Built to Drift: This AE86 Went From Shabby Shell to Stylishly Sideways

If two is better than one, then why not six? That’s Lester Donis’ attitude when it comes to Toyota’s iconic AE86 Corolla, a car that’s been idolized both in the flesh and virtually, having splashed across screens in video games, anime, and more for decades. This long-time 8-6 aficionado can’t stand the thought of leaving one of these chassis behind, and just last year, managed to acquire half a dozen.

One for Show, One for Go

One of the cars from his collection is restored and heavily modified, and you got a closer look at it back in November when we featured it. The panda paint scheme, shaved bay, and 20-valve swap work perfectly together … maybe too perfectly. Lester adds, “I really wanted to drift but didn’t want to put the white 86 in harms way. One day I got the car sideways, lol—my first time ever doing that. I went up a curb and luckily only got a small nick on one of its SSR Longchamps! After that moment, I decided I really needed to get another 86.”

In search of a new Corolla to abuse at local drift events, Lester remembered a friend owned a very rough black and grey shell that he’d picked up to turn into a project, but ultimately lost the motivation to work on it. “It was so rough; it was a barely even rolling. No interior other than one seat and a dash—no exterior moldings or bumpers, and the entire drivetrain was garbage.” Still, it would serve as an ideal starting point to piece together a weekend drift car, but the asking price didn’t match its condition. That should have been the end of things, but Lester’s friend was interested in his Celica GT daily driver and after some back and forth, a deal was struck. “I ended up trading my running daily driver for a horrible shell, lol!”

Two Scoops of Additional ’80s Corolla Goodness:

JDM 86 with a floating engine

SR20DET Corolla SR5

Beams Me Up

Lester nabbed a 3S-GTE Beams swap he found on a Black Friday deal at JDM Depot, and he’d sourced most of the parts needed to make it a complete swap, right before suddenly dropping the entire project. He adds, “I went through a rut, personally, and couldn’t get out of it for a few months and just abandoned my garage.” Eventually, his motivation returned and Lester got right back to work and within a few months’ time, the swap was complete—the first he’d ever attempted on his own.

Along the way, Lester purchased yet another Corolla chassis, also in rough shape, and had to decide which would be used as the drift build. “My dad convinced me to use the original black coupe for the drift build and turn it into a father and son project. So, we ended up restoring it together.” The two-tone exterior is a thing of the past, with the body straightened and slathered in Nissan’s Midnight Purple. The fresh paint was joined by a Shine Auto front bumper, Goodline side skirts and rear bumper, and Zenki taillights.

All Business

To get the 30-plus-year-old chassis to cooperate when asked to get sideways, a slew of suspension goods, much of them sourced through Techno Toy Tuning, were installed and the car was brought down to a respectable height atop 15-inch Work Equip 40s. The clean, well sorted exterior isn’t matched under the hood, as this isn’t a show car. Much of the aged bracketry and hardware is still on duty, the focus being reliable, repeatable performance on track days.

Driver’s quarters are kept simple with a Bride Stradia seat to help hold Lester in place while he spins a Nardi steering wheel during corner attacks. A fire extinguisher is within arm’s reach in case of the unthinkable. Throughout the cabin, factory panels and various plastic covers have been reintroduced to the once barren shell.

Anyone who’s built a car knows that sometimes getting a project built up to a certain level leaves you questioning whether you want to risk losing it in all in the heat of competition. Some throw caution to the wind, while others, like Lester, start over again with a less than stellar foundation and learn a few things about their car and themselves in the process. “When I finally turned it on, my eyes lit up. I couldn’t believe I finished my first swap by myself! Fast forward to my first drift day and I was nervous as hell, but since then, I’ve been out to almost every single event!”

Photos courtesy of Efrain Leon

Car: 1985 Toyota Corolla SR5

Owner: Lester Donis

Instagram: @chester_don

Engine: 3SGTE blacktop Beams swap; HKS Hi-Power exhaust; custom header; Apexi air intake; Koyo radiator; Aeromotive fuel pressure regulator

Drivetrain: Beams 6-speed transmission; GTS 4.3 Weird Performance R&P set up w/Max grip LSD; Excessive 1-piece drive shaft

Suspension: T3 front caster arms, 15mm extended LCAs, rack spacers w/manual 86 rack, lateral drop mount kit, panhard bar, sway bar drop mount kit, 4-link set up; BC Racing coilovers; Cusco front shock tower bar

Wheels and Tires: 15 x 8.5 +1 Work Equip 40; Toyo Extensa HP 195/50

Exterior: Midnight Purple LP2 paintwork; Shine Auto front bumper; Goodline side skirts, rear bumper; OEM JDM Zenki taillights, Kouki corners, eyelids; Autocover foglights; Retro-spec CF window visors

Interior: Bride Stradia Kevlar seat; Nardi steering wheel

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