Third Time’s A Charm: Introducing Project AE86

Since moving to Japan just two short years ago, purchasing an AE86 was #1 on my bucket list. But owning a car in Japan is hard, so ticking this dream off was easier said than done.

AE86s are dumb, and as someone who’s now owned three of them, I can happily confirm that dumb cars are the best cars. Back home in Australia, several other JDM cars have called my garage home. But from Silvias to Civics, a Forester STI and even a GT86, the desire to get back in a Hachiroku always lingered.

Nothing quite tickles the brain the same way an AE86 does, something I don’t believe many people understand until they’ve had the chance to experience one. But can you blame them? It’s a 40-year-old Corolla with 130hp on a perfect day. Not much about that combo sounds enticing. But as soon as you’re behind the wheel, all preconceptions are thrown out the window. Nearly everyone I’ve ever thrown my AE86 keys to has responded with ‘I get it now’ post-drive.

Project AE86 - Speedhunters - Alec Pender-74

Even after building my first AE86 in Australia from the ground up, blowing the motor, and then selling the car to fund two Silvias, I couldn’t shake the Hachiroku ownership urge. So late-2019 I said farewell to the S13 and S14 and jumped back behind the wheel of another sub-150hp Corolla. It was the most satisfying 150hp ever.

Project AE86 - Speedhunters - Alec Pender-112

When I moved to Japan, I held onto my Australian AE86 at home, fearing being unable to replace such a good example and prices getting too high. But come 2023, it was time to let it go and hunt for something on this side of the world that could be driven and enjoyed, not parked up to collect dust.

Project AE86 - Speedhunters - Alec Pender-1

Finding the right car in Japan was hard. I was originally chasing a Trueno hatchback – the one variant of AE86 I have yet to own. But after six months of searching, and the market seemingly getting dryer and more expensive by the week, a message from AE86 specialist shop Garage Infinity landed in my inbox.

Responsible for several AE86 events and drift days, Garage Infinity is one of the pillars of Japan’s Hachiroku community.


With such a high reputation, saying no to one of their cars was hard. Albeit the complete opposite variation of a Trueno hatch, the Levin notch is one of my favourites.


The car presented well as far as AE86s go and ticked most of my boxes. With the help of Google Translate and Garage Infinity’s patience, I became the Levin’s new owner.


It’s usually easy to know what sort of person owned a car before you. This one, however, I still couldn’t tell you. It had little to no rust, a complete interior with working air-con, and meticulous attention to detail with most of its modifications. But there was one caveat.

Project AE86 - Speedhunters - Alec Pender-14

While it may look OK on camera, the paintwork left much to be desired. Originally a white car, sometime in its ownership history, someone seemingly got carried away with an at-home paint set-up and a container of glitter. It’s a salmon red/pink with enough rainbow sparkle to cover the entire Toyota production line. But hey, that’s why it’s a project car.

Under the bonnet, the Levin retains its factory 1.6L DOHC 16V 4A-GE with the addition of an ITB setup, Toda 288-degree cams, a metal head gasket, port and polish, and a Freedom ECU. And while my neighbours might disagree, the car makes all the right sounds, especially with its Kakimoto Racing straight-through exhaust.

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Project AE86 - Speedhunters - Alec Pender-45

The Levin sits on a square set of RS Watanabe wheels, 15×9-inch -13 at all four corners. With Yokohama Advan AD08R semi-slicks, it has more grip than you would ever need, except on Tokyo’s annual day of snow…

Project AE86 - Speedhunters - Alec Pender-59

I’ve owned the car for around six months now, and it’s been an almost seamless experience. Besides a fuel pump failure and an ECU that does not enjoy Tokyo summers, the Levin has survived both daily duties and road trips.

Project AE86 - Speedhunters - Alec Pender-62

So what’s next for Project AE86? Having been on the other side of the camera at drifting events for years, I think it’s about time I jump behind the wheel. I also plan on making this car a bit more of my own. Working with well-known shops in Japan, getting rid of that ‘red’ and swapping the archaic ECU will be a good start.

For now, though, a quick trip up to Ebisu Circuit is in order…

Alec Pender
Instagram: noplansco



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fan of Rupert

Great looking car, incredible photography. AE86 were the most fun cars I have ever owned


Yeah really good photos and looks like a super fun car to own. I've been in a lot of cars but never an AE86 that I can remember. It's kind of a unicorn to me at this point tbh. Are they really this good? Everyone I know who has owned one seriously loves them. Oof...remember when they used to be $500 for a pair of two?

Also I miss Rupert and I would like to start a petition to free him. He was a great guy. Can we please unban the almighty Rupertius?


Nothing about them stood out as great, but the total package was endearing and the handling was very entertaining.

4AGE of all types sound very good, eager, and characterful. The 20v ones make a better noise and the ITB noise is great. Silvertop can easily run open ITBs with a blacktop ecu.

The car was just copied homework. Engine was apparently a near-copy of a Cosworth one. Dimensions and setup were inspired by older Alfas. Combined with Toyota's simplicity and quality, it was a winner.

i am saddened that a supposedly unaffliated individual who had a car featured here 10 years ago was able to "pull strings" and get a real motorsport figure banned from commenting. This was a guy who had never posted anything rude or untoward, and never tooted his own horn regarding his past or his car collection.


Frank's a C word and the people who run this site are punks with no spines and their site is dying. We should all just stop consuming their content. Larry Chen extorted some poor guy at Hagerty to secure his current position. This industry is really gross when you peel back the layers. A lot of weirdos and people who don't truly care about real enthusiasts and drivers.

This site sucks now. I'm not coming here anymore except for the odd occasion like tonight. It's a sad place with some really twisted weirdos who don't want to acutally learn about cars or become smarter. Pretty sad if you ask me.


Thanks! Unbeatable fun/hp ratio


Absolutely fantastic photography! I love them all!!!


Thank you!


I do get it Alex, that feeling you feel, it’s not just about going fast, it’s about the whole experience when you get sit in the drivers seat. I came across one last year. I learned to drive in a Toyota Corolla hatchback. Look forward to updates.


By far the most fun car ive owned


One of your most exciting posts lately Tim! I still regret selling mine 20 years ago. Would love to live thru your perspective again with these cars.

Can't wait to see more in your future with the AE86. Congrats!


Thank you!


lol edit*Alec


God i've missed Speedhunters Garage/Project car posts


Your pictures are extraordinary and I´m super happy for you, that you can enjoy an 86 on Japanese streets!. :) Looking forward to seeing the progress on the car. :)


thank you!


Pics are on point Alec.
The last pic with Fuji-san, was that the Hakone Observation point?

Welcome back to AE86 ownership misery! hahah. They are the Borst fun ever.
I have a real soft spot for Levin Coupes and might be just a little biased...


thank you! yeah top of turnpike.


Great read!
Glad to see you are enjoying it to the fullest.
SO-MANY-WALLPAPERS! Thanks for sharing.




Your photography is absolutely beautiful, Alec! It is so enjoyable looking at these photos.


thank you!