Factory Upgrade: V8-Swapped Toyota Corolla


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During the early part of the 1980s, many compared Toyota to General Motors, the accolades coming thanks to the Japanese brand’s ability to release a dozen different flavors of the same basic model. Toyota’s noble goal was to build a car for everyone.

A fine example of this thought process is the Corolla econobox, which at the time could be had as a sedan, wagon, hardtop coupe, sport coupe or liftback, many in either standard, luxury or sport trim levels. There were even two possible engines; the big T covered as many bases as was practical in their attempt to fill as many garages as possible.

It was a solid effort by an automotive juggernaut, but ultimately Toyota was unable to build the 1980 Corolla that Rick Disbrow wanted. Granted, Rick’s tastes are a bit more extreme than your average consumer’s.

A high-powered monster of the sort Rick craved doesn’t exactly have mass appeal. In fact, it probably would have scared small children right out of the showroom. To make matters more complicated, the impossibility of time travel would have made sourcing a late-1990s Lexus V8 powerplant a real hassle for Toyota a decade and a half earlier. Lexus didn’t even exist yet.

With no hope of getting his car directly from Toyota, Rick decided to undertake the construction of a V8-powered Corolla on his own. Fortunately, waiting a decade or two before ordering parts allowed Rick to save lots of money on his creation. Best of all, there’s now an SCCA Solo class for an unusual hybrid such as this.

All in the Family

The centerpiece of Rick’s Corolla is the gleaming $250 4-liter Lexus V8 crammed between the strut towers.

“I started autocrossing five years ago with a 1988 Supra Turbo,” Rick explains. The car had good power, but it was a little heavy for his tastes. Plus it was getting expensive to maintain, he adds. Rick figured that an early-’80s Corolla would make a better alternative.

“I found two cars for $250, one two-door sedan and one two-door hatchback,” he says. “I originally wanted to do the hatch, but the looks of the sedan grew on me and I thought that the balance might be better on the sedan.”

The promise of low-cost parts was one of the things that drew Rick to the Corolla, but he soon felt that the little 1.8-liter, 3TC-spec engine was in need of more power. The discount aspect went out the window when he installed a race-ready, high-compression engine.

Total bill for that little project: $6000. On the plus side, it did outperform the stock engine by nearly a hundred horsepower. “This provided good results,” he says of his 170-horsepower screamer, “but it required race gas and inevitably detonated.”

It was now time for Rick to try something less highly strung and, at the same time, even more radical. He had set his sights on the SCCA’s Street Modified autocross class, which meant there was lots of leeway with respect to choosing a new engine. Dust off your law degree and ponder the following Street Mod snippet from the SCCA Solo rulebook:

“Engine block must be a production unit manufactured and badged the same as the original standard or optional engine for that model. Badges that exist as marketing aliases for the manufacturer will be recognized as equivalents.”

From a Street Modified perspective, the only thing that mattered regarding engine selection was the name on the valve cover. Absolutely any Toyota engine would be legal for the class, regardless of its era or origin. Better yet, as Lexus is a marketing alias for Toyota in the U.S., even bigger advantages were available.

Some Internet research revealed that the Lexus V8 could be squeezed into the Corolla engine bay. The 1UZ-FE engine was used in the brand’s top-of-the-line models during the 1990s, powering cars whose names ended with 400, like the LS 400 sedan and SC 400 coupe. Visions of a class-legal and very modern 4-liter Lexus V8 nestled in the nose of Rick’s lightweight rear-wheel drive Corolla were just too tempting to ignore.

A Slew of Happy Surprises

The headers were fabricated by a former Holman Moody employee.

With the plan in mind, Rick then did his research. “I decided to make some calls and source a motor,” he says. “I was shocked to find out how inexpensive these motors are. An all-aluminum, four-cam, 32-valve Toyota V8 for $250!”

