There are a few cars which don’t need definition when discussed. If someone mentions the name Exige, Veyron or Aventador you know what they’re on about. However for the vast majority of the machines we modify, there are a number of variants that fall under the same name — arguably none more so than the Corolla. Commencing production in 1966 and spanning right on through to today, there are countless versions ranging from cult classics to airbag-loaded, economical grocery collectors, and all with their own subfamily of defining chassis codes. If Michael Ledgerwood of Christchurch owned one, chances are it had ‘KE’ stamped on the tag.
Having had his fair share of Toyotas, it was the KE36 which got more attention than the rest. “I used to get embarrassed being dropped off at school in one, but now I can’t get enough of them,” Michael laughs, “Ever since I got my first KE when I was 17, I fell in love.” Fast-forward a few years and his fair share of KE26s, 30s and 35s, he settled on getting serious with the wagon we see today.
Not a run-of-the-mill car to start with, Michael purchased the wagon with a turbo 4AGZE and Hilux diff from the get-go. However, that setup didn’t suffice for long, and plans for more power and an all round better car were put in motion. More horsepower was on the cards, and that wasn’t going to happen without making some changes to the cylinder head. “I was probably a bit young and arrogant at the time, but I wanted the heaviest cams I could get,” laughs Michael. Race-spec Kelford Cams were sourced, along with heavier Kelford valve springs to match. To assist in allowing more fuel into the chamber, 510cc Evo injectors were installed. There’s no point in throwing more fuel in the mix without adding air to the equation, so Michael set about making sure that an optimal mixture would be achieved. A WRX throttle body was retrofitted, and the head ported and polished.
Trying to direct a few hundred horsepower through a standard KE36 driveline is going to be anything but reliable, which the previous owner realized and remedied with the installation of a Toyota W55 gearbox and a Hilux diff. This is where the build takes another turn; Michael wasn’t satisfied with that either. The set-up wasn’t too bad to begin with, but the rear end had to provide for more than just spreading power to the rear wheels. “It was strong and never gave me issues,” Michael explains. “But I wanted rear camber; there were no Corollas around with it.” The decision was made to axe the lot, and source an S13 rear subframe which would both handle the increased power, and provide adjustment at the wheels with a more modern independent rear suspension type system.
The fuel tank, rear guards, and rails all needed modification to fit the subframe and planned wide wheels, so Simon at Surfab was enlisted to take care of the installation, which was definitely far from a bolt-in affair. As it turns out, it was a good time to begin fabrication in that area of the car anyway, since the Hilux diff had started to tear through the floor under the rear seat. To compliment the new diff set-up, the W55 was rebuilt and a new clutch and flywheel combo was installed.
Following the initial array of modifications, the car went for a tune. However, due to the wrong choice of turbo and a cheap manifold, the results weren’t what Michael was hoping for. “It made alright power but it was super laggy,” Michael recalls. “It meant I had to sit on the limiter to hold full boost. So after more research and talking to mates I went to a custom T28 with bigger compressor and turbine wheel, and got my mate Nick to make me a good manifold and downpipe.” As well as a better flowing manifold and more suitable turbo, the car’s intercooler piping size was reduced and a genuine TiAL 38mm wastegate was bolted on. The result, a responsive 238kW (320hp) at the wheels at 19psi. As Michael tells us, “It just screams right from the word go through until the limiter. Full boost is achieved at 3700 rpm and still making full power at over 8000.”
With the light at the end of the tunnel now near for the mechanical part of the build, it was time to make sure the car looked the part, and that meant making the most of the modified guards. “I’ve always run cheap Chinese-made wheels,” Michael explains. “I just wanted to spend my money on going faster. But with constant shit and digs from a mate Marcus, I finally decided it was time to purchase some genuine Japanese wheels. He was amazed.” A set of SSR Starsharks were sourced locally, arriving as a pair of 14x8-inch and another pair of smaller 14x6.5-inch. Being a fitter and turner by trade, Michael machined the outer lips off the 6.5s and sent them away for some bigger ones to be made up to match the width of the other pair. “Luckily, with the offset of the new lips ,they sat in the rear guards perfectly,” Michael recalls. “And with a bit of persuasion and camber, the fronts fit well, too.
Following a paint job and finishing touches to the guards and brakes, the car definitely stands out as one of the most unique KE36s we’ve seen. We’re told that even though the S13 rear-end vastly improved the handling side of things, the car is a bit of a ‘sunny day driver,’ due to massive amounts of camber making it a handful in the wet, which is no surprise really. Michael isn’t finished with it, and has mentioned plans to go faster, lower and louder which include a switch to E85 in the hopes of breaking the 400hp mark. With that in mind, the car may begin to get a bit loose on dry tarmac as well!
Make and model: 1980 Toyota Corolla (KE36)
- Engine: Toyota 4AGZE 16V, 1600cc, 4 cylinder
- Block: Factory
- Head: Kelford Cams full race cams, Kelford valve springs, ported and polished head
- Intake: WRX throttle body, pod filter
- Exhuast: 2.5-inch straight through pipe, custom top mount turbo manifold
- Turbo: Custom Garrett T28, HKS compressor wheel, S15 shaft and exhaust wheel
- Wastegate: TiAL 38mm
- Fuel: Bosch 044 main pump, Mitsubishi Evo 510cc injectors, surge tank, lift pump, modified fuel tank
- Ignition: Aftermarket ignition leads
- ECU: Microtech LT8
- Cooling: Toyota AE86 twin core alloy radiator
- Extra: Deloomed, polished covers, battery relocated
- Gearbox: W55 5-speed custom bellhousing, short-shift kit
- Clutch: 5-puk brass button
- Flywheel: AE101 Levin 4AGZE
- Diff: S13 R200
- Extra: Full S13 rear subframe conversion
- Struts: Cusco S13 coilovers
- Brakes: (F) Celica rotors and calipers (R) Nissan S13 rotors and calipers
- Extra: TRD strut brace, tubbed guards, custom rear strut brace, camber arms
- Wheels: 14x8-inch SSR Starsharks
- Tyres:195/45R14 Toyo TR1s
- Paint: White respray
- Enhancements: Custom flared rear guards
- Seats: NIssan GT-R
- Steering wheel: Tomei
- Instrumentation: Autometer boost gauge
- ICE: JVC head unit, Sony 6x9-inch speakers, Sony Bass tube
Power: 238kW (320hp) at the wheels 19psi
- Driver/Owner: Michael Ledgerwood
- Age: 22
- Location: Christchurch
- Occupation: Fitter and Turner apprentice
- Build time: two years
- Length of ownership: two years
- Thanks: My father for the late nights in the garage and the mad rush to get it painted for the South Island Champs. Gary at P.A.D racing, The boys at Lichfield Motors Christchurch, all my mates that helped, my boss Chris, Simon at Surfab