I guess it comes down to what sort of person you are.
Some people are nostalgic and find it hard to look past the good ol’ days and the original icons that inspired them to follow a certain path. Others are happy to appreciate what came before, but are more focused on what’s coming next. I appreciate both ways of looking at things, but usually sit somewhere in the middle.
In the early 2000s, Ireland was flooded with rare Japanese imports. Honestly, I don’t think anyone at the time really appreciated what was coming into the country. While there was no shortage of interesting road cars, there were also ex-demo and competition cars arriving here. In the following weeks, months and years, a lot of them were ruined, destroyed, parted out or simply vanished into the ether.
There was Koguchi’s D1 Grand Prix PS13 and Falken-liveried JZX100 competition cars. The one-of-one HKS CT200MR Evolution IX road car, built to celebrate the company’s lap record at Tsukuba lives here (and is thankfully still in one piece). And cars from companies like Cruise, BN Sports, Sun Garage and Good Road amongst thousands of others arriving into Ireland on a weekly basis.
Then, in 2006, the Bride-liveried, AE86 Toyota Corolla Levin coupe of D1 Grand Prix ‘Crash King’ Ryoto Yuasa landed here. The photograph above is of the car competing at its first event in Ireland, still wearing the Bride livery and being guest driven by Norwegian drifting legend Kenneth Moen.
Yuasa-san’s AE86 had earned its infamy by appearing regularly on bootleg Video Option DVDs, usually removing all of its aero in stylish and creative ways.
I’m not going to say that Irish car culture came to a standstill when the Levin arrived here, but it was at least noticed before it was put to work competing in the then Prodrift Series.
It campaigned the 2007 series with relative success, albeit with a different livery and kit. The car never won an event here, but it usually made the main show in the hands of Dennis Healy (who has had a couple of previous Speedhunters features) and was generally quite competitive.
It did, however, meet an untimely demise when it tried to move the concrete wall at an event in Northern Ireland. Naturally enough, the wall won that particular argument.
Around this time, drifting in Ireland was evolving rapidly. Drift cars were being built from the ground up to compete, and those that were basically still full interior road cars with bolt-in cages were no longer competitive or desired. I didn’t think at the time that the photo of the Levin being unceremoniously towed off the track would be the last time I’d see the car for well over a decade.
The following year saw Healy return to competition in another SR20-powered AE86. It’s often thought that this was the green Bride car, but in fact it was a completely different Corolla.
At one of its first events (if I remember rightly, a demonstration in Denmark), Healy again lost an argument with an immovable piece of concrete. For the record, he was actually a very good driver even though this story so far might paint him as a bit of a ‘crash king’ himself.
Luckily for Healy, he was able to ‘borrow’ a corner from the original D1GP car and graft it onto his then current purple competition car. The green Levin then sat in this ditch for a long time.
A very long time.
Until one day, someone decided that this was a car still worth rescuing. Seriously.The Glow Up
The man who still believed that this car was salvageable was Paddy Connors, who seems to be on a crusade to save some of the most famous Corollas in history. His other ‘rescue’ was thankfully a lot more straightforward than this.
I’m not really sure what possessed Paddy to take this challenge on, or why he set himself an arbitrary deadline of his own wedding day to get it done, but that’s exactly what he did.
Did he succeed?
F**king spectacularly, I would say. This is the Bride D1 Grand Prix car of Ryoto Yuasa, still alive in 2022.
As you can imagine, it wasn’t exactly a straightforward recovery or restoration. Paddy is quick share the credit with the people who helped him with the project, and in particular Eddie Quirke of Garage Q.
“We used as much of the original car as we could,” Paddy told me.
When people heard what Paddy was trying to achieve, they were keen to get involved. Alan Sinnott, another former Prodrift competitor, donated the original spoiler, bonnet, BN Sports door blades and even the petrol cap to the cause.
The front and rear bumpers were recreated from moulds taken off the car when it originally arrived in Ireland in 2006.
Paddy himself painted the car, and was able to get a close-as-possible colour match by having some of the original paintwork scanned before they started the fabrication process.
The livery was recreated by studying a small selection of low-resolution, 20-year-old photographs and applying the graphics in layers (as opposed to a single printed piece of vinyl) which is how it would have been done in the early 2000s.
The wheels are the same – and iconic – SSR Dori Dori Mesh, measuring 15×7.5-inch up front and 15×8.5-inch at the rear.
To emulate the car’s look in Japan, Paddy chose to fit actual headlight blanks. This is in contrast to Yuasa-san’s method of just spraying the original headlights black.
The interior, by Paddy’s own admission, is still a work in progress. “The original car had a full interior, so I’m trying to put as much back into it as I can,” he told me.
Coincidentally, the original interior from this car now lives in another car within the locality, one which was featured just last year on Speedhunters.
At its heart is once again a turbocharged SR20DET with an uprated exhaust manifold and down-pipe, a custom 3-inch stainless exhaust system, a Mishimoto front-mount intercooler, radiator and fans, along with a Walbro fuel pump.
Paddy made the decision to use the original fuel tank with the intention of getting the car registered for the road at some point in the future.
While the Levin wasn’t fitted with this strut-top towing eye when in Japan, it’s a small part of the car’s history in Ireland which has also been retained.
TRD coilovers with TRD anti-roll bars front and rear have been utilised, along with a custom extra lock steering kit. This isn’t a car from the Wisefab era of professional drift cars, so Paddy was keen to keep it simple and period correct.
The SR20 gearbox, mated to the engine with an Exedy Racing clutch, sends power rearwards through a custom prop-shaft and TRD differential.
Paddy completed the Levin ahead of his wedding, and has been taking the time to appreciate the car since, while still working on it here and there.
Perhaps the most significant part of the car was Yuasa-san’s approval of the rescue and rebuild. He sent Paddy a selection of paperwork from the car when it competed in D1 Grand Prix, including his own D1GP license.
There are plans to have Yuasa-san come to Ireland in the future to drive the car again, although Paddy will need to get a few extra sets of bumpers and skirts made ahead of any Crash King visit. Just because he’s saved the car once, doesn’t mean he wants to do it again.
I’m sure some might argue that this isn’t really the original Bride AE86 anymore, but considering the alternative was to let it turn into dust, it’s very much the best possible outcome for such a famous car.
That so much passion and love has gone into rescuing it, is testament to the car’s status as one of the original Japanese D1GP drift icons.
It’s a car with undeniable history and soul, and I for one am grateful that it continues to exist in a tangible way that so many can appreciate.
Now I’m just curious as to which Corolla Paddy is going to save next…