If there’s already a million ways to build an AE86, now there’s a million and one.
The current crop of pro-spec drift cars are pretty well understood at this stage, with most following a similar path towards the competitive car goal. There’s rarely a need to venture away from the recipe: big power, a reliable drivetrain, lots of steering lock and the softest, widest rubber the rules will allow you to run.
As the old saying goes, ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’…
However, despite the action on track being faster and more exciting than ever (have you seen the current crop of pro drift cars in action, in person? They really are something special), there is a downside. The cars have all become a bit formulaic and predictable.
Now, if your ultimate goal is to win events and championships, then you need to do what needs to be done in order to achieve that. To hell with what anyone else might think about aesthetics and style. Except, drifting, at its very core, is all about style.
While some still struggle to comprehend a form of motorsport that doesn’t involve a timing system, others can’t imagine racing against the clock ever again. Drifting has an attraction that other motorsports simply lack.
When you see the likes of current WRC champion Kalle Rovanperä spending his weekends off behind the wheel of his Daigo Saito-built A90 Supra, you know that there’s more to drifting than meets the eye.
Despite drifting’s relatively open rulebook, we have still ended up in a place where all of the vehicles competing appear to conform to a set of strict regulations, despite the relative freedom on offer. Some builders, however, have become aware of this and are now trying to row against the tide.
You should be familiar with some of his other work, but Darren McNamara is once again at the fore of trying to reinvigorate drift cars.
While Darren was wrapping up work on his Group-D Audi S1, he was also creating this AE86 for long-time friend, Sultan Al Qassimi. Taking everything he has learned from building a multitude of Corollas over the last two decades, Darren reckons that this is probably the best one he has ever created.
What’s interesting about the car is that it mixes what is proven and works for a drift car, with fresh style on top.
Starting with the exterior, there’s again the Group B/Pikes Peak influence that Darren’s Group-D operation in Ireland has become synonymous with. Interestingly, the original plan was for this to be a tribute to Darren’s original Need for Speed AE86, but things naturally escalated.
The pumped-up D-MAC N3 kit provides the visual bulk, and is paired with a modified Run Free bumper and a plethora of custom fibreglass panels picked off Group-D’s own shelves.
The custom Group-D GT wing is supported by a central shark fin and fitted with larger custom end plates. A full-width LED brake light strip replaces the rear factory lights, which are now part of a one-piece rear panel.
Bonus points if you spotted the Audi S1 E2-esque aero swords connecting the front bumper and front arches.
A big part of any AE86’s look is the wheel choice. Despite the considerable amount of power rotating them, Darren was adamant that the car run 15-inch wheels, as in his mind anything larger starts to look odd beneath the relatively small car. Work Equip 40s were chosen, with the front wheels fitted with custom turbofans.
In theory, the lightweight Corolla (estimated weight is around 1,000kg/2,200lb) shouldn’t need as much rubber on the rear to compete against heavier cars on wider tyres.
Getting power from the engine to the ground is a G-Force GSR 4-speed dog box with an Xtreme twin clutch. The custom Nissan Silvia rear subframe has been fitted with a Group-D quick-change differential and Driveshaft Shop axles.
As has always been the way with any of Sultan’s builds over the years, power comes from an GM LS V8 in the shape of a 6.0-litre LS2 with uprated connecting rods and pistons, a high-lift cam and Comp Cams valve springs. ARP bolts hold it all together, while Driven Racing Oil provides lubrication.
It’s a proven, reliable setup that makes good power – around 500hp – and torque running on Sunoco Supreme 115 fuel.
An interesting modification is the use of custom air inlets in the bonnet feeding cold air onto the sides of the cylinder heads. This is to cool the coil packs and plug leads, which are prone to melting due to their close proximity to the exhaust runners.
Management comes via a full suite of Haltech products including an Elite 2000 ECU, iC-7 dash, WB2 wide-band controller and a Haltech CAN hub. Cooling for water and oil is taken care of with a Mishimoto dual-pass radiator and Group-D oil cooler respectively.
As above, with the rear of the car having been converted to a Nissan Silvia’s IRS, Group-D coilovers have been used throughout with a custom front crossmember, steering angle kit and knuckles.
Braking is handled by Z32 300ZX discs and callipers in conjunction with Group-D’s own billet handbrake.
Lastly, the interior is pretty much your typical drift car affair. A lone Sparco bucket seat with a TRS multi-point harness, a carbon dash and a custom steering wheel with full vehicle controls keep everything as minimalistic as possible.
A neat box has been installed where the passenger seat would normally reside to store Sultan’s helmet and gloves between sessions.
The net result is a Corolla which might not look like any other Corolla before it, but still retains the very essence of one and which should still be competitive with the current batch of top-flight drift cars. This is despite taking the different approach of reducing weight and complexity versus the present ethos of running the widest, softest tyre available, while over-building everything else to keep them spinning and praying that nothing breaks.
It’s always refreshing to see a different take, and hopefully we see an increase of it in the coming years with more people remembering how much freedom they actually have when building drift cars.
There’s perhaps a separate discussion to be had with regards to how a stricter rulebook often results in more creative solutions, but that’s for another day…