Simply clean: 1985 Toyota Levin

Posted in Cars
Published in NZ Performance Car Issue No. 194

Like a lot of us, Dillon Grant has always had a thing for Toyota’s AE86/85 platform, but it wasn’t until he spent a bit of time online, that he decided he had to have one. “I started watching heaps of 86 videos from Japan on YouTube, and that’s what convinced me,” Dillon reveals. Eventually, after keeping an eye out for a while, what Dillon thought was the perfect car came up for sale. “The previous owner had gone to the trouble of swapping in the Hilux diff, W58 gearbox, and the small-port 4AGE, as well as a bolt-in cage, some suspension and brakes. The exterior had probably seen better days, with a few dents and rust repairs, but the car had a lot of potential and seemed almost ready to take to the track as is.” In the end however, although the car was reasonable, it wasn’t all that Dillon had hoped. He explains: “Originally I didn’t really have too many plans for [the car] apart from tidying up a few things, as I thought I had a pretty well set up car in my hands. It wasn’t until I started driving it on the track and after having owned it for a while I started noticing a few issues and things I wasn’t 100-per-cent happy with.” Like so many other feature-car owners we speak to, Dillon sums it up with that oh-so-common phrase: “I guess that’s where it all started … ”

As a mechanical engineer by trade, and quite a talented one at that, Dillon was in a good spot when it came to ‘getting started’ on the rebuild, which has turned into a complete, no-bolt-left-unreplaced restoration of sorts. “I ended up re-doing everything on the car to get it to a standard where I was satisfied with it, as well as improving anything I could along the way. Actually, the only thing I haven’t had out of the car is the steering column!” Many of the parts on this car have been fabricated by Dillon himself — usually with the help of a CNC machine — meaning that this particular AE85 is one of a kind.

To kick things off, Dillon decided he needed more power, and although he’d dabbled with his fair share of powerful naturally aspirated set-ups in the past, the decision was made to go turbo. “I think an 86 and a highly tuned NA motor go hand in hand, but after already building a few NA motors on previous cars, I wanted to try a new set-up. And as far as bang for buck goes, you can’t really beat a turbo.” When it came to how the car would drive however, Dillon didn’t want to stray too far from the AE86 light car, low power ideology. This meant only a small turbo — a T25 — was needed, and the standard small-port 4A-GE could also remain in the car. Dillon explains: “It’ll never make huge power on a stock motor, but I just don’t see the point of going forged or to a 4A-GZE [factory forged] block — this is strong enough, for now, anyway.” Although there are quite a few 4A-GE-turbo Levins and Truenos around the place, very few look as good as Dillon’s. This is the sort of engine bay that just goes to show that you don’t need all the best equipment or the biggest power figures to have an impressive under-bonnet view, all it takes is some well executed, quality workmanship, plenty of polish and a whole lot of spare time. The T25 turbo set-up, which will be tuned on a Link ECU a few days after this issue goes to print, should produce between 120–130kW at the rear wheels — making for a quick, reliable, responsive, and most important of all, fun match to the 900kg body.

As Dillon mentioned earlier, the body of the AE turned out to be a bit of a dog, so the worst of the parts were stripped back and taken to Grant and the team at GT Refinishers, and as tends to happen with old cars, things escalated quickly, and what was at first a quick touch-up became a full-blown body restoration. Looking at the finished result, we’re damn sure Dillon made the right call on that one … After spending a month or so inside the shop, the little Toyota is looking as good, if not better, than new showroom condition in factory-spec red and black two-tone — helped along by the addition of Mike Shaw Fibreglass AE86 skirts and bumpers and a TRD boot wing of course. Making the biggest visual impact however, surpassing everything else, would have to be the perfectly fitted and just straight-up gorgeous SSR MK-II rims. Weighing in at 14×8- and 14×9-inches with a -20 and -11 offset respectively, these bad boys are, in our opinion, the perfect wheel for this car; although that wasn’t always the case. Dillon fills us in: “The wheels actually came with the car originally when I bought it, except they were only 14×6.5s and 7.5s. After talking to Gavin Bateman at Bateman Race Cars, I ordered some new outer lips to widen them to what they are now, 8.5s and 9s. From the factory, the wheels come welded together (three-piece), so I set them up in the lathe and machined the old outer lips off to make way for the new ones.” Although it seems like a lot of work, looking at how the car sits, it’s certainly been worth it.

With plenty of custom steering and suspension work thrown into the mix underneath the car, Dillon has built himself an awesome little AE85 — the perfect mix of power, low weight, handling and looks. As far as simple, clean and relatively cheap fun goes, we couldn’t think of much out there that would top this perfect little car. Dillon has no regrets: “Now that I’m finished, I couldn’t pick anything I don’t like about it, although if I were to do it again, I’d probably try and find a clean unmolested shell and go from there, instead of re-doing so many things,” (coincidently the second most common thing feature car owners say). In the end, though, none of that really matters to Dillon or anyone else like him. From humble beginnings checking out Japanese Hachi Rokus online, to the long build process in the year that followed, all that’s going to matter for Dillon in the end is turning that key and making his way out onto the front straight of his favourite racetrack for the first time — that’s what makes it all worth it.

Tuning Menu

Engine: Toyota 4A-GE 16V 1600cc four-cylinder
Block: Factory
Head: Factory
Intake: A’PEXi air filter, custom intake pipe, 2.5-inch intercooler piping, 280x200x70mm intercooler
Turbo: T25
BOV: TiAL 50mm
Wastegate: Internal
Exhaust: Custom steam-pipe manifold, 2.5-inch system
Fuel: 4AGZE 365cc injectors, Walbro pump
ECU: Link V5
Cooling: Koyo alloy radiator
Other: De-loomed engine bay, alloy radiator overflow, CNC-machined custom radiator brackets

Gearbox: Toyota W58 five-speed, Niteparts bellhousing, custom CNC short shifter
Clutch: Toyota 4AGZE
Diff: Hilux rear end, 4.3 LSD

Struts: (F) BC Gold coilovers, (R) KYB Excel
Springs: (F) BC 8kg, (R) BC 6kg
Other: Custom adjustable control arms, custom Panhard rod, front strut brace, Techno Toy Tuning castor arms, Techno Toy Tuning knuckles, 35mm RCA spacers, gusseted KE30 lower control arms, 30mm Whiteline front sway bar, 18mm Whiteline rear sway bar
Brakes: (F) AE86 calipers and rotors, (R) Nissan S13 calipers and rotors

Wheels: (F) SSR MK-II 14×8.5-inch -20, (R) 14×9-inch -11 SSR
Tyres: (F) 185/55R14 Bridgestone RE001, (R) 195/45R14 Toyo T1R

Paint: Red/black two-tone by GT Refinishers
Enhancements: Mike Shaw AE86 front lip, side skirts, bonnet, TRD duckbill

Seats: Bride Zeta 2, Velo harness
Steering wheel: 330mm OMP
Gear knob: Custom CNC
Instrumentation: Omori gauges
Roll cage: Full six-point

Power: Untested
Weight: 930kg wet

Driver Profile

Dillon Grant 
Age: 21
Location: Auckland
Occupation: Mechanical engineer
Length of ownership: 2.5 years
Build time: 2.5 years
Thanks: Tarran Smith, Brendan at Convert Motors, Goob at Herbert Fabrication, Grant at GT Refinishers, Bu-Mac Engineering

Words: Peter Kelly  
Photos: Adam Croy