While doing this research, Rick stumbled across a California drag racer named Sam Bennett who was swapping the same Lexus V8 into a 1972 Corolla for a project called The Flea. “Sam gave me a lot of information on where to get parts and aftermarket stuff for the motor,” Rick says. “He pointed me to Tom Rabold and Greg Markham at Bullet Cars in Australia. This motor is very popular there and they had the necessary parts for adapting the engine to a manual transmission, which wasn’t offered in the U.S.”

Rick got in touch with Bullet Cars and placed his order, getting the bellhousing, ceramic clutch, pressure plate and flywheel that would mate the Lexus V8 to a five-speed transmission sourced from a Toyota Supra. While Rick had Bullet on the line, he also ordered one of their performance intake camshaft kits and an Autronic SM4 engine management computer. “This wasn’t absolutely necessary, but if later I wanted to raise the engine output, the SM4 could grow along with the motor,” Rick says of his ECU decision.

With his parts en route, Rick began the search for a fabrication shop that could handle the swap. “Luckily, a friend of mine who worked at a local race car fab shop put me in touch with Chris Cornett, who operated a little garage behind his home in Mooresville, N.C.,” he says. “Chris did the motor mounts, transmission mount, and he had to remake the sway bar and make it a little bit longer to make room for the larger oil pan of the V8.”

The swap also required Chris to remove the old steering box, which was then replaced with a rack from a second-generation Toyota MR2. “The steering rack was a major change, but none of the firewall or transmission tunnel was cut for the install,” he explains. “The shifter even went in the same hole,” he laughs. The biggest challenge to making everything fit would involve the exhaust system, as there wasn’t much space on either side of the engine. Rick credits his luck once again for the solution.

“The company I work for employs a shop handyman who just happened to build headers for Holman Moody many years ago,” Rick says. “He agreed to do the labor if I bought the materials. The end result is a pretty nice set of equal-length headers.”

Sorting It Out

Rick has tuned the car for autocross in the Street Mod category.

Once all of the installation issues had been addressed, Rick pulled the engine and performed a comprehensive freshening, replacing the seals, timing belt and waterpump. When Rick hit the ignition to bring his beast to life, the first real hiccup revealed itself: The engine started right away, but a crossed wire in the Autronic harness meant that the timing was completely awry.

“It was a miracle it fired at all,” Rick says. “We discovered that it was retarding to 5 degrees.” Correcting the problem put the timing at 70 degrees of ignition advance, which got the car running and allowed them to tune it.

Rick was joined by Steve Rankins, a friend and the local Solo chairman, and it took the pair four weeks to get the engine running correctly. Eventually, the engine was providing smooth delivery throughout the rpm range. Since it’s mostly stock, Rick estimates the engine is making about 260 horsepower and 270 lb.-ft. of torque—all from a powerplant that weighs only 80 pounds more than the original. And unlike his $6000 race engine, this low-buck V8 should exhibit reliability on par with any other nearly stock Toyota: damn good, in other words.

Next, Rick could concentrate on the suspension. “At the first event, the balance was off,” he reports. “I looped it in the first half of the course. It’s definitely more powerful than anything I’ve driven—it’s power on demand. Even the Supra Turbo wasn’t really that way.”

Since Rick had to add ballast to meet the 2500-pound weight minimum required by the class rules, he’s banking that placing the required lead bricks at the rear of the car will help. The scales now show a perfect 50/50 front-to-rear distribution, while the left- and right-side weights are within half a percent.

Rick’s only unsolved complaint has to do with the car’s brakes. “We had to take off the brake booster to make room for the motor, so [the brakes are] just working off the master cylinder,” he explains. “It takes a lot of input. It would be a lot quicker if we had the power assist back.” He confesses, however, that he’s not yet actively working toward a solution.

Cutting It Loose

Rick Disbrow’s budget on the Corolla project—including the V8 engine swap, but less the previous trick engine—has reached about $12,000. However, a very similar result could be built for far less.

It takes a great driver to squeeze the most out of a high-powered rocket like this old Toyota, and Rick is the first to admit that his own autocross talents are in their fledgling stage.

