3SGE CIRCUIT SLAYER
PETER SCHREY HAS TRANSFORMED HIS ONCE-ROAD-GOING STARLET INTO A WILD TRACKER INSPIRED BY THE TOURING CARS OF THE ’80S AND ’90S
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