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There are those among us who refuse to al­low what some de­sign team deemed the pin­na­cle of de­sign for a par­tic­u­lar model of car. In­stead, th­ese brave souls forge ahead and reimag­ine said de­sign to suit their own needs, whether that’s to house a big­ger en­gine, wider wheels, lower ride height, or a com­bi­na­tion of all three that sees a cut­ting disc put to steel. For Peter Schrey, a man with a near life­long love for the hum­ble Toy­ota Star­let, it was ride height and other lim­i­ta­tions as­so­ci­ated with keep­ing a car road le­gal that saw him head down a path of dis­cov­ery and cre­ation in his garage at home.

The re­sult, shown on th­ese pages, still re­sem­bles the Star­let Peter pur­chased 14 years ago, but look be­yond the matte black pan­els and a world of amaze­ment awaits.

It be­gan, like many be­fore it, as a road-go­ing pro­ject that would see reg­u­lar track work: at the time Peter was run­ning a turbo 4AGZE and a ba­sic six-point roll cage. But, af­ter a few years in this guise, the lack of all those good race-car things that are frowned upon for street use spurred his de­ci­sion to dive into the deep end — to tube­frame the chas­sis, leave be­hind the lim­i­ta­tions as­so­ci­ated with the fac­tory uni­body, and take the Star­let off the road for good. You see, Peter’s day job is as a fab­ri­ca­tor/en­gi­neer at Fraser Cars, which goes some­way to ex­plain­ing the blank-can­vas ap­proach ap­plied to the build.

Hav­ing worked with the Toy­ota 3SGE en­gine for a very long time, Peter knew all the lim­i­ta­tions and weak points of th­ese en­gines. This has seen a dry-sump sys­tem in­stalled to en­sure re­li­a­bil­ity The bodywork has been con­structed us­ing MDF plugs and then very thin, light­weight fi­bre-re­in­forced plas­tic (FRP) pan­els were lifted from those. All bolt-on pan­els weigh be­tween 1 and 1.2kg

Al­though his job does mean his knowl­edge and skill base are more ad­vanced than most, the long-term pro­ject has served as a learn­ing tool as much as a means to ac­quire a race car. The learn­ing curve be­gan right from day one, with de­sign­ing the new chas­sis. “I did a lot of re­search through books that I was read­ing at the time. I had a lot of the mea­sure­ments and the con­fines of the chas­sis with me on pa­per, and, when my wife and I went to Tonga for a 10-day hol­i­day, I was plan­ning things out, how it was all go­ing to work and de­signed the chas­sis,” Peter ex­plained.

The ba­sis for the tube chas­sis was de­signed around the ex­ist­ing ba­sic six-point cage that Peter had had Her­bert Fab­ri­ca­tion in­stall years ear­lier, be­fore he was a fab­ri­ca­tor. The first cuts saw the floor pan re­moved, and then the car was welded to a chas­sis ta­ble. The new tube frame was con­structed in sec­tions, be­gin­ning with the front, then the cen­tre sec­tion, fol­lowed by the rear. Once the frame was built, it was on to build­ing the ad­justable dou­ble A-arms and other sus­pen­sion com­po­nents, in­clud­ing the up­rights.

Very lit­tle is left of the orig­i­nal body shell. Even the roof, A-, B-, and C-pil­lars had any ex­cess metal re­moved — ei­ther it was un­stitched al­to­gether, or a hole­sawed if some ex­tra strength was needed. Es­ti­mates put the body at around the 60–70kg mark. This weight-sav­ing ded­i­ca­tion has been car­ried through to the other body pan­els, all of which were de­signed and con­structed by Pete. He built up and shaped MDF plugs, which were then painted and pol­ished be­fore fi­bre­glass pan­els could be lifted from them, as he elab­o­rated: “Most of the pan­els are all about 1 to 1.2kg. I lay them up with only two lay­ers of 300g chop strand. Then, once re­moved from the mould, I press on the panel to find the spots where it’s flimsy. Any­where the air speed will hit it and cause it to de­form, I strengthen. If there is a cor­ner or shape, a cou­ple of lay­ers is usu­ally enough, as I re­ally hate heavy fi­bre­glass com­po­nents.” With the large side pods, quar­ter-cut doors, and the shape of the wide­body and chopper rear bar, it’s easy to see the in­flu­ence of Zak­speed, Euro­pean hill climb, DTM, and other ’80s and early ’90s tour­ing cars com­ing through in its de­sign. There is still a front bar to com­plete the look, but that re­mains a work-in-progress.

