Project Riceball has never moved quickly, either in reference to its speed as a car, or the progression of its build timeline. This, along with the cost issue, is a major reason why if you’re gifted with mechanical talents and someone you know has tools and a garage, doing things yourself looks very appealing, despite the sweat, swearing, and knuckle-blood involved. Still, I’m self-aware enough to know that just about every aspect of this project is countless orders of magnitude beyond what I could do, so the wrenching falls into someone else’s hands.

I shouldn’t be surprised at this point, but for the second time, the tech who was doing a fair amount of the fabrication needed for my Corolla (and with whom I’d discussed a number of details concerning parts) decided to leave the shop with little warning. The same thing happened at a previous tuning shop about a year ago. If I were a more pessimistic person, I’d wonder if this car is cursed to remain unfinished. I finally took the time to see it in person and check in on where the build was—and I see a couple of positive points. The end result is still a long way off, and this car is slowly nearing “mid-life crisis” status for me, but who gives a shit about that. Yes, I could’ve just bought a used Corvette or F-body or something; but it wouldn’t be mine, then. If you haven’t yet read Maggie Stiefvater’s piece “Why I Fuck Up My Cars,” drop everything and do so. I’ll wait.

Positive point number one: The drivetrain mostly fits. This was one of my early concerns when deciding on an engine/transmission to go into the AE86—I’ve said several times that the T50 is laughably small, fragile, and desperately in need of a stronger gearbox in its place. Okay, sure. The only problem being that a more stout unit would pretty much invariably be larger. Those nutjobs that say to throw an LS in the engine bay? Nevermind the crazy torque twisting the car apart, I doubt I’d ever fit next to a T56 after the tunnel was hacked up and pieced back together like some cosmetic surgeon’s nightmare after an absinthe binge. Likely same dilemma with a 350Z gearbox or something similar. But the enthusiast-gods have smiled upon me, because after some test-fits, they found the S2000 transmission nestles nicely into the tunnel—it’s tight, but after the transmission and subframe crossmembers are notched, it works.

Advertisement

Speaking of that, the oil pan and subframe needed extensive pieces cut away to put this swap in the realm of possibility. But, as long as it works, I’m happy. Between that, the steering rack needing to be swapped (I thought it was a already a manual rack—nope, the power-steering was just busted like countless other things on this car), and a few more tweaks, things should fit. Sad face: JSP Fabrication no longer makes engine/transmission mounts for the AE86. Silver lining, having these items built from scratch should only be a couple hundred bucks more expensive than JSP pieces, anyways.

Advertisement

The remainder of the discussion with my builder concerned his plans for completing the various wiring and harnesses—all of this went right over my head. He’s obsessing over which fuse panel to use, and I’m glad, because every bit of that is black magic to me. I forgot to snap a photo, but the transmission adapter plate is in place, and it certainly looks like there’s a drivetrain that could move this thing. There’ll be a number of hurdles that remain, of course, but I do see some progress. Hopefully soon, the engine will be in the car to stay, and the header will be one of the next major items to tackle, along with the upgrades to the fuel system. I have my heart set on a flex-fuel setup, since the Haltech ECU will be able to handle a 93/E85 mix if I so desire.

Besides that, throughout the teardown, the tuner hasn’t found any wealth of rust that he finds alarming. Honestly, I’m a bit excited again—I miss this car.