Adrian’s painter refused to fit fibreglass doors as they never really look right.
The interior, as we like to say around here, is typical race car. A full weld-in cage has replaced the original bolt-in, there’s a Sparco Circuit 2 driver’s seat with Sparco 6-point harness, while the passenger can make themselves comfortable with a Recaro SPG and Sabelt belts.
A Sparco wheel and Group D hydraulic handbrake lever are other points of contact and control for the driver, while Auto Meter gauges and a Moroso switch panel overhead monitor and control the car’s vitals.
There are other parts which I’ve almost forgot to mention, like the Mega Spec front lip, the Craft Square mirrors and the Origin wing. Then there’s the Wilwood front brakes and the twin Skyline callipers on the rear.
The more I walked around the car and looked at it, the more I realised how much of a fusion it is between Japanese and American car culture – not something you would normally expect in Ireland.
It’s hardly surprising that a car which has been almost 10 years in the making on just this side of the world has become such a thoroughly well built one. It’s maybe more unusual that it’s one of the rare, super-advanced AE86s that actually works, something which isn’t always guaranteed with the lightweight Toyota chassis when they’re taken far outside of what they were intended to be.
So, while the build is all but done now for Adrian, he’s spent the last year driving it and enjoying it as much as he could. The future seems to hold more of the same, with Adrian putting together a bucket list of events that he’s always wanted to drive.
It should be mentioned that in recent times pro class licence holders from the Irish Drift Championship were granted a competition license for Irish hill climb events. Maybe the next time we see the car it could be tackling some of the all-time famous stages here? I know I’ll certainly try to be there to witness it wherever it goes.Cutting Room Floor