Once ashamed to be seen in one, Michael Ledgerwood is now a Corolla man through and through
There are a few cars which don’t need definition when discussed. If someone mentions the name Exige, Veyron or Aventador you know what they’re on about. However, for the vast majority of the machines we modify, there are a number of variants that fall under the same name — arguably none more so than the Corolla. Commencing production in 1966 and spanning right on through to today, there are countless versions ranging from cult classics to airbagloaded economical grocery collectors, and all with their own subfamily of defining chassis codes. If Michael Ledgerwood of Christchurch owned one, chances are it had ‘KE’ stamped on the tag.
Having had his fair share of Toyotas, it was the KE36 which got more attention than the rest. “I used to get embarrassed being dropped off at school in one, but now I can’t get enough of them,” Michael laughs. “Ever since I got my first KE when I was 17, I fell in love.” Fast forward a few years and his fair share of KE26s, ’30s and ’35s, he settled on getting serious with the wagon we see today.
Not a run-of-the-mill car to start with, Michael purchased the wagon with a turbo 4AGZE and Hilux diff from the getgo. However, that set-up didn’t suffice for long, and plans for more power and an all-round better car were put in motion. More horsepower was on the cards, and that wasn’t going to happen without making some changes to the cylinder head. “I was probably a bit young and arrogant at the time, but I wanted the heaviest cams I could get,” laughs Michael. Race-spec Kelford Cams were sourced, along with heavier Kelford valve springs to match. To assist in allowing more fuel into the chamber, 510cc Evo injectors were installed. There’s no point in throwing more fuel in the mix without adding air to the equation, so Michael set about making sure that an optimal mixture would be achieved. A WRX throttle body was retrofitted, and the head ported and polished.
Trying to direct a few hundred horsepower through a standard KE36 driveline is going to be anything but reliable, which the previous owner realized and remedied with the installation of a Toyota W55 gearbox and a Hilux diff. This is where the build takes another turn; Michael wasn’t satisfied with that either. The set-up wasn’t too bad to begin with, but the rear end had to provide for more than just spreading power to the rear wheels. “It was strong and never gave me issues,”
Michael explains. “But I wanted rear camber as there were no Corollas around with it.” The decision was made to axe the lot, and source an S13 rear subframe which would both handle the increased power, and provide adjustment at the wheels with a more modern independent rear suspension type system.
The fuel tank, rear guards, and rails all needed modification to fit the subframe and planned wide wheels, so Simon at Surfab was enlisted to take care of the installation, which was definitely far from a bolt-in affair. As it turns out, it was a good time to begin fabrication in that area of the car anyway, since the Hilux diff had started to tear through the floor under the rear seat. To compliment the new diff setup, the W55 was rebuilt and a new clutch and flywheel combo was installed.
Following the initial array of modifications, the car went for a tune. However due to the wrong choice of turbo and a cheap manifold, the results weren’t what Michael was hoping for. “It made alright power but it was super laggy,” Michael recalls. “It meant I had to sit on the limiter to hold full boost. So after more research and talking to mates I went to a custom T28 with bigger compressor and turbine wheel, and got my mate Nick to make me a good manifold and downpipe.” As well as a better flowing manifold and more suitable turbo, the car’s intercooler piping size was reduced and a genuine TiAL 38mm wastegate was bolted on. The result: a responsive 238kW ( 320hp) at the wheels at 19psi. As Michael tells us, “It just screams right from the word go through until the limiter. Full boost is achieved at 3700 rpm and still makes full power at over 8000.”
The result, a responsive 238kW ( 320hp) at the wheels at 19psi. As Michael tells us, “It just screams right from the word go through until the limiter. Full boost is achieved at 3700 rpm and still makes full power at over 8000.”
With the light at the end of the tunnel now near for the mechanical part of the build, it was time to make sure the car looked the part, and that meant making the most of the modified guards. “I’ve always run cheap Chinese-made wheels,” Michael explains. “I just wanted to spend my money on going faster. But with constant shit and digs from a mate Marcus, I finally decided it was time to purchase some genuine Japanese wheels. He was amazed!” A set of SSR Starsharks were sourced locally, arriving as a pair of 14x8-inch and another pair of smaller 14x6.5-inch. Being a fitter and turner by trade, Michael machined the outer lips off the 6.5s and sent them away for some bigger ones to be made up to match the width of the other pair. “Luckily, with the offset of the new lips, they sat in the rear guards perfectly,” Michael recalls. “And with a bit of persuasion and camber, the fronts fit well, too.”
Following a paint job and finishing touches to the guards and brakes, the car definitely stands out as one of the most unique KE36s we’ve seen. We’re told that even though the S13 rear-end vastly improved the handling side of things, the car is a bit of a ‘sunny day driver’ due to massive amounts of camber making it a handful in the wet — no surprise really. Michael isn’t finished with it and has mentioned plans to go faster, lower and louder which include a switch to E85 in the hopes of breaking the 400hp mark. With that in mind, the car may begin to get a bit loose on dry tarmac as well!
Michael isn’t finished with it and has mentioned plans to go faster, lower and louder which include a switch to E85 in the hopes of breaking the 400hp mark. With that in mind, the car may begin to get a bit loose on dry tarmac as well!
There are a lot of things to be considered when buying a bodykit for your car, besides the obvious — deciding what look you’re after and what you want to get from it. Not all kits are created equal, some are supplied in a readyto-fit state, and others mean you (or the fitter) will end up spending plenty of time fiddling to get them fitting just right. Of course if you head straight out to the race track, chances are you won’t spend much time on the fit, as you’re likely to smash it straight away. But if you’re a bit more conservative, it may pay to check how the kit you’re looking at compares to others in terms of fit, finished quality, and thickness of the materials used. Some higher-end kits feature bracing where required, while others are bare bones, so do your research before hitting ‘buy now’, or handing over your hard-earned cash. If you want to shed kilos then carbon panels will be high on your list, though not all will save weight, as some are purely a single layer of carbon laid over fibreglass, which is fine if you just want the look and a few extra dollars left in your wallet. Some high-end kits are very thin fibreglass, but with weight savings can come loss of strength, so you’re likely to sacrifice sturdiness. We are spoilt for choice with locally available kits for most popular car models these days, and in this feature you will find a few local suppliers and get an idea of the types of products they sell. A kit can make or break a car, so do your research first, and choose wisely.
Sure we’ve all seen bodykits painted with a spray can, or others just left in the white gel coat, but let’s face it, no one wants to be that guy. When looking to get a body kit painted, keep in mind that all paint jobs are not created equal. If you’re aiming to colour match the kit to an existing paint job, there may be a bit more work involved to make sure that the colours match correctly, as the paint on the rest of the car may have faded over time and will no longer be an exact match to the colour code on the chassis tag. Depending on the quality of the kit to start with, modifications may also be required before it is ready to fit, so it pays to make sure your paint shop of choice can work with fibreglass to make the changes needed, or that it’s fitting perfectly before you send it to paint, as we have seen kits painted before they ever get a test fitting that then needed big modifications, and ultimately a second paint job.
Michael is not one to shy away from giving the KE a good beating at any time. He is a regular on the skidpan and at the drags like at the recent South Island Champs, where the Corolla rattled off a string of 13s, the best of which was a 13.5, wheel spinning through second and third.
The fitting of the rear subframe was handled by Simon from Surfab, and it replaced the retro-fitted Hilux solid axle. This required pick up points to be welded into the chassis. It was a good thing the conversion was done as the four link was beginning to tear out of the chassis.