I always find it inspiring when a person builds a car for nostalgic reasons.
I think you can say a lot about a person by looking at their car, and even more so if it’s a custom creation. So when I noticed this quirky-looking KE25 Toyota Corolla at a wet car meet in Finland last summer, I immediately wondered who its owner might be.
Amongst a predominantly young crowd, I began scanning the parking area for someone older. I knew it wouldn’t be a JDM fan – the Corolla’s unique look gives that fact away – more likely someone who had fond memories of this model from an earlier stage of life.
At first I didn’t find anyone, but I kept my eye on the Toyota while I was checking out some other cars and eventually spotted a family man milling around the coupe. Juha Mäkinen, who is in his fifties, confirmed he was the owner, and was nice enough to spend some time talking to me about his car while I shot some images in a quiet corner of the venue.
Back in 2008, when Juha’s son was a 12-year-old with a big interest in cars, the father and son combo were looking for a hobby they could spend time on together. The idea of restoring (and modifying) a Corolla similar to the one Juha had as his first car quickly rose to the top of the list, and when a 1970 KE25 coupe came up for sale locally, well, you know the rest.
For the first four years, Juha and his son didn’t have anywhere permanent in which they could work on the car, so they made do with a portable tarp garage tent. While this would suffice in many places around the world, winters are literally freezing in Finland, so it was less than ideal. In 2012, Juha built a proper family garage, and the project really kicked into gear.
“The original idea was not to go too far with the tuning,” says Juha, but looking in the engine bay tells a different story that many people can relate to.
For the first two years, the Corolla’s original OHC engine sufficed, but ultimately it gave way to Toyota’s venerable 1.6L 4A-GE. Over some years, three more engine builds (all 4A-GEs) found their way into the car, but on the fifth swap Juha and his son went the stroker ‘7A-GE’ (1.8L 7A-FE block with 4A-GE cylinder head) route. A previously-fitted Holset HX35 Super-based turbo kit was carried over with twin Dellorto side-draught carbs – wearing a custom plenum made by Juha – completing the ‘blow through’ boost setup. Also in the mix are CP forged pistons, Maxpeedingrods forged con-rods, Cat Cams camshafts and a whole lot more.
All told, Yuha says the engine develops 313hp, which in a car that weighs just 1,900lb (862kg) allows for rapid acceleration and a 159mph (255km/h) top speed. That’s a lot for a little old Corolla.
Of course, this level of performance would never be possible with the KE25’s factory driveline, but it absolutely is with an aluminum-cased W55 gearbox, Clutch Masters race clutch (with ultralight flywheel), and a shortened Hilux rear axle.
The suspension is an interesting aspect of this build. Spax Performance coilovers feature in the front, while two additional leaves have been added to the leaf spring setup at the back, which also uses Spax dampers. Stopping power is provided by Wilwood 263mm brakes at the front, and a mix of Ford Escort and Audi A4 components in the rear.
While the Corolla is hard to miss with its hot rod-esque House of Kolor ‘Spanish Gold Kandy’ paintwork, the wheels are actually what drew me over to it in the first place. The Compomotive CXRs, in an old school 13-inch fitment, are perfectly sized for the little KE25. They did, however, necessitate the use of flares – an integrated part of a custom bodykit that some might question.
The custom look, which marries the Corolla’s original ’70s body with some more modern aero additions, is something you don’t really see at all these days (and don’t forget that the styling is over a decade old at this point), but it fit Juha’s vision for the car when he and his son built it, so we can respect that. And credit where it’s due, because there’s a lot of custom sheet metalwork in play here.
That all said, I have a feeling that if Juha was building this car today, it would have a far more subtle aesthetic.
The interior is a mix of original appointments and modern upgrades, and some little wear and tear shows it’s had plenty of use. The Luisi Kobra steering wheel and subtle carbon fiber trim panels fit the little Corolla really well, and there’s no shortage of thump thanks to a large audio system featuring dual subwoofers in the rear.
The moral of this 300+hp Corolla project is that’s not important how long a car takes to build or what you do with it afterwards – the most important thing is to be happy and to share your passion with family and friends. Juha’s example is one to follow, because he’s enjoyed – and will continue to enjoy – every second of it.