Project AE86 Unveiled: Third Attempt’s Enchantment

Photo of author

By Car Brand Experts


After relocating to Japan merely a couple of years ago, procuring an AE86 was at the top of my wishlist. However, car ownership in Japan poses challenges, so turning this aspiration into reality was easier said than done.

AE86s may seem unremarkable, and as an individual who has now possessed three of them, I can happily attest that unremarkable cars are the most exceptional. Down under in Australia, numerous other JDM vehicles have graced my garage. Yet, from Silvias to Civics, a Forester STI, and even a GT86, the yearning to hop back into a Hachiroku remained constant.

Nothing quite stimulates the mind in the same manner as an AE86 does, a sentiment that I believe few comprehend until they have had the privilege to encounter one. But can you really blame them? It’s a 40-year-old Corolla with 130hp on a great day. Not much about that combination sounds appealing. Nevertheless, once you’re in the driver’s seat, all preconceived notions are instantly discarded. Nearly every individual I have entrusted with my AE86 keys has responded with ‘I understand now’ after the drive.

Project AE86 - Speedhunters - Alec Pender-74
  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Pinterest
  • reddit
  • LinkedIn
  • Tumblr

Even after constructing my initial AE86 in Australia from scratch, blowing the engine, and subsequently selling the car to finance two Silvias, I could not rid myself of the Hachiroku ownership yearning. Hence, in late-2019, I bid adieu to the S13 and S14 and returned to the driver’s seat of another under-150hp Corolla. It proved to be the most gratifying 150hp experience.

Project AE86 - Speedhunters - Alec Pender-112
  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Pinterest
  • reddit
  • LinkedIn
  • Tumblr

Upon my relocation to Japan, I held onto my Australian AE86 at home, dreading the inability to find a worthy replacement and the escalating prices. However, in 2023, it was time to bid farewell and search for a driveable and enjoyable alternative on this side of the globe, rather than parking it to gather dust.

Project AE86 - Speedhunters - Alec Pender-1
  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Pinterest
  • reddit
  • LinkedIn
  • Tumblr

Locating the right car in Japan was a daunting task. Initially, I sought a Trueno hatchback – the sole AE86 variant I had yet to possess. However, after six months of searching and the market appearing increasingly scarce and costly each week, a message from the renowned AE86 specialist establishment, Garage Infinity, arrived in my inbox.

Pioneering various AE86 events and drift sessions, Garage Infinity stands as a pillar of Japan’s Hachiroku community.

1-Project-AE86-Speedhunters-Alec-Pender-8
  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Pinterest
  • reddit
  • LinkedIn
  • Tumblr

Given their stellar reputation, declining one of their vehicles was a tough call. Although markedly different from a Trueno hatch, the Levin notch is among my favorites.

1-Project-AE86-Speedhunters-Alec-Pender-24
  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Pinterest
  • reddit
  • LinkedIn
  • Tumblr

The vehicle showcased admirably, considering AE86 standards, andmet most of my requirements. Thanks to Google Translate and the patient assistance from Garage Infinity, I took ownership of the Levin.

1-Project-AE86-Speedhunters-Alec-Pender-18
  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Pinterest
  • reddit
  • LinkedIn
  • Tumblr

Typically, it’s quite straightforward to deduce the previous owner’s personality through their vehicle, but in this case, I still remain clueless. The car exhibited minimal to no corrosion, a fully intact interior with functioning air-conditioning, and meticulous craftsmanship evident in most of its alterations. However, there was one drawback.

Project AE86 - Speedhunters - Alec Pender-14
  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Pinterest
  • reddit
  • LinkedIn
  • Tumblr

Despite its appealing appearance in photos, the paint job left much to be desired. Originally white, at some point in its ownership journey, it seems an individual went overboard with a DIY painting setup and a stockpile of glitter. The result is a salmon pink/red hue with an abundance of rainbow shimmer coating reminiscent of the entire Toyota assembly line. Yet, that’s precisely what earmarks it as a project car.

Beneath the hood, the Levin still houses its original 1.6L DOHC 16V 4A-GE engine with the supplement of an ITB configuration, Toda 288-degree camshafts, a metal cylinder head gasket, port and polish enhancements, and a Freedom ECU. Despite potential objections from my neighbors, the vehicle emits a delightful symphony, especially with its Kakimoto Racing straight-through exhaust system.

Project AE86 - Speedhunters - Alec Pender-36
  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Pinterest
  • reddit
  • LinkedIn
  • Tumblr
1-Project-AE86-Speedhunters-Alec-Pender-50
  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Pinterest
  • reddit
  • LinkedIn
  • Tumblr
Project AE86 - Speedhunters - Alec Pender-45
  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Pinterest
  • reddit
  • LinkedIn
  • Tumblr

Resting on a uniform set of RS Watanabe wheels, measuring 15×9-inch -13 on all ends, the Levin provides ample traction with Yokohama Advan AD08R semi-slick tires, exceeding necessary grip levels, except for when encountering Tokyo’s annual snowfall…

Project AE86 - Speedhunters - Alec Pender-59
  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Pinterest
  • reddit
  • LinkedIn
  • Tumblr

Having possessed the vehicle for approximately half a year now, the journey has been reasonably flawless. Other than a fuel pump malfunction and an ECU that doesn’t quite tolerate Tokyo’s summers, the Levin has withstood daily commutes and extended road excursions.

Project AE86 Speedhunters Alec Pender 62
  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Pinterest
  • reddit
  • LinkedIn
  • Tumblr
1 Project AE86 Speedhunters Alec Pender 31
  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Pinterest
  • reddit
  • LinkedIn
  • Tumblr

What lies ahead for Project AE86? After observing drifting events from afar for years, I feel it’s time to take the wheel myself. I also have plans to personalize this vehicle further. Collaborating with renowned establishments in Japan, shedding the current ‘red’ scheme and upgrading the outdated ECU will mark a promising beginning.

For now, though, a brief journey to Ebisu Circuit is on the agenda…

Alec Pender
Instagram: noplansco



Leave a Comment

For security, use of Google's reCAPTCHA service is required which is subject to the Google Privacy Policy and Terms of Use.

Pin It on Pinterest

Share This

Share This

Share this post with your friends!