The rocker arms for the in-board Spax coilovers have seen a few re­fine­ments over the years, with the cur­rent ver­sion close to 1.1:1. In the be­gin­ning, the setup was found to be too ag­gres­sive, forc­ing the use of a very soft spring. With the new rock­ers, the spring rates are more tra­di­tional

The Star­let not only looks like a DTM ma­chine but also sports some very trick sus­pen­sion com­po­nents, as you would ex­pect to find in such a build — all of which Pete has de­signed, built, and con­tin­ues to re­fine, year-on-year. That’s why you see no fancy paint­work on any part; they are all ei­ther in etch primer or matte black, as the car is still very much an on­go­ing pro­ject, some­thing Pete loves. “I’m al­ways cut­ting and weld­ing to try to op­ti­mize ev­ery­thing, as that’s what I love to muck around with,” he told us.

It’s the ge­om­e­try that he is for­ever at­tempt­ing to re­fine. The up­rights have been changed at least four times so far, and, as you read this, they will be back un­der the knife, this time to re­duce the scrub ra­dius, which Pete hopes will also re­duce the amount of kick­back through the steer­ing. It’s all part of the trial and er­ror, an on­go­ing real-world education, with the Star­let serv­ing as the test mule.

The other area that Pete has loved de­vel­op­ing is the en­gine com­bi­na­tion: “I get a huge amount of sat­is­fac­tion from do­ing the en­gine work. I han­dled all the as­sem­bly work, and, if there is ma­chin­ing to be done, I out­source to Glen­dene En­gine Re­con­di­tion­ers. I have done a few spe­cial tricks to this en­gine to op­ti­mize it from knowl­edge I have learned at Frasers, as we have had a lot to do with the 3SGE en­gine. This be­ing the fifth gen­er­a­tion, the lat­est ver­sion, it’s pretty cool, aye. I reckon it’s hugely un­der­rated, be­cause they don’t go so well in the stan­dard Altezza, as it’s re­ally heavy. But, as soon as you put them in a light­weight car, they are awe­some.”

The cur­rent block has been in the car since it was tube framed, al­though with vary­ing set-ups, and it even spent a few years tur­bocharged, but Pete found that com­bi­na­tion a lit­tle hard to drive on the limit, so de­cided to swap back. “In turbo form, it ran 7psi and 11.5:1 com­pres­sion; that was a cool set-up, mak­ing around 300hp [224kW] at the wheels. But, with the

The car­bon trum­pets were pro­duced by Peter, who has been play­ing around with dif­fer­ent lengths and sizes of trum­pets over the years, and he is very happy with the cur­rent length. The trum­pets were pro­duced us­ing a two-piece pol­ished­steel die

The chas­sis was con­structed from NZTM-Q29 steel and fully TIG welded. To get the car le­gal for rac­ing, the chas­sis must be drawn in CAD and run through a sim­u­la­tion pro­gram, which em­u­lates the ef­fects when force is put on cer­tain points of the chas­sis All arms were built by Pete and fea­ture ad­just­ment for fine-tun­ing. The paint marks you see are used by race teams to al­low quick ref­er­ence if some­thing has worked it­self loose and are a vis­ual to in­di­cate that bolts have been checked

turbo, as a cir­cuit car, it was a bit twitchy in terms of the power, and be­cause the car was so light, when you were hang­ing it out on the cor­ners, it wasn’t as lin­ear as the NA [nat­u­rally as­pi­rated], which is much eas­ier to drive on the limit, as you know where the power is. You can re­ally hold it at 9/10 through a curve now,” Pete said. When switch­ing back, on went a ver­sion-five head, but not be­fore a quick 0.3mm plane to bump com­pres­sion. Pete also flowed and pol­ished the ports. And, yip, you guessed it, he built the four-into-one head­ers and the cus­tom tuned-length car­bon trum­pets, too.

So, where to from here? Peter plans to de­velop the car for a few more sea­sons, as he be­lieves there are still plenty of re­fine­ments left in it. But the end goal would be to com­pete in some­thing like GT Rac­ing New Zealand. We get the feel­ing that, long into his old age, Pete will still be tweak­ing the Star­let. It just seems like one of those projects, and Pete cer­tainly seems like the kind of owner who can never say, ‘Yip, I’m done’, then leave things well enough alone. But, then again, that’s all part of the charm of build­ing some­thing with your own hands: you’re for­ever learn­ing how to do some­thing bet­ter, and, if you’re not afraid to con­tin­u­ally chop it up, like Pete, then that pro­ject will keep you busy for a very long time to come.

PER­FOR­MANCE: Hamp­ton Downs, 1min 19s; Taupo (track 2), 1min 22s

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