I look at online car ads. I look at them despite not having any room, not even on my lawn, for another car. I look at them despite the tax an excitable comment such as “diesel automatic Chevette for $400?!?!” can put on a once-much-more-forgiving girlfriends tolerance and patience; and despite this, such outbursts are hardly uncommon. Hi, my name is RustyShitboxIsTheNewFast, and I have a problem.
My interests are of an unusual type, flitting from pop up headlights to rubber covered bumpers to 85 mph speedos and back again. What’ll it be today, the car I can’t live without? First gen Sirocco, with its panini pressed Golf look? Maybe a Corrado, exclusive and unreliable, or add to that and go full elusive millionaire with a Phaeton? So on the morning when where my story starts, the flavor of my automotive lust was a fun economy car with aluminum foil paneling and enough power to make you wish you had more power; keyword Starlet.
No Starlets. Not in my vast, unpopulated corner of the world; just query returns for early 90’s Corollas and Tercels. Round ones, square ones, 4 doors, ones with turbos, 2 doors…….. wait, what? Scroll back up to view an engine bay filled with charge piping and bright blue silicon couplings. Even more amazing is a lack of aesthetically garish spray paint and cheap aftermarket shift knobs normally filling any turbo’ed shitbox online ad. The this-must-be-mine rush ended with the price, $2500, and while modest, was not pocket change, so I could not even lie to myself to say I need it at this price. But I couldn’t stop looking at it, it’s rusted fenders, it’s oversized wheels with their peeling paint, it’s incredibly clean interior. My needs turned from necessitating ownership to simply needing to know more.
The seller’s number was on the ad, so I shot him a quick text seeing if he would be down for an interview, despite me having no interest in purchasing. As any gearhead would imagine, the opportunity to show off his creation struck his fancy, so in 2 hours I was standing outside my car in a grocery stores’ oversized parking lot when a whooshing and chirping 4-door, ‘93 Tercel flew past at a possibly-too-fast speed and turned into the parking lot.
A fresh-faced, too-tall-for-a-Geo young man unfolds out of the driver’s seat with a grin on his face. The trepidation and anxiousness between us was equivalent of a grade 10 dance; but the cars, setting, and characters involved would be more describable as a crack deal. I had never done anything like this, I suddenly realized, and had no idea what i was doing, I didn’t even have any questions in mind. I would have to rely on my Pomeranian level excitability about cars to improvise them all. How would I even introduce myself, not being a journalist or even having a publication to cite? RustyShitbox, dedicated Opponaut, How Do You Do?
He shook my hand and introduced himself as Mark. He is 19, an automotive apprentice, and is apparently as creative as talented, with little sign of the egotistical braggart personality of most tuners could be described as having. We speak for a bit, and he motions to the Tercel, with its tired refrigerator green/tan color. I guess I should turn on my recorder, so I don’t have to recall the entire conversation from memory.
Mark: ….that’s why I picked it up 300 bucks, just to see how fast it would go.
Rusty: Cool. How long ago did you pick it up?
Mark: A year, probably 14-15 months ago.
Rusty: And when did you have it all together?
Mark: 5 days after that.
Rusty: Oh, really?
Mark: Before I had this I had a black coupe 98 model year, it got totaled in an accident so that one I bought; I basically took all the parts off of that one and stuck it onto this one, to make what this is. But unfortunately that engine died, the timing advanced on it and it blew up completely earlier this season so I rebuilt the whole engine and now the head gasket has popped.
Rusty: The one in the car right now is popped?
Rusty: Okay. How much boost is running in it?
Mark: 15 lbs.
Rusty: You said you had flat top pistons?
Mark: Yes, the pistons are out of a 98 5e. Its a 4e engine, but I took the internals out of a Paseo block. Late nineties, 98 and up. So it has the flat top pistons out of that, it has the rods out of that, and all the machine work has been done on the bottom end, so it’s basically a stock rebuild bottom end, but it handles the power just fine.
Rusty: Where did you get the block? Because the bottom and is a 4efte right?
Mark: the bottom end is a 5e, that is out of a stock Tercel.
Mark: So that one came out of a junkyard, and it was rebuilt, but that one has a little bit stronger bottom end and it’s also stroked to 1.5. The internal components are basically the same, it has the 4e head on it, which is basically the same as the 5e head but the valve springs and cams are a little bit more aggressive in it, just for a little more power, and the turbo on it is a t28.
Rusty: Where did you get the original kit that you put on it? Like where did you get the 4efte stuff?
Mark: The 4e stuff I got it out of the black car, I traded my Evo for all the parts to build it.
Rusty: You didn’t trade it to an actual company? Was it a buddy or something?
Mark: Just a guy on Kijiji who was selling a Tercel with a turbo on it and I felt the need to have that. I always liked Tercels just as a daily car and I always pondered the idea. I had a stock one just as a daily runabout and I always thought, “well what if you make this fast?” So I saw that someone had done it and he was selling it so I felt the need to have it, so I bought most of the parts from them, and then I rebuilt everything, so actually none of the original parts from that build are actually still on the car. There’s very little left.
Rusty: What are you using for fuel management?
