Fuelled by Whiskey, peer pressure, and a serious amount of love for killing tyres, Mike Ledgerwood’s 1UZ-powered KE10 is a battler with a shitload of character
Rust is the silent killer of the car world. Like a cancer, it grows and slowly eats away at vital organs until there are more holes plaguing the panel work and chassis than there are skid marks at your local burnout pad. Those that have been diagnosed with the affliction are found by the hundred, rotting away in paddocks — especially in the South Island — while sheds are filled with more near-death examples that overly ambitious owners collected with grand intentions of restoring them to their former glory. The reality of it, though, is that almost none of them ever will be restored — it’s the circle of life, as what comes out of the ground must eventually return.
But what if we didn’t look at rust as a death sentence and instead celebrated the character that a car has forged over 50-plus years of life under the baking sun and harshest of winters?
This is the story of Mike Ledgerwood’s unrestored 1966 Toyota Corolla KE10, which has been given a new lease on life in part thanks to a heart transplant from one of its much younger siblings. “She had been sitting around at a friend of mine’s for years, and I pestered him for a solid four or five years to buy it,” Mike says. “At first, I thought I’d put it away in dry storage until I could spend some really good coin on it to repair the rust, paint it, and put it back on the road, as, being the first ’66 KE10 and not the KE11, there aren’t many left around.”
After tearing the guards in his KE36 wagon when a tyre exploded at 80psi during a burnout, Mike knew that the rear quarters on the KE10 would need some extra protection to ensure they weren’t destroyed — the only repaired panels on the entire car
The old girl sat for two or so years in Mike’s possession, while the likelihood of that restoration slimmed by the day. It wasn’t until a workmate mentioned that he was trying to flick a factory 1UZ-FE, Link G1, and transmission combo that the story changed. “The pair were never intended to meet at all,” Mike explains, as he had intended to put the motor aside, like the KE, for use in a future project. It wasn’t until brews were being sunk in generous portions alongside a few of his inner circle, ‘The Darrells’, that owner of the Mopar-powered ‘SHTBOX’ Laurel and his mate, Hamish, planted the seed in Mike’s head: why not chuck the 1UZ in the KE10?
Mike’s intentions for the KE had always been good, but, when a friend almost lost his feet through the floor while having a casual drink in the car, he discovered the non-existent chassis rails and knew that it was going to be beyond his means to save it as a road car. “I was actually surprised it hadn’t crumpled under its own weight; there was nothing left underneath. It would be considered unrepairable, in some eyes, without an open chequebook, which I didn’t have, so it developed into, ‘yeah, let’s build a burnout car’.”
Now he was resigned to the fact that it would never see the road again, things progressed rapidly, and the fire was fuelled by the a good bunch of people around him, especially those like Jody Thompson of Two Six Installation and Fabrication, who was only too eager to chop a great big dirty hole out of the firewall and floorpan to make it happen. He was tasked with a large portion of the fabrication work on the car, including whipping up all the required mounts and forming new panels around the motor and transmission to keep it sealed from the cabin in case anything went pear-shaped.
But the fabrication goes much deeper. Remember those non-existent chassis rails? Mike crafted new rails underneath, and spent a fair few hours strengthening key structural points of the body where rust had eaten away at it over the years. This saw a whole new boot floor welded in to house twin Aeroflow primary fuel pumps, along with a surge tank and Aeroflow lift pump, while being able to withstand high-speed tip-ins without the worry of the rear warping. The only section of the body to receive any form of repair, as Mike explains, was the rear quarters. “I knew [that] if I had left them as they were, as soon as that tyre popped, a rubber belt would grab hold of it and tear it to pieces. We strengthened it with 2.5mm steel plate, so hopefully it’ll never twist or warp.”
A fitter turner by trade, Mike got to work making sure the car wouldn’t crumple under its own weight due to the lack of structural support that 50 years of rust brings on, and he pieced together new chassis rails, floor panels, and a serious amount of bracing
A test squirt at Ruapuna proved two things to Mike: one, the car was going to be one hell of a package to hack around in, and, two, more power was needed. The timing was good, what with a work payout and a new job, which freed up some extra cash flow, so the bad influence of Josh Kemp of Kelford Cams quickly saw a set of eight 4A-GE silvertop individual throttle bodies (ITBs) sitting alongside a custom manifold on Mike’s workbench, and the heads were off for a hit of CNC porting and to be fitted with valve springs and Super Stock camshafts by way of the Kelford catalogue.