“I’ve probably autocrossed less than 20 times in five years, maybe eight or nine times in this car, and only twice with this engine,” he confesses. “The car, in my opinion, is beyond me. I’m sure there are some national-level guys who could jump in it and set FTD. I can barely beat cars that I should be beating like a drum.”

Rick has found a more experienced driver, Anthony Gallarini, to co-drive the car in regional and eventually national-level autocross competition. Rick is also planning on taking the car to an HPDE track day, something he enjoyed doing with the old engine installed.

“I did Road Atlanta with the four-cylinder—it was a lot of fun, real quick in the twisties but it was just such a dog on power,” he says. “Now the car stands up on its tail coming out of a corner. It lifts—people were telling me it was on the brink of lifting the front tires.”

Based on that tough-to-ignore trait, it’ll be hard to mistake Rick’s Corolla for any of the standard variants Toyota ever let roll out of the factory.

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Comments
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malibuguy
malibuguy Reader
11/5/18 6:12 p.m.

Hells yeah.  Uzis are my favorite motors.

Thats why I have one in my Malibu.  Hope to have it done no later then next fall.

rehoward
rehoward New Reader
11/5/18 6:17 p.m.

What year is the Corolla?  Article doesn't seem to say.  Would a 4AGE 5 speed trans hold up to the V8 power do you suppose?  Would it be a bolt-on to the Lexus V8?

Randy

yupididit
yupididit UltraDork
11/5/18 7:24 p.m.

In reply to rehoward :

What trans is that? And there's no manual trans that just bolts up to the 1uz.

te72
te72 Reader
11/5/18 8:48 p.m.
rehoward said:

What year is the Corolla?  Article doesn't seem to say.  Would a 4AGE 5 speed trans hold up to the V8 power do you suppose?  Would it be a bolt-on to the Lexus V8?

Randy

Not sure of the specific year, but it's an E7x chassis. Wanna guess where my username came from? Yeah, I had one of that vintage. Early 80's, if I remember my generations correctly, this is a fourth generation Corolla. They're a lot of fun! Although... looking at this car here, it looks a bit different than mine did, I had square headlamps, perhaps this one is a bit earlier than the 1980 I had.

 

The rwd transmissions that you're thinking of are the T50, and uh... I have my doubts that it would live long behind a 1uz, but I have no experience with how far that transmission can be pushed. A W58 is a common Toyota transmission that would be suitable for a 1uz in such a light car, and they're still reasonable to obtain. If you really wanted to go nuts, and R154 could be used if you really wanted to make sure it was gonna survive. Unfortunately (well, fortunately for a guy like me who has a couple of them anyway), they've gotten a bit expensive as of late.

 

Adapters can be had to mate a 1uz to R154 and W58 setups. So, while it takes a bit of extra expense, you have options. Having had all of these things (80's Corolla, W58 and R154 transmissions, as well as a couple LS400's with the 1uz), I can fully get behind a project like this. =)

yupididit
yupididit UltraDork
11/5/18 8:59 p.m.

In reply to te72 :

There's also adapters for Nissan 240sx transmissions and 350z transmissions. Lots of options. 

buzzboy
buzzboy Reader
11/5/18 8:59 p.m.

There is a UZ to ZF320 adapter. Holds 700ft*lbs, shifts well and is very common. Slap em together in a fun little car like this and it would be dreamy. Or use the kit to UZ your BMW.

stroker
stroker UltraDork
11/6/18 8:50 a.m.
buzzboy said:

There is a UZ to ZF320 adapter. Holds 700ft*lbs, shifts well and is very common. Slap em together in a fun little car like this and it would be dreamy. Or use the kit to UZ your BMW.

Who makes said adapter, please...?

Stefan
Stefan MegaDork
11/6/18 10:59 a.m.
te72
te72 Reader
11/6/18 9:26 p.m.

This is a dangerous thread for me to be viewing... I have a spare R154 out of the Supra, UZ's are reasonably cheap, and I have a Miata that is practically begging me for a V8. I'm gonna go now. =P

malibuguy
malibuguy Reader
11/7/18 6:56 a.m.

In reply to te72 :

its been done before and they look especially tidy in a Miooter.  Give into your desires :)

ultraclyde
ultraclyde PowerDork
11/7/18 7:39 a.m.
rehoward said:

What year is the Corolla?  Article doesn't seem to say.  

Randy

Third paragrph says 

...unable to build the 1980 Corolla that Rick Disbrow wanted

 

So...1980? BUt I agree that doesn't match the headlights. roundlights were 78-79, square were 80-82. My first cat was an automatic '82 Sedan. I always wanted to find a roundlight, 5 speed wagon or 2dr to play with. Mine was a fun little car for a clapped out piece of crap. 

Joe Gearin
Joe Gearin Associate Publisher
11/7/18 9:26 a.m.

In reply to ultraclyde :

That is indeed a 1980 Corolla.  The twin circular headlights was a one-year design, the body-style was new for 1980.  They went to the square headlights in 1981---- although it may have been mid-1981, as I've seen the circular headlights on 1981 cars.   

I know, as I had a 1980 in H.S and college......until I rolled it 5 or 6 times.  Hard to be sure how many times it went over, as I was thrown from the wreckage.   From that point on, I've always worn a seatbelt! 

I'd love to have another, but the rotary drag-race boys seem to have snatched all the decent ones up.....and jacked prices to absurd levels.  

iceracer
iceracer UltimaDork
11/7/18 10:55 a.m.

anybody notice the original post was ten years ago ?

te72
te72 Reader
11/7/18 10:25 p.m.
malibuguy said:

In reply to te72 :

its been done before and they look especially tidy in a Miooter.  Give into your desires :)

I like that it's been done before, takes a lot of the guesswork out of it for me. But... you're not helping! =P

te72
te72 Reader
11/7/18 10:29 p.m.
ultraclyde said:
rehoward said:

What year is the Corolla?  Article doesn't seem to say.  

Randy

Third paragrph says 

...unable to build the 1980 Corolla that Rick Disbrow wanted

 

So...1980? BUt I agree that doesn't match the headlights. roundlights were 78-79, square were 80-82. My first cat was an automatic '82 Sedan. I always wanted to find a roundlight, 5 speed wagon or 2dr to play with. Mine was a fun little car for a clapped out piece of crap. 

To highlight, this is exactly what mine was, and I loved it. When I first bought it, it didn't have a driver side window, and 2005 was a coooooold winter in Wyoming, especially for a kid who had been living in Arizona for the prior decade. Replaced the door with one from a junkyard, which in itself was an odd thing, considering how few old Toyotas there are in yards around here...

te72
te72 Reader
11/7/18 10:33 p.m.
Joe Gearin said:

In reply to ultraclyde :

That is indeed a 1980 Corolla.  The twin circular headlights was a one-year design, the body-style was new for 1980.  They went to the square headlights in 1981---- although it may have been mid-1981, as I've seen the circular headlights on 1981 cars.   

I'd love to have another, but the rotary drag-race boys seem to have snatched all the decent ones up.....and jacked prices to absurd levels.  

Joe, my Corolla was a 1980 model year, and I had square lights. I'm wondering if it wasn't a trim / body style specific design, the difference between lights. Granted, my car had over 325k on it, one wheel that didn't match the rest, and a small pool of water from the large water jug in the back seat, so... hard to say what that car had done to it by the time I came along.

 

As far as drag racing with these cars go, they do make a pretty good platform for it, nice and light, solid axle, reasonably large engine bays... buddy of mine has a 1980 notchback with a turbo 6M. It's stupid quick, to put it politely, to the point that he only runs 1/8 mile these days so as to avoid needing to cage it to run 9's in the quarter. Plus, it apparently gets a bit spooky at 140+, who would have thought they weren't really designed with that in mind?

te72
te72 Reader
11/7/18 10:37 p.m.
iceracer said:

anybody notice the original post was ten years ago ?

Yep. Is that a problem around here? I just came here because it was a featured article in the newsletter. Figure it's about a cool car with a cool build, and I have plenty of experience with old Toyotas, lots of fond memories. =)

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