Mark: Stock from 4E from a starlet GT Turbo.
Rusty: So you’re using a turbo ECU?
Mark: Yes. It’s a turbo ECU and it has been converted to obd2 as well.
Rusty: Where is your boost pressure adjust? (motion in engine bay) An external blowoff here?
Mark: No, it is internal and it just goes straight to the wastegate because that is an aftermarket t28 on there that was basically designed as an upgrade for an sr20 240(sx); basically a 200sx and has the stock wastegate on there, set for 15 pounds, so it’s just straight vacuum to the internal wastegate on the turbo, there’s no controller or anything on it it’s pretty basic build as far as builds are concerned.
Rusty: So you put a lot of work into this? You must have hundreds of hours into it.
Mark: I don’t even want to know how much time and money has gone into this car, it is probably a disgusting sum. The engine has been apart probably 3 or 4 times, completely apart; transmissions, I’ve gone through four of them, so it’s not the most reliable car but being the kind of project that it is that is what it’s going to be. When you throw big power at cars that aren’t meant for it they aren’t going to last.
Rusty: Have you always had the stock 5 speeds from the North American naturally aspirated engines?
Mark: They are all coming from Tercels from the junkyard, 125 dollars apiece. Just replace them when they blow up, basically. But they still will last a good 25 to 30 kilometers(sic).
Rusty: Have you ever had it on a dyno?
Mark: I have never had it on a dyno. The previous owner he had the black coupe, he had it run a 12:76 at Race City, but at that time it had a slightly different turbo setup on it, and was running a Greddy fuel management. It’s probably a little slower now but it still pulls pretty good.
Rusty: Where did you get these fantastic looking rims?
Mark: Buddy of mine took them off his Honda Civic because he didn’t like them, they had two flat tires so I gave him $100. I like them because they are especially distasteful and don’t fit the car very well.
Rusty: So you’ve had the car for over a year and you pretty much driven it the whole time that it wasn’t apart?
Mark: Yeah I don’t drive it in the winter for obvious reasons and I don’t drive it when it’s broken but when it is running I do try to drive it as a daily driver, it has been fairly reliable when it has been put together. It’s only recently that it’s been treating me poorly.
Rusty: Heres a hard question, you only have 1500 kilometers on the latest iteration of the block, why are you trying to sell it now?
Mark: Basically because I’m tired of fixing it and I’m looking for something else as a project; and this isn’t really what I want out of it, because I’m pushing the motor pretty much to its limits at this point. It’s very hard to get any more power out of it without dumping serious amounts of money into it. I’m also looking for a classic American car, instead of front wheel drive Japanese things.
Rusty: What kind of classic American car?
Mark: First generation Ford Falcon.
Rusty: Right, right, you said that in your ad.
Mark: That’s why I was willing to trade for some restoration projects.
Rusty: Yeah, because you’re going to get the shell of a Falcon in that trade.
Mark: Yeah I was hoping to get a Barra straight-six to put into it.
Rusty: Who makes that?
Rusty: From the sixties as well?
Mark: No, from the mid-2000s out of the XR6 turbo Ford Falcon in Australia. 4 liter inline 6.
Rusty: Do you have an importation source lined up for that?
Mark: I’m sure you can just find the engine on eBay and pick it up, but that is down the road if I do end up getting a Falcon.
Rusty: Why are you shying away from the little Falcon, the Mustang?
Mark: Cost, and I prefer the style of the Vulcan, I think it’s a better style car. And classic Mustangs go for quite a lot of money in rough shape. At the shop I’m working at right now we have a ‘68 and he picked it up for $16,000, it had problems galore but the body was really straight on it, and even fully restored they’re worth like $40 - $50,000, and I’m just not looking to dump that kind of money into a car like that. Where a Falcon can be easily picked up for $1000- $1500 in restorable condition.
Rusty: Do you weld?
Mark: Yes, I did most of my own welding on this. I welded up the whole exhaust, custom made the downpipe, custom made the two and a half inch straight pipe to the back.
Rusty: Is there any reason why you align with either Toyota or Ford in particular? What else do you have at home right now?
Mark: I have a ‘98 Toyota Camry as a winter car
Rusty: V6 or inline-4?
Mark: Inline-4. 500000k on that one. I have a F250 7.3 as my tow vehicle/ summer daily.
Rusty: 4wd or 2wd?
Mark: Yep, 5 speed.
Mark: I don’t really have a brand preference, I am a Toyota person, I like Toyotas. Toyota’s have always treated me well, I like the way Toyota does things, and they do have a bit more performance potential, I have seen. I have had 40 cars, so I have had everything on the map from Chevy, Dodge, Chrysler, Toyota, Honda, Mitsubishi, you name it, I have had a lot of stuff. I hate JDM stuff so I never buy it, nothing JDM. That’s just my rule.
Rusty: If not a Falcon, what? Out of classic American metal?
Mark: Classic American metal? Probably Ford unibody; 1960s Ford unibody pickup.
Rusty: K, so if not a Tercel, what fwd shitbox would be next to go under the knife?
Mark: (woosh), Probably an old colt Mitsubishi Colt, early nineties.
