Imagine taking a lifetime’s worth of influence and pouring it into a car build. That’s exactly what Ricko Gutierrez did with his gold ’84 Toyota Corolla SR5 AE86.
This isn’t the first time we’ve featured one of Ricko’s cars here on Speedhunters. You might recall our feature on RWB Yoshiwara in 2017; that’s the machine that set Ricko on a path of car building as a unique expression of personal style.
I met Ricko in Pebble Beach, California when I was over with Pagani for the launch of the Huayra BC at The Quail in 2016. We’ve stayed good friends since, and have managed to meet up at various other events over the years, including the SEMA Show and Tokyo Auto Salon.
The last time I was at SEMA (2018), Ricko shipped his second build over, just so I could feature it. But after a pretty epic shoot in the middle of the desert, I realized that my CF card had failed, and with it the images of his RPS13 were lost. In a stroke of luck, a friend of mine was recently able to retrieve around 80% of the images I shot that day, so if you want to see that particular feature it will be my pleasure to share it.
But before that, we need to shine a light on Ricko’s Levin-faced Corolla SR5, his third project car and first SEMA build, as displayed at the Toyo Tires Treadpass last November.
I remember discussing this project with Ricko when it was nothing more than an idea in his head. In fact, that was while we were in the Nevada desert shooting his Nissan.
Like every JDM fan, back in the day Ricko spent a great deal of time watching Best Motoring and Hot Version videos, soaking up the legendary battles between tuner cars. It was from then on, that if Ricko had the means, he wanted to create a such a car of his own.
Speaking with Ricko about the AE86 build, he mentioned something that made so much sense to me. That is, when you get past 40 years old and you have the ability to buy yourself a nice car, there are two approaches you can take.
You either go the route of a new performance or even supercar, where you can spec the build to your own preferences. But with this approach it ends there; you place your order and then wait for the factory to build it – sometimes up to a year or more – before the brand new car is delivered via a dealership.
Building a car like this AE86 goes way beyond that.
For Ricko, it was the blank canvas and untold number of decisions required to create something very personal that made it the most attractive proposition. But with this approach, you need a lot of patience, perseverance and problem-solving abilities.
Problems always arise, and the first one for Ricko was sourcing the TRD N2-inspired ‘N3′ over-fender kit from Custom Garage Speed in Japan. To assist him, Ricko hit up Nojima-san, RWB’s legendary painter and the man behind Nojireal – not to mention one of the most well-known and respected AE86 guys in Japan. In the first instance, even Nojima-san had trouble reaching the team at Custom Garage Speed, but when contact was finally made it was revealed that there were no kits in stock.
A fresh N3 kit had to be made up, not the sort of news you want to hear less than four months out from SEMA.
Then there were the wheels.
JC Pepino of Work Wheels was the man that convinced the company to produce the Work Equip 40 remake in the first place, so he considers this particular wheel his baby. Ricko’s plan was to get a set of the limited edition ‘Smoky Black’ 15-inch Equip 40s shipped out for the build, but with the kit delay, he was unable to confirm the widths and offsets required.
When he finally contacted JC with the specs, the 25 limited edition sets had all been sold. Ricko was rightfully bummed, until JC said: “Hold on, let me check something and get back to you…”
He went down to the factory where the center castings were made, and after rummaging around managed to find remnants of the black paint used to color the faces of the Smoky Black version. It turned out there was just enough paint left to do one last set of wheels, so that’s exactly what was done.
Measuring 15×9.5-inch up front and 15×10.5-inch in the rear, this set of Smoky Black Equip 40s are number 26 of 26. On top of that, JC made up some custom gold stickers for the black barrels, and included a set of gold-on-black center caps to finish them off. Talk about special.
JC also happens to be the guy that supplied these shots of Ricko’s AE86 for us. He really put his heart and soul into the shoot and came up with a pretty epic set of images, so a big thanks to JC for sharing them.
Both the 993 and RPS13 that Ricko had previously built are gold, but when the time came to choose a color for the AE86, he turned to his trusty painter for inspiration. Ricko wanted to stick with gold, but somehow make it different.
The idea for the color came to Ricko’s painter one night, while dreaming about the Mexican Centenario celebratory coin – as you do. That particular coin has a unique sparkle under sunlight.
To recreate this extra depth, gold flake and actual diamond dust was used in the Corolla’s custom paint mix, something that ended up making the paint job rather pricey. But Ricko went along with it, and the result is a sparkling gold finish that really has to be seen to be believed.
That goes for every surface of the car, which prior to the rebuild was put on a rotisserie, blasted back to bare metal, stitch-welded throughout, and then stiffened up with a welded and gusseted roll cage.
Get down on your knees and have a nose around underneath and you’ll see that color-matching extends to the custom prop-shaft that connects the swapped motor and transmission package to a Ford rear end. The attention to detail is simply stunning; no component, bolt or nut has been left untouched.
The interior has been approached with motorsport in mind, so there’s very little in the way of comfort. In fact, the only thing you’ll find beyond the essentials is a JDM tsurikawa train handle for the passenger side, a little touch of drift style. It’s a gold one, of course.
From the red Bride Zeta III seats to the green Takata Racing harnesses, every detail is on point. I personally love how the steering column, which has been extended in order to align the seats with the B-pillars, is suspended on a raw metal pipe. This also acts as the mounting point for the AiM digital dash, the only piece of instrumentation.
All the switch gear has been neatly grouped into this box, where even the wiring leading up to it has been cleanly laid down.
And then we get to the engine bay, the heart of this build, and something I had a little to do with. When I was talking to Ricko in 2018 about this potential project, he asked what engine I’d go for. The requirement was something JDM, not so common, and able to retain the car’s overall balance.
Sure 20-valve 4A-GE swaps are cool, or if you want silly power 1JZ and 2JZ swaps will easily get you there, but for me the 3S-GE has always made so much sense as an AE86 re-power option.
And that’s what Ricko decided on in the end, specifically a Yamaha BEAMs version of the 3S-GE from a SXE10 Toyota Altezza RS200.
Ricko has always enjoyed our coverage of Wekfest Japan events, especially when it comes to checking out engine bay shaving and wire-tucking. He wanted to take the same approach, by cleaning everything up, sealing off unnecessary holes, and hiding the wiring. What he didn’t want to do is smooth out the metalwork to the point that it began looking overly sterile in the bay. I think it’s safe to say that he’s struck just the right balance.
Aside from the quad throttle bodies and octopus-style header (which run into a custom side-exit exhaust) the BEAMS 3S-GE has remained stock, but there’s a Link ECU in play to make the most of it. The stock fuel tank has been replaced by a Radium/Fuel Safe fuel cell visible through the hatch.
Along with the BEAMs engine, a J160 6-speed manual gearbox from the Altezza donor is also used, and mated to a Toda lightweight flywheel and clutch assembly. This runs into the aforementioned golden prop-shaft which sends drive to the wheels through a Ford 8.8-inch rear end.
The car sits square and tough on its Work Equip 40 wheel and Toyo Proxes R888R tire combo. Annex coilovers are employed at each corner, while all the arms have been replaced with Techno Toy Tuning components. It’s hard to see due to the chunky wheel spokes, but there’s Wilwood brakes at all four corners to ensure the Corolla stops as well as it goes.
Like any custom build the process has been filled with trials and tribulations, but that’s precisely what Ricko enjoyed the most. Working with trusted shops, brands and friends, every little detail had to be thought about. In its entirety, this is what makes a project car so much fun. There’s so much satisfaction in seeing it all come together in the end.
The best and most memorable thing for Ricko when was Peter Brock himself came over to take a look at his car and said: “This is exactly how old cars should be built.” This comment alone from such a legend in the world of Japanese cars has made it worthwhile and has pushed Ricko to not end it there. Once 2020 is done screwing things up for everyone he wants to build something else.
Dino Dalle Carbonare
1984 Toyota Corolla SR5 AE86
Toyota 2.0L 3S-GE BEAMS, ITBs, custom header & exhaust, Radium fuel cell, Link ECU
Toyota J160 6-speed manual gearbox, Toda flywheel, Toda single plate clutch, custom prop-shaft, Ford 8.8-inch rear end
Annex coilovers, Techno Toy Tuning suspension arms, Wilwood brakes
Work Wheels Equip 40 Smoky Black, 15×9.5-inch -35 front, 15×10.5-inch -47 rear, Toyo Proxes R888R tires
Custom Garage Speed N3 (fenders & front lip) kit, Craft Square carbon mirrors, Lexan windows and sliders, custom gold paint
Welded & gusseted roll-cage, stitched body, custom gold paint, Tilton pedal box, Bride Zeta III seats, Takata Racing belts, custom switch box, custom steering column & mount with AIM display