When I traveled back to my home country of Iceland over summer – partly to shoot some Speedhunters features – I never expected to receive such a positive and welcoming response from the local modified car community. Doors opened left, right and center, but for my fourth story I didn’t need to venture far from my parent’s house.
Grétar Örn Karlsson‘s 1980 Toyota Corolla DX drift car lives literally two minutes’ walk away.
I met Grétar at Discodans in Sweden back in 2019. I had heard from friends that a couple of Icelanders were tearing up the racetrack at Eskilstuna where the event was held, and had to go and see them for myself. Grétar’s bright yellow Corolla was being cooled down after an intense session, so naturally I asked for a ride-along in the next one. Despite the rain pouring down, Grétar didn’t hold back, and riding shotgun in this demonic Toyota remains one of the fondest memories I have from that summer.
So far from my 2021 Iceland adventure I’ve shown you a 2JZ-swapped E46 M3, an LS2 V8-swapped Porsche 944 Turbo, and a supercharged Ford V8-swapped Volvo 240. Today, we’re going Japanese with Grétar’s Corolla – and yes, it’s been engine-swapped too.
Smaller Japanese sport coupes were a common sight in Iceland during the late-1980s to early-1990s, with cars like the AE86 popular in rally circles. Rear-wheel drive Corollas are still being used today in some of Iceland’s motorsport categories, but the same thing cannot be said about four-door Japanese sedans.
The Toyota KE70 is a very rare sight in Iceland, and since Grétar wanted a unique platform to work with, his decision ultimately led him to purchase this Corolla in 2009.
It was supposed to be an easy project, something Grétar could work on as a hobby in his spare time, but that thinking didn’t last long. Almost immediately after acquiring the car, a tired 4A-GE engine from a retired AE86 was found, and all the required parts to get it singing again were ordered.
But the 4A-GE never made it into the Corolla’s engine bay. Curiosity got the better of Grétar, and after taking a quick ride in his friend’s AE86 and discovering that the 4A-GE’s power was “limited”, he began looking at other options.
Next on the list was a CA18DET from a Nissan S13 200SX. This engine was dummy-fitted between the KE70’s front struts, but the story ends there, as running it up revealed internal damage that made no financial sense to repair.
Used performance engines aren’t easy to come by in Iceland, but while the broken CA18DET was a disappointment, Grétar brushed it off and moved on. After a short search for a potential candidate, a Volvo B230FT with matching M90 transmission was offered to him. This was outside Grétar’s original vision for the Corolla, but the more he thought about it, the more the 2.3L turbocharged four-cylinder from Sweden made sense.
Grétar made it work, completing the KE70’s rebuild with a wide variety of parts from different makes and models. How varied? Well, the gas tank is Jeep Wrangler fare; the rear end was pulled from a Toyota Hilux; an S13 donated its front suspension, knuckles and control arms; and various other components came from a Mitsubishi Pajero and Lancer Evolution, BMWs and a SsangYong.
Basically, whatever part worked, Grétar used it. No wonder he calls this Corolla his “Frankenstein Project”.
Grétar ran the Volvo engine setup for three years, and he believes it delivered somewhere around 300 to 350whp. But in the winter of 2015, everything changed.
During the off-season, Grétar removed the engine – which at this point had a few issues – in order to tidy up the bay. The plan was to rebuild the B230FT, but on a whim, Grétar put the engine up for sale and ended up selling it the same day.
The Volvo engine had served Grétar well for the most part, but ultimately the issues it had inspired a change. This time around, Grétar returned to Toyota and the go-to engine for many high-power drift setups. I am, of course, talking about the venerable 2JZ-GTE.
Grétar says the swap was pretty straight forward, but in reality, mounting the 3.0L straight-six in the Corolla’s small bay required a custom cross member with strengthened mounts, a new firewall and transmission tunnel, and custom brackets for the steering rack.
As you can see, the 2JZ is not stock. The original twin turbochargers have been traded for a big single Boost Lab BorgWarner S366SX, and inside the engine now reside CP forged pistons and Manley forged connecting rods. The trunk-mounted fuel system, running twin AEM pumps, a custom surge tank and Aeromotive filters, supplies the engine via 1,000cc Bosch injectors, with the whole shebang controlled by a VEMS engine management system. For cooling, there’s a rear-mounted radiator with a dual fan setup.
All told, the engine build and swap took around eight months to complete, but the results made it all worthwhile: 602whp that Grétar can beat on all day.
A big part of that is the bullet-proof driveline, which features a BMW 6-speed transmission with PMC Motorsport adapter, a Tilton triple-plate clutch and the aforementioned Hilux differential, now running a full spool and 3.58:1 final drive.
Inside, the Corolla is all race car with a custom-welded roll cage that ties in front and rear suspension towers, Sparco seats with Racequip 6-point harnesses and custom shifter and handbrake levers that Grétar made himself. In fact, most of the work on this car is all his own.
The suspension still uses the S13-based front setup with custom control arms and modified knuckles, and Nissan components now feature in the rear too. As expected, the front brakes are S13 spec and the rears are Hilux. Grétar doesn’t know much about the wheels, except that the rear 6-lug pair “came from an SUV”.
If you couldn’t tell already, Grétar is a function-first kind of guy. His perfect drift car isn’t one with elaborate body modifications; it’s one that is practical. Custom fender flares to contain the wide wheel and tire combo, and homemade hood vents to help relieve the engine bay of heat are pretty much the extent of the exterior upgrades. The paint is a Ferrari shade of yellow.
So what’s next for this crazy little Corolla? Grétar has a long list, starting with a new floor, changes to the roll cage to bring it up to FIA-spec, an S14 rear subframe swap, Ford 8.8-inch rear end conversion and Driveshaft Shop axles. But like other owner/drivers I’ve talked to in Iceland, the most important thing for Grétar right now is getting the car back to Europe.
When he does, I’m definitely putting my hand up for another ride.