Rusty: Early nineties? Like the old square body ones?
Rusty: Best part about owning this car? What would you actually sell it as? You have to see this car, because...
Mark: It’s just the feeling honestly, when you drive it, it’s the idea of a Tercel being fast and the looks I get on people’s face when I destroy their Skyline, or their Supra, or 5 liter Mustang, is completely priceless. They think it’s a complete rice box with distasteful rims and the horrible 4 and a half inch fart can on it, so I riced it out quite intentionally on that note. The whole idea is that it’s a racer in disguise.
Rusty: What is it sitting on, suspension wise?
Mark: KYB coilovers with a 2 inch drop, all four corners right now. Other than that the suspension is stock.
Rusty: Do you have a fantastic “this Toyota did this for me” story, which I’m sure you’ve heard a 100 of, since you drive a shitbox Toyota? Or do you have an amazing “this Toyota left me stranded because I f***** with it too much” story?
Mark: I will say a bit of both because it never gave me any problems until the initial failure. It unbelievably lasted 30000 kilometers without any problems, it started in the cold as I had to winter drive it at the time, and it always ran well, always ran smooth, and never give me grief. But one day the bottom end just popped out, and that was the start of the problems. It was, fix the engine, realize you didn’t fix it right, fix the engine again, realize you didn’t fix it right; I actually had it all fixed properly and the thermostat happened to seize, which was the one thing I never touched, and the position of the temperature sensor is on the cold side, so I never knew it was getting hot until it was too late, it thinned out the oil and threw the bottom end, and ever since then I’ve never been able to fix the car properly despite the fact that I rebuilt the bottom end since the overheat; I thought I pop the head gasket, I had to change the head gasket, I still think it’s the head gasket because it’s leaking out of the head gasket but I’m not sure.
At this point, perhaps in admonishment of his confessed busted car, he offered a ride, and later test drive, which I graciously accepted.
Chances are if you’re reading this you either are or have been 19 years old; if not, well, get off my lawn. But a 19 year olds’ driving style is always a sight to behold, and this ride was no exception. Clutches were dropped from chest height and driveline shock was redefined; no speed laws were abided.The howl emitted from the trash can muffler was surprisingly pleasant, and row after row the whoosh chirp whiz bang gosh golly gee never got old. It almost sounded like a pre-anti-lag rally car, and I was very surprised it was cat-less since the car didn’t have even a hint of gas smell. The interior, somehow more cramped feeling than the similar years 2 door, was meticulously clean. Grandpa-past-retirement clean. Cadillac STS clean. Mercedes S class clean. I was the dirtiest thing in the car, not much of a stretch regularly, but by a wide margin here. I believe it had some kind of stereo, I’m sure you would never be able to hear it over the soundtrack, if you even cared to reach over for it. A nice place to be, if you like cars.
A quick 7 minute
drive appreciation of the mysterious inclusion of a head height handle in a 4 door economy car in 93, and I slid into the tweedy colored driver’s seat. The shifter was unbelievably light and notchy, it felt how a VW type 2 shifter looks, no doubt well broken in through uncountable hard shifts; I probably wouldn’t believe you if you said there was still rubber in the bushings. The clutch was Heavy, Real Heavy, like tractor trailer heavy; it was revealed to be an ACT, the heaviest they make for the setup. No kidding? As I pull out off the street I simultaneously realize the power steering is disconnected and the clutch bites instantly. The car stalls. With an embarrassed restart and an expletive filled apology, we pull away. Surprisingly enough the ride height had not totaled the steering, unlike the cut-spring lowering crowd, and while not quick, was still in good shape. Today was now upper body day. And lower body day. Maybe it was just cardio day. The car was predictable but raw, wiggling its hips at any of my attempts to manipulate the controls. The coilovers were doing a good job fighting the weight of the tires, but they were losing; the car tracked well enough, but the rear torsion beam walked around when applying power in a corner. The motor ran well, with its 1980’s style turbo lag followed by reckless acceleration, and the transmission, well, the transmission made a little noise, but nothing the engine couldn’t cover up. Shifting high at the newly appointed redline revealed the transmission would prefer 2000 rpm less thank you very much, maybe where the old engine redlined?
I really enjoyed driving it. I want to say I loved it but that would be a lie, the (relatively) massive snail took ‘til 3000 rpm to spool, and the engine was incredibly hard to shift into boost. This was only exasperated by the toggle switch clutch, Armstrong steering and dance-y, weavy suspension. I stalled it multiple times, it really doesn’t make torque out of boost, and you had to concentrate if you wanted it to go in the direction you intended. Fun and effort meet at the controls of this machine, and you’re never quite sure which one you’re doing more of. All this made the experience that more rewarding, the fussiness and turboness of the car meant you were always busy, and you could never quite tell how fast you were going. Well that, and the speedometer was disconnected, a workaround for the speed limiter.
It takes a flawed car to be loveable, but this one may be too flawed to be liveable. Regardless of sentimentality it was put together in a solid, caring manner that equally inspired confidence and warned of the consequences of pushing too hard. Toyota would be proud.