When it came to selecting cars to spotlight at Wekfest Japan last week, I was spoilt for choice. Instinctively though, I sought out two very much function-oriented builds as my first.
Don’t get me wrong, I have nothing against cars solely built to look good with nice wheels and perfect fitment, but I feel they like they need that little bit extra to be worthy of a closer look. It’s overall balance, where every aspect of a car stands out for excellence in both execution and function, that always grabs my attention.
Or, as in the case of Tsutomu Miyoshi’s AE86 Toyota Corolla Levin, utter over-complication.
I remember a time when swapping a 20-valve ‘Blacktop’ 4A-G was all the rage in the AE86 world, but nowadays this AE111 engine conversion could be seen as a little passè – at least if it’s just a straight swap in the bay. If you want to stand out and differentiate your car from all the other swapped Hachis out there, you need to approach things a little differently.
Miyoshi-san thought so too, hence why his AE111 4A-G is mounted where the car’s back seat once resided.
If you think about it, by taking the transversally-mounted 20-valve 4A-G and gearbox combo out of its FF home and dropping it in the back of an AE86, you are kind of simplifying your life.
OK, that might be a stretch, but doing so has allowed Miyoshi-san to forgo the modifications needed to straight swap this engine into a Hachiroku, and at the same time – and much more importantly – create a unique mid-engine Levin.
It also brought the ’80s hatchback into the new millennium by doing away with the live axle and giving it an independent rear suspension.
Outside, the Levin wears TRD-inspired overfenders, which makes it look like it’s ready to hit the AE86 N2 competition at Tsukuba against Tsuchiya in his TRD racer and Tec-Art’s in their wild purple dry-sumped monster.
How the new engine and transmission positioning will impact handling isn’t yet known, but with the radiator still in the front and a fuel cell taking the original place of the motor, I’d imagine this is an aspect Miyoshi-san has spent some time getting right.
Seeing as the transmission tunnel has been made redundant, the Levin’s original floor was cut out and replaced with a flat sheet of metal, and the driving position relocated to just off center, which I’m assuming was done to counterbalance the weight of the engine/gearbox assembly.
As you have probably gathered, this is still very much a work in progress and as such nothing is really connected or plumbed up yet. I also wonder what Miyoshi-san plans to do for a firewall between the cockpit and the engine, as surely that will be on the cards.
Needless to say, when this car is completed I will need to take a closer. But no passenger rides!Inazuma Worx’s 1UZ-swapped Levin
In contrast, the Inazuma Worx TRD N2 racer-themed AE86 Corolla Levin project looks rather mundane – but of course it really isn’t.
This is the cleanest Hachiroku I’ve ever seen, but you can’t expect anything less from Ikeda-san, who over the last few years has cemented himself as a true master AE86 builder. We first met Ikeda-san back in 2015 when we awarded him the Speedhunters Choice Award at the Offset Kings event at Fuji Speedway.
Since then, Ikeda-san’s style has continued to evolve and be perfected, and the requests to build cars have been coming in thick and fast, to the point that he’s had to stop working on his own projects. This 1UZ-FE-swapped example is mind-blowingly clean; the 4.0L Toyota V8 looks like it’s floating in the shaved, tucked and tubbed engine bay.
The exterior is finished off with a Pandem kit and the unmistakable colors of the TRD livery.
But this car is so much more than just a clean engine swap. Ikeda-san’s fanatical attention to detail and impressive fabrication is evident throughout, which is why the car snapped up the ‘Best Toyota’ and ‘Best Engineered’ awards at Wekfest Japan 2021.
Take a look at the symmetrical layout of the switch gear on either side of the AiM digital dash.
Powder-coated pressed sheet metal is used throughout the entire cabin to sculpt things like the dash and door cards.
And the fuel setup in the rear is laid out with twin swirl pots, sending juice up front to the eight-throttle-body-equipped 1UZ.
Finally, the quad-exit exhaust hints that this is no ordinary Levin.
I really want to find out more about this build, not to mention hear it in action. Yep, I’m going to have to get myself down to Wakayama one of these days and spend some time with Ikeda-san.
Dino Dalle Carbonare