That package made for a fair whack of extra push-power in naturally aspirated form, but it only took another night of drunken antics before the idea of nitrous oxide was thrown around. Mike thought that it all had been a dream the following morning when he awoke slightly hungover, and was thoroughly confused by a confirmation email sitting in his inbox saying a brand-new direct-injection ZEX nitrous-oxide kit was making its way from the States to our shores.
Once it was all fitted up and on the dyno, the 1UZ proved good for 265kW at the wheels, with 1100Nm of torque running on avgas.
Time constraints during the countdown towards the 4&Rotary South Island Champs meant that a detonating issue with the nitrous wasn’t remedied in time — cooler plugs were required to deal with the 150hp shot of go-mist — although he is confident that it will spin up roughly 373kW and crank out the better part of 1900Nm once it’s sorted — a crap ton of torque which should have no issue spinning up those tyres.
As for looks, well, what you see is what you get: pure, unrestored character. The old girl sports the same ‘paintwork’ and panels that it left the factory floor with, albeit with a good amount of patina forged over 51 years of it being in existence. But that’s a part of the KE’s story for Mike, and, while he once wanted to do the complete opposite, he just couldn’t bring himself to touch anything on the outside of the car now. “I just love the look of it, all old and rusty, no repairs since 1966, no bog or paint. It took 50-odd years to get it to look like this, I wouldn’t want to ruin that by throwing bog and paint at it,” he explains.
And now that the KE10 is ‘complete’, Mike intends to travel across the country to kill tyres at various burnout comps, and tells us the ultimate goal would be to reach the point where he is invited over to Summernats with the Kiwi team that heads over each year. Regardless of where it may end up in future, Mike says that there is nothing cooler than driving around the track with all his mates piled into a rusty, old, V8-powered Corolla, in which, every time the gas pedal is stomped on, the occupants receive a mouthful of rust. It’s not about being the nicest, or even the fastest, car of the day; it’s simply about having the most fun — something Mike clearly does well with this old battler.
OCCUPATION: Fitter turner
BUILD TIME: Three years
LENGTH OF OWNERSHIP: 3.5 years
THANKS: Josh Kemp, for his massive effort building my engine; Gary at PAD Racing, for his dedication and help to get this thing tuned and ready for South Island Champs; Tim Lang at Lichfield motors; The Darrells, for being a bunch of Darrells; Jody Thompson, for the fabrication; my father, Mike Sr, for just being there when needed; all my mates who have helped — they know who they are
The car cranks out 246kW and 1100Nm of torque at the wheels naturally aspirated, but the plan is to reach 373kW and somewhere around 1900Nm with a 112kW (150hp) shot of nitrous added into the mix
1966 Toyota Corolla KE10
ENGINE: Toyota 1UZ-FE, 4000cc, V8
HEAD: CNC-ported heads, Ferrea 1mm oversized exhaust valves, Kelford KVS1UZ valve springs, custom 207-F New Zealand Super Stock camshafts, multilayer steel (MLS) head gaskets, ARP head studs
INTAKE: Custom-made ITB manifold, eight 20-valve 4A-GE throttle bodies, custom trumpets
EXHAUST: Custom headers, side-exit pipes
FUEL: 1000cc injectors, custom BBP rails, Aeroflow fuel-pressure regulator, twin Aeroflow fuel pumps, surge tank, Aeroflow lift pump, Link fuel-pressure switch, AN8 fuel lines
ECU: Link G4+ Fury
COOLING: Custom alloy radiator, relocated filler cap
EXTRA: Direct-injection ZEX nitrous-oxide kit, custom oil catch-can, Aeroflow radiator overflow, rust
GEARBOX: Manualized 1UZ-FE four-speed auto, trans cooler
DIFF: Shortened Hilux housing, locked (4.3)
EXTRA: Custom one-piece driveshaft
STRUTS: (F) custom coilovers, (R) custom leaf springs
BRAKES: Factory, relocated master cylinder
EXTRA: Full chassis strengthening
WHEELS: 14x8.5-inch (-24) SSR Star Formula
TYRES: 195/45R14 Toyo T1R
PAINT: Factory off white
ENHANCEMENTS: Paddock-aged patina, rust
STEERING WHEEL: Factory
INSTRUMENTATION: Auto Meter oil-pressure, water-temp, and tacho gauges; NOS-pressure gauge
EXTRA: Custom shifter grenade, rust
POWER: 246kW (330hp) without nitrous
FUEL TYPE: Avgas
TUNER: Gary at PAD Racing
This article originally appeared in NZ Performance Car issue No. 254 — to get your grubby mitts on a copy click the cover below: