Easily the biggest complaint about the ae86 is lack of power. I cannot count how many times I have been asked about making a corolla smoke a mustang for ten dollars. There is no easy answer to this question. I think the thing that shocks me more is the number of ae86 “guru’s” out there who tell people that power options do not exist, and that if they want power they will have to buy another car. This is pure bullshit. While power for the ae86 exists, it is not necessarily cheap or easy to create. Still, the journey is its own reward. You want to turn your poor, old dinosaur corolla into a mustang killer? Grab your chequebook and read on.
From reading this site, I am sure you can tell by now that I favour staged approaches to modification. This both gives the driver a sense of modification’s effects, tears a huge project down into bite-sized pieces and keeps costs affordable. Not all of us can afford to drop a car at a shop for a year or two and pay for the five or six digit bill afterwards. That approach gives you zero understanding for what the modifications do by themselves, or how they work as a unit. Furthermore, not everyone reading this understands DFI tuning, turbo sizing or even how an engine works, so it is best to keep it simple. Not all of us are looking for massive power…sometimes just five more ponies is what the doctor ordered. Because of that, I am going to start ultra-basic and work my way up to the ultra-exotic. It should be noted that almost every modification I am going to talk about will decrease fuel economy to some degree…it takes fuel to make power. This is a trade off you are simply going to have to live with if you want to go fast.
Probably the best single modification for power on an ae86 is an intake mod. This replaces the restrictive stock intake and filter system with a high flowing unit, allowing the engine to suck in as much air as it wants, not as much as it can. Also included is a wonderful sound, which makes the car feel like its moving faster than it really is. Back in the day there were no kits available for the ae86 except for the expensive K&N filter charger system, so many of us resorted to making our own out of 280zx AFM plates, K&N replacement filters and plumbing fittings. Nowadays there are many other manufacturers making make affordable alternatives to the K&N unit (which is still probably the best one in my opinion) such as Weapon R, ARC and Iceman. Still, there is nothing as affordable or satisfying as making your own. If you do, make sure you somehow keep the brake VSV connection to the intake tube, or else your car can actually stall under braking. I have only seen it happen once, but it is a real possibility. The tube between the AFM and throttle body must be airtight or else the car will not run.
The most overdone vehicle modification on earth has to involve the exhaust. In recent years, exhaust modifications have become fashion statements, with everyone under the sun hanging generic N1 style mufflers on their vehicles. These both look and sound terrible because of their cheap designs and the cheap installers who installed them. While there is something for making your own performance exhaust at a local shop, many good systems are available from the aftermarket without any “custom” headaches. Sometimes it is easier to have someone else do your thinking for you, and to pay for research and development rather than trying to recreate it on a Kraft Dinner budget.
There are two major styles of exhaust system for the ae86 that you should be aware of: under axle and over axle. The over axle design is the one the car came with, while the under axle design is popular with hardcore racers who have stiff, short stroke suspensions. Do not go with an under axle unless this is you, because otherwise your rear dif will take the exhaust off your car every time you jack it up. Custom made over axle exhausts tend to suffer from poor clearance in the bend over the axle, so be prepared not to get this right the first time and to put up with a little clunking over large bumps. Please do the earth a favour and replace your catalytic converter with a high flow performance type from a company like Magnaflow or Dynomax. They are affordable now, and cut down dramatically on noise. You can be fast, green and quiet! Try to stick with 2.25” piping, and do not let anyone else tell you larger piping is the way to go. Japanese N2 cars still use this sizing, and they are making more than two hundred horsepower, so it will be more than enough for your application. Also, be considerate as to muffler style. Do you really want a flashy fart-canister muffler or something more OEM and hidden for a sleeper look? Try to stay away from glass packs, cherry bombs, purple hornies, zoomies and blue bottles. These are the 1970’s muscle car mufflers you are so familiar with every summer, and they have no place on an import because they sound even worse! I would recommend using a pre-boxed system made by GReddy, HKS or other reputable manufacturer or using 2.25” piping with a new catalytic converter and turbo-style muffler with a small tip. This will give you a quiet, tame look and sound with plenty of power and no noisy flashy crap to attract police. Gains from performance exhausts are not large on an unmodified engine, but there are gains and they are noticeable. You will gain more torque, which is what makes cars fun.
Another easy modification to perform is replacing the exhaust manifold with a header. Before you run out and buy a header, there are several things to consider. The OEM 4ag header on the ae86 has been a subject of contention for sometime. Half of the ae86 world seems to favour leaving the OEM header in place because they claim its design is the best of both worlds because it has good flow characteristics at high rpm while maintaining good low rpm torque. The other half believe that lots of power gained in an rpm band is better than a little bit of power everywhere. Either way, it is up to you to decide what is right for you. I chose to go with a header and never looked back. There are several header designs on the market, though most are not available for North American ae86’s. These designs include the high-rise equal length, the four into one and the four into two into one (sometimes called a tri-y). A high-rise equal length manifold header greatly increases power at high rpm. A four into one design header increases power in a specific band, be it high rpm or midrange. A four into two into one header moderately increases power over the entire rpm range. Most Japanese market headers will not fit the ae86, so do not buy one and expect it to. The only one made that does is by Techno Pro Spirit, and is a left hand drive model for North American cars. Make sure you order the correct one because they also make JDM models! Please ensure that the collector on the header correctly matches your exhaust piping for size. Several North American brands have recently entered the marketplace with new headers for the ae86, including Vibrant and TRD. There are also several old manufacturers like Toysport, ACanBe and Pace Setter. On a side note, you may want to wrap your header with heat tape. This product covers the piping, trapping heat in the exhaust where it belongs and keeping it out of the engine bay.
Another modification of contention is the ignition system. There are people out there who truly believe that Toyota ignitions are so good that upgrading them is unnecessary. I am not one of those people. For starters, anything that increases mixture density (compression, camshafts, forced induction or custom tuning) puts a heavy load on an ignition system. The heavier the mixture, the harder it is to light…and an OEM ignition is meant to light an OEM mixture. While Toyota has overbuilt their ignition systems, nothing they designed fortold the use of nitrous oxide, turbochargers or otherwise. I have even had gains with ignition systems on naturally aspirated 4ag cars, so I know that there is power to be made this way. There are several ignition brands on the market, from MSD, HKS, Crane, NOLOGY, Malory…the list goes on. Upgrades are available for spark plugs, coils, caps, rotors and even ignition boxes with rev limiters, boost dependant timing retard and the like. My moto: Get what you need. I run an upgraded coil, wires and plugs in my car and it works well. I have no use for 6AL boxes or Twin Power ignitions because my modification levels do not justify the expense. MSD makes a Blaster II coil that is a drop in replacement from OEM. Resistorless or copper core plugs are available to replace your long-life platinums. Everyone under the sun makes spark plug wires in various thicknesses and lengths. I think here the key is to experiment. I got my best results with NOLOGY hotwires and Beru Silverstone plugs, though the cost of these may be prohibitive to most.
It should be noted that mid eighties corolla’s are far from tuner friendly. Newer cars have removeable ecu chips or OBD II ports that allow for reflashing of their data maps. You cannot do that to an ae86. Shade-tree tuners have turned to sensor adjustments and trickery to fool the OEM ecu into doing what we want it to do. These modifications are best done once the engine has been modified with parts for maximum power gains as trying to tune the OEM setup is fruitless. It already works as well as it is going to under tuning. The OEM AFM system works by measuring the incoming air by transfering the air’s incoming volume into a circuit board resistance. It does this by sucking air in through the AFM box, which uses a flap-door system to measure air volume. The deflection of this door by the sucking of the engine directly moves a needle on a circuit board inside the top of the AFM. This signal goes to the ecu where it is interpretted into a base map. Because it uses a toothed wheel and spring system to ensure the door closes when there is no load, we can trick the ecu into seeing a false reading by adjusting the relationship between the door and the needle on the board. To access these pieces, pry the black lid off the AFM box. All it takes to adjust the system is a small flat-headed screwdriver. Gently pry the spring arm out of the way and turn the wheel one cog at a time counterclockwise to enrichen the mixture, clockwise to lean it. There is a lack of control here, so be warned. I recommend having a wide band or EGT on board to ensure that you are not so rich or so lean that things are dangerous. I also recommend using a stopwatch or drag strip to clock the adjustment of the AFM so that you know that you are making power. Just because the car feels faster does not mean it is, and in fact, it is usually the other way around. Make sure that you note the original placing of the wheel in case you have to reset it to its original position later. Be careful not to richen it or lean it out too much. If you go more than three or four clicks in either direction, you are in for a world of hurt.
The other popular (and very misunderstood) modification you can do for tuning at home is the “pot mod”. It involves inserting an adjustable potentiometer in line with the ecu reading of the water temperature sensor. Using a 0-2000 ohm adjustable potentiometer, insert it at the ecu’s end of the water temperature signal wire (white with a green stripe) and mount the pot somewhere accessible in the dash. The water temperature sensor in your ae86 reads water temperature through a resistance sensor and feeds that information to the ecu. The ecu uses this signal to determine how rich it should fuel the car. Essentially, it is a cold start circuit, and we are fooling the ecu into believing that the motor is cold all the time so that it will overfuel the engine. This is a great modification for running aftermarket camshafts or semi-serious compression increases, but it really serves no purpose for the everyday driver…and this is where the misunderstsanding comes in. Unless you have the power adders in the car to burn the extra fuel, all you are doing is wasting gasoline by using this modification. Many people online have tried this modification and believe that it makes their car faster because their butt told them so. This is simply not the case. I have installed this modification on at least three cars so far with no gains to report in two. The third ran aftermarket camshafts and experienced some gains with the pot mod, only to have the pot removed when the injectors were upgraded which rendered the modification useless. Also, to set the pot, turn it from zero when the car is warm. When the idle dips, dial it back a hair and you are good to go.
I should briefly note that you *can* reprogram the OEM ecu using a method called TechTom tuning. This involves adding in a daughter board to the OEM ecu and reprogramming its chips, much like adding on a piggy-back ecu. Even with TechTom, you have to change the chips every time you reprogram the car, which is not user friendly. It is prohibitively expensive and hard to find a tuner who does it. The only one I know of is Yoshio in Toronto or G-Force in California. I would recommend a standalone ecu and rewiring of the entire car instead of using this option, but you should be aware that it is out there. If that is not for you, the option of removing your EFI system in favour of dual side-draft carbuerators is ever-present. This modification should not be overlooked as the power gains from carbuerators can be substantial. Many N1 cars still use carbuerators for their tunability and superior airflow.
After this point, things get tricky. Every modification from here on is serious, involving trade off and careful driving analysis before you proceed. Do you care if your car idles poorly? Are you willing to lose low end power in favour of high end power? Do you have a big bag of money you do not need? Are you mechanically inclinded? These are all questions you will have to answer before proceeding because, while not difficult, the rest of the modifications I am going to discuss are quite serious with all sorts of ramifications, down time and unforseen expenses.
For starters, one of the most dramatic ways to affect the performance of a car is by changing its camshafts. The camshaft is a stick of metal covered in bumps and its purpose is to time the opening and closing of your engine’s valves. Because of this, you can alter how far your valves open and how long they stay open for by changing your camshafts. Unlike VTEC and VVTi systems, once you change your ae86 camshafts you are stuck with them. There is no “best of both worlds” because the car predates this technology. This is why I told you to ask yourself all of those above questions…we are about to seriously alter the way the car behaves. If you are staying with the OEM ecu system, you should be aware that camshafts above 272 degrees of duration (how long the camshaft keeps the valve open in degrees of the shaft’s rotation) and over 8 millimeters of lift (how far the camshaft pushes the valves open) will be a waste of your time. The OEM ecu will always retain it’s redline of 7500rpm so there is no point in going with camshafts that make their power over that because you will not be able to access it. Assuming you have a standalone ecu or have changed your car over to carbuerators, I should let you know that there are camshafts out there up to 320 degrees of duration and well over 11 milimeters of lift, though most tuners seem to stop at the infamous 304 cams of the N1 racers. Camshafts are a worthwhile modification, and are capable of serious power gains with the right tuning and parts combinations. Remember, these sticks govern when, how much and how long air comes into your engine. Unfortunately, most Japanese manufacturers have ceased production of camshafts, so they are getting quite rare and hard to find. Most North American camshaft makers who are jumping on the import-tuning band wagon either overlook this car due to its age (justifyably) or make products that are so inferior that I would not recommend them. Be careful.
Something frequently overlooked by ae86 tuners in North America is compression increase, or replacing pistons. The compression of an engine is a measure of how much the motor “squishes” the air and fuel mixture before the spark of the ignition lights it. This measurement is a ratio (like 11:1), which is a comparison of the total volume of the chamber before compression compared to the total volume of the cylinder after compression. In large port form, the 4age engine in the ae86 had a compression ratio of 9.4:1. In small port form, the 4age sports a compression ratio of 10.3:1. Even with the weaker camshafts of the small port, it still has twenty to thirty horsepower over the lower compression large port engine because of the greater efficiency created by the compression increase. Essentially, higher compression means you can more effectively burn the fuel you have, and more efficient means more power. Do not run out and raise your compression blindly, because everything has its limitations! Too much compression means the engine will not start, or can literally implode if you do not tune it correctly. There are several ways to increase your compression. You can swap in a higher compression version of your engine (more on that later) like the small port. You can tear your engine down and replace its pistons with high compression ones tailored to the specific engine you have. Lastly, you can replace your headgasket with a thin metal unit from the aftermarket, which will marginally increase compression while giving you greater defence against blown heads. Either way, all of these modifications are major surgery. Cosult a local high performance engine builder before you start and be sure to take internet claims with lots of salt.
Another option that changing pistons creates is increasing displacement through cylinder boring. An engine’s size is governed by a basic mathematical equation multiplying the area of its base circle by its stroke. Any increase in cylinder bore increases the area of its base circle, which increases the size of the engine by default. If you have to change your pistons, you should know that you can bore a 4ag engine out to 83 milimeters in cylinder diameter, which would theoretically allow you to increase displacement of the engine to over 1700cc’s using this method alone. This has its own side effects. Damage to the engine’s cylinder walls could result in having to replace the block because its walls are too thin to repair, but for an all out racing motor, longevity is of little concern. It is not cheap, but it is very effective! Any engine builder and piston supplier should be able to help you with the machining and measuring required to size the pistons you need. Make sure when you are buying pistons that you get forged pistons. Cast pistons tend to shatter under high loads and hypereutectic pistons are essentially low budget crap. Spend the money the first time and build the motor right.
Another overlooked modification by North American ae86 tuners is headwork. Because an engine is an air pump, the faster and smoother you get more air in, compressed, burned and out, the more power you will make. Many of the secrets to power lie in the cylinder head because it controls how the air flows in and out of the motor. You should be aware that headwork is half science and half black magic. Essentially, the idea is to open the intake charge pathway of the cylinder head just enough to increase airflow without lowering incoming air speed. The intake path is left semi-bumpy in an attempt to increase air movement, which promotes air/fuel mixing. The exhaust path is made as smooth as possible to expedite flow and fight carbon buildup. Larger valves are installed which allow more air per engine stroke into the cylinders. These valves are given special angled head cuts that promote valve sealing against the head. These are often called “three angle” or “five angle” valve jobs because of the edgework left on the valves during this process. At this time it is common to replace the valve springs, retainers and guides for smooth high rpm operation, lower valvetrain mass and increased counteraction of valve float at high rpm. Some headwork guru’s go so far as to weld up and reshape the cylinder head combustion chamber itself in search for ultimate compression or airflow control. It is critical to de-burr any work done to the chamber itself, and that any sharp edges are decreased. These ridges and grooves can create hot spots in hot, high performance engines that can lead to pre-ignition and thus detonation. This means that the air/fuel mixture will ignite from this hot spot before the ignition itself lights the mixture, creating a situation that can destroy an engine in literally a split second and with no warning. It should be said that “the power is in the head” and that cylinder head work will make or break a performance engine.
One of the most popular methods of extracting power from an engine in North America is stroking. Essentially, this involves taking an engine and making larger by increasing the stroke of its crankshaft. This increases the length of the piston’s travel, which increases the volume of each cylinder. Bigger cylinders equal a bigger engine, and a bigger engine must be better than a small one because “there is no replacement for displacement” no matter what anyone tells you. This even goes for Turbo Magazine and their repeatedly stated belief that a turbocharger will cure all your ills. A turbo on a larger engine is still better than a turbo on a small one. Can you stop lying to your readers now? One downside is that stroking a motor makes the piston’s path longer, which means for a given rpm you must have a higher piston speed. This can lead to connecting rod failure, and usually maximum rpm is lowered to compensate. There has only been one real stroker kit of note for the 4ag, which is the infamous HKS “5ag” kit. This system increased the stroke of the pistons by two milimeters, increasing engine displacement from 1587cc to 1711cc. HKS increased the stroke so much that the tops of the pistons were actually leaving the cylinder block! Granted, it was only an 8% engine volume increase, but that means 8% more power in the entire rpm range. These stroker kits have long been out of production, and are exceedingly rare and expensive. I have heard rumours of aftermarket manufacturers making their own, new kits or even refurbishing old ones…but the song remains the same: Bring your wallet. I should point out that there is another way to stroke a 4ag that I will talk about later. It is common, and inexpensive.
I could sit here and talk about turbo charging and supercharging all day. Both of these modifications require an insane amount of dedication and understanding that 99% of the people reading this site will never have. That is not a verbal insult to those who come here, it is a simple fact! I have chosen to leave those off this page with but a few simple words about them: Power. If you want absolute power, forced induction is the way to go. Be prepared to spend thousands of dollars and blow up motors. Do not expect to get it right the first, second or even third time. There is far more going on by taking those routes than the average person understands, and I cannot use enough words of caution to get this point across. Either way, each of these require so much custom fabrication and creative undrestanding that they are beyond the scope of what I am trying to get across here.
Having said that, lets talk about nitrous oxide. Probably the most misunderstood power adder around, NOS has been around since world war two where it was used during the battle of Britain. Nitrous oxide (the throttle in a bottle) works by super cooling the intake charge of a motor, and supplying more oxygen than is found in the atmosphere in a stable form. Because NOS is 33% oxygen (air is only about 21%), NOS allows you to burn more fuel to make more power. That is all it does. NOS has a bad reputation because it is easy for someone who does not understand it to blow up an engine. Most people do not understand how forced induction (turbo, super or nos) affects the pressure inside a cylinder. An increase in cylinder pressure means an increase in flame propogation inside that cylinder. Do this too fast in an oxygen rich environment and you have detonation, which literally takes a fraction of a second to melt an engine. One other downside to NOS is it is corrosive. If your engine is not made out of the right materials, it can literally rust it or melt it from the inside out. Forutnately, the 4ag is entirely forged steel, which NOS has no effect on. The real advantage to NOS is it works on any motor, and can be adjusted for big power gains in a matter of minutes. A 4ag should take at least a 100hp shot of NOS if it is in good condition. The real advantage of NOS is that it is extremely inexpensive for its power gains, easily being the lowest “bang for your buck” power adder.
Right now in North America, ae86 tuners are engine swap happy. There are guys on the internet putting every motor and tranny possible into their cars in the search for ultimate performance and uniqueness. I should point out that this hinges on “unique” and not a lot on “performance”. Californians seem to have a need to be different from each other. So great in fact, that good taste and common sense sacrifice in favour of “different”. Engine swaps into cars, paint jobs and fashion are just three of the areas that they have proven this in, and the ae86 is no exception. This by no means makes the car better. I am not condoning jumping on the band wagon and following the herd of sheep here. I just believe in a personal approach rather than following what everyone else is doing. I am going to attempt to cover every common engine swap I know of with what little information I know about them in as much detail as I can. I will also attempt to do this in a mild-to-wild format in terms of difficulty and gains.
Easily the most common power swap around for the ae86 is removing the OEM large port motor in favour of the OEM small port motor. This motor is readily available in North America out of the 1990-91 ae92 GTS and literally bolts in place of the original motor. Merely transfer all of the pieces of the ae86 engine onto this one, install and drive away. The only thing that has to be “fixed” is the hole in the block at the back on the passenger side. I cannot remember what was installed in this hole from the factory, but when installed into the ae86 it leaves a large hole for oil to splash out of during daily driving. If you are undertaking this swap or any other, you will want to install all-new wearing parts like timing belts, fan belts, plugs etc. You will also want to swap in the ae86 camshafts as they are wilder than the ae92 cams. About the hardest part of this modification is reversing the intake manifold, which can either be done by cutting, switching and welding up the ends or buying an adapter to use the ae86 intake manifold. Either way, it is an instant gain of 15-20hp, and you get a much stronger engine with a better oiling system and under piston oil squirters. Best of all, its an easy swap to do and any of the performance parts that work on a 4ag will fit, so you have lots of options down the road.
The second most popular and probably most overdone swap is the 20v. OEM equipment in the ae101 and ae111 in Japan, the 20v 4ag is a creature of myth and legend. Sporting between 160-170hp depending on model, this motor is essentially a lean-burn, non-performance engine that is typical of the new generation of Japanese motors. It has a high compression, VVTi and some even have individual throttle bodies. Best of all, those quad throttles have a sound that is second to none. The downsides are numerous. This motor is only available in Japan. Replacement parts are non-existant unless you live in Canada and have a dealer with access to JDM part numbers (and you happen to know what they are!). Performance parts are even harder to come by, and they do not exist in North America anyway. Installation is a nightmare, involving rerouting the entire water system of the engine, smashing in your firewall (or relocating your distributor) and rewiring the entire car. I do understand why the motor is so popular. This engine will generate 170hp all day, every day with Toyota reliability. However, it will do so without torque or parts availability and you have to endure the installation process! That does not seem to be much good for such an expensive move. There are far better alternatives to the 20v if you want serious power in my opinon, though the 20v does seem to benefit well from turbocharging.
My pick for the best ae86 swap has to be the 4agze. This is a supercharged, low compression 4ag originally equiped in the aw11 MR2 at 145hp. This motor also saw light installed in the ae92 in 170hp form in Japan. Good parts of this motor include bolt-in installation with little modification other than lightly trimming an engine mount bracket and rerouting a water line. Look to my 4agze engine swap section for more information on everything it takes. About the only downsides are creating an intercooler piping system, rewiring the car (which is a theme with most of these swaps) and upgrading a radiator. There is a trick around the wiring, but I have left that for my 4agze section as well. Biggest pro and con are the same: Too much power. This motor will literally snap driveline parts and cause acceleration-related traffic accidents in OEM tune, much less brimming with all the aftermarket goodies available for it. I do not understand why more people do not go this way. Many people are turbocharging both this engine and the 20v with great results, representing a new wave in ae86 tuning.
The last 4ag related swap is also one of the easiest. The 7ag is a hybrid engine created by mixing and matching 4ag and 7af parts. The 7af was OEM equipment in 1993-97 ae102 corolla, and was only sold in North America. The advantage of the 7ag hybrid is displacement. Originally sold as the large engine option on the family sedan, the 7a motor features an increased stroke and taller deck height, giviing it a total displacement of 1.8 litres. This is a big deal because it is still an “A” motor. All of the 4ag parts will bolt to a 7a motor, including the twin cam head, 20v head or supercharger parts. The only disadvantage is that the 7a is a fuel economy engine, and as such was rumoured to be less robust than the other engines in the family. With proper tuning, you have a cheap stroker kit that can still be bored to 83 or 84 milimeters. This gives you a total engine displacement of about two litres, which is huge for an ae86. It bolts in using all factory parts and hardware! The only aftermarket piece you need is a timing belt that is the appropriate length, which I believe is factory equipment on a Porche 924. Due to its long stroke, it would also make a great low rpm turbo motor due to the increased velocity of its exhaust charge. I think part of the 7ag’s bad reputation is that people have tried to run the motor at high rpm not understanding that long stroke motors do not like high rpm. It creates an extremely high piston speed, which results in broken rods. Cutting down your redline and filling it full of boost would make for a bullet. Imagine the torque of a two litre 7ag twin cam with ae86 large port cams and an ae92 gze system turning 15psi!
One swap that is always over looked is the “T” engine. The godfather of the import scene, this engine has powered corollas since 1972. It is over looked because it is a non-overhead cam engine, and it is not fuel injected in North America. Its 80hp is not inspiring either. Still, this motor has a few surprises you may want to know about. For starters, it bolts right into the ae86 using all factory equipment and retains the t50 transmission. This means you have no custom fabrication! Secondly, the “T” engines were available with twin overhead camshafts and EFI over seas. Lastly, Toyota used the “T” engine in rally racing. Probably the biggest reason to use it though, is that people have used the “T” series engines to race for years. This engine is potent! Starting with a 1.6 litre engine making 80hp (2T). You can instantly upgrade to a 1.8 litre engine from a 1980 corolla making 90hp and 100ft/lbs of torque over the entire power band. Increase the compression and bore the motor out by changing pistons, add a pair of side drafts and a cam and you have a 180hp 2 litre engine that will pull 8500rpm all day. Try that with your 4ag! Stroker kits exist from junkyard parts to push displacement to 2.5 litres, as well as numerous turbo and nitrous oxide kits. To put it simply, this motor put Toyotas into the low 8’s in the quarter in the mid-nineties and generated hundreds of horsepower per litre well before the first Civic broke into the 10s in front wheel drive. It was the fastest import engine ever until the 2JZGTE from the Mk IV Supra came along and got installed in Ara Arslanian’s StreetGlow Solara. The best part is, nobody ever sees it coming. Check around the web at places like 3tc.com if you do not believe me. I guarantee you will reconsider this motor once you do.
Okay. Those were the easy swaps. You may have noticed that none of them required fabricating custom engine mounts or cutting up the car. The rest of these require extensive modification to fit. However, the rest of these are the serious power players. These are the motors you have when you dream that you are the king of the street.
Probably the most underrated of the exotic swaps is the Toyota “S” engine. Available in up to 2.2 litres of displacement, optional turbo chargers and VVTi, this motor has been a staple of the Toyota line since 1986. When the Altezza and IS200 were released in Japan, this motor finally came in rear wheel drive configuration sporting a six speed manual transmission, VVTi and 210hp. Installing this drivetrain into your ae86 would transform it completely! Drivetrains are only available from Japan so costs are high, but I believe the results are far more worth it than the ever-popular F20C swap that follows. Either way, we are talking about a heap of custom fabrication…new driveshaft, transmission mounts, engine mounts, water system and all wiring. At least you are putting a Toyota in your Toyota! With optional turbocharging power, how can you go wrong?
The current darling of the ae86 swap society is the Honda F20C and F22C. This is the drivetrain from the Honda s2000. Like the 3sg out of the Altezza and IS200, the F20C features a six speed transmission. New for Honda, it also features a clockwise rotation, which has been the norm of every other car known to man since the dawn of time. This motor requires all of the same fabrication and installation that the above 3sg swap requires, yet it has been far more prevalent thanks to the effort of Japanese tuner Hot Staff. They actually make a kit to install this drivetrain into an ae86, and will even supply a drivetrain or build the car for you if you require. The reason for all of this effort is simple: The Honda F20C has the highest output per displacement of any natural aspirated engine on the planet. This means that for two litres of motor, you are getting 240hp and an insane 9000rpm redline with Honda reliability. It also maintains the 53/47 balance of weight in the ae86, retaining factory handling characteristics. I still think the 3s is the way to go, but maybe that is the purist in me talking. The real downside to this swap is the cost. Honda s2000 drivetrains are not common or cheap, and with the cancellation of the car, supply of available parts has a finite life.
One of the motor swaps that is becoming more popular is the installation of an SR20DET and transmission from a Nissan Silvia. This a natural option because the ae86 and Silva trio are so similar. Nissan essentially copied the ae86 full bore and made it fatter, so the two cars share a lot of design and chassis cues. Two litres of turbo charged power, rear wheel drive configuration and an endless supply of aftermarket parts and upgrades makes this one to consider. Starting at 200hp and featuring loads of mid range power, there is not much negative I can say about this swap other than it will take as much work as any of these exotic swaps, yet is probably the best bang for your buck should you deside to go exotic in execution. The best part is, it is light in weight so car balance should not be compromised. It still requires some customization (less than the F20c above) but will generate endless power in return. I am in the process of doing an sr20det swap into a coupe, documented elsewhere on the site.
Another swap I do not see enough of is the 13B rotary. Rotary motors have had a dodgy but potent reputation since their inception in the Japanese Mazda Cosmo. They continue as a staple of the Mazda line today in the RX-8 and have surprised people with their power output for decades. A rotary engine makes its power by creating combustion compression by spinning a triangular paddle inside a housing rather than using an up and down reciprocating motion like a piston engine. Because a rotary has less moving parts it has a much higher rev limit than most piston engines. It also has two thirds of a revolution under power, unlike the quarter stroke of a piston engine so it is slightly more efficient in that regard. It is also incredibly compact and lightweight, making it a natural ae86 swap. There are three major downsides to a rotary engine that you should be aware of. The first is that they are incredibly thirsty, drinking the fuel of an engine twice their size (if not three times). The second is that they do not respond to tuning like a piston engine, which is one of the reasons most people do not like them. 14.7:1 maybe the optimum air/fuel ratio for a piston engine, but in a rotary it is closer to 12:1. Tune it to 14:1 and watch it explode. Lastly, the apex seals on older rotary engines were not good. This just means that the engines did not last as long as piston engines between rebuilds. Today’s rotary science has improved dramatically, and bad apex seals are a thing of the past. With the same downsides as all of these exotic swaps (custom fab and wiring) the 13B excels with its light weight and high power potential. 800hp 13B rotaries are possible, which is scary from a 1.3 litre engine. Some of you may have seen an internet clip featuring a white ae86 hatch with a 20B rotary. This is the three-rotor version of the two-rotor 13B, displacing 2 litres. While more exotic and hard to find outside Japan, this motor is a true powerhouse, pushing well over three hundred horsepower in OEM trim. Finding one, installing and upgrading it might be hard, but anyone who has seen that video knows that all out power awaits. There is something to be said about a car that can light its tires on fire at highway speeds for half a kilometer that excites me.
One of the most popular engines in the import drag scene right now is the Toyota 2RZ. This engine is a 2.7 litre four cylinder from the Toyota Tacoma. The drag racers out there are currently using this motor to produce literally thousands of horsepower, and because of this they have started showing up in ae86’s on the street. While weak in OEM trim, many speed parts exist and more are coming. Most notably is the TRD factory optional supercharger for this engine. I have seen more than one of these engines in an ae86, and let me tell you that it looks like it belongs there. Furthermore, I have seen the Project NORAD Celica, so I know what it can do. Lastly, if an engine builder with the reputation of Bob Norwood says it is a good motor, it is a good motor and that is all you need to know. Google him if you do not believe me. This swap is growing with popularity due to its teflon reputation, and I would expect to see many more of these in the future.
Getting towards the ridiculous, we have two Supra swaps to discuss. Essentially the same idea, putting a 7mgte or 2jzgte in your ae86 is building a road-going nightmare. Power would be virtually unlimited, and with a five or six speed oem transmission, you would have enough control to reach insane speeds. Cornering and overall balance would be destroyed due to the heavy nature of the drivetrains, but if you are in North America you have no idea what a corner is anyway. There have been several of these cars built over the years…there is one on eBay as I write this! I think it really hit home for me as to the potential of this swap once I saw Top Secret in Japan put one in a customer’s car using an independent rear end. This ae86 was able to hang with the highway tunnel running heavyweights like Mk IV Supras and R34 GT-R’s at speeds approaching 300kmph. As it sits, a regular North American ae86 can barely pull 200kmph. Getting near 300kmph is just plain crazy. I have also seen these engines drag raced in ae86’s with great results. I believe I saw a gentleman in Florida had a coupe than ran low 11s with an OEM Supra Mk IV drivetrain, and that was in the late 90’s!
If a Mk IV Supra drivetrain is ridiculous, what would you call jamming a Lexus aluminum V8 under the hood of an ae86? It has been done, and that does not surprise me. What surprises me is how good it looks! Can you imagine having 300+ V8 hp in a 2000lb car, with the smoothness and reliability of a Lexus?! Another darling of the swap scene is the LS-2 or LS-7 Chevrolet engine. Easy to find, fairly compact and relatively inexpensive...power power power!
As you can see, there are many power adders out there for you, the enthusiast to power up with. From an air filter to nitrous, from rotary to V8, it has all been done. All you have to do is set your budget, decide what you want and bang it out. I chose the 4agze as the best of all worlds. Most do not make it past the odd bolt on. Which will you choose? One I would like to see is a 2.3 litre Ford SVO Mustang drivetrain. They are cheap enough, and have many power options in the aftermarket. Best of all, they would fit!