SHINE ON YOU CRAZY DIAMOND
RISING FROM THE ASHES OF A STACKED AE86, AND ON A MISSION TO SPANK SOME ESCORTS ON THE STAGES, MEET THE MILLINGTON-POWERED AE86 LEVIN RALLY WEAPON
Built from the byproduct of an unfortunate encounter with the uncompromising environment of rallying, Chris Woudenberg’s now immaculate AE86 was transformed from a wrecked 4A-GZE–powered example into a custom-ordered Millington-engined monster — those Ford Escorts don’t stand a chance in hell against this rooster-tailing ’rolla.
The needle on the tacho streaks beyond 8000rpm. Strapped inside this scarlet jungle gym, it’s the very definition of sensory overload. Beyond the firewall, the mechanical symphony of four cylinders reaches a fever pitch then subsides, as the madman behind the wheel plucks third, then fourth gear. We’re barrelling along at a pace probably slightly beyond the comfort zone of this virgin to a rallying silly seat, but with barely a lift off the loud pedal, the car tips left into a cambered, uphill turn.
It’s not violent — at least it doesn’t feel particularly aggressive as the tail flicks towards the edge of the road while the nose points at the inside bank. Rather, the chassis motion is fluid, and the suspension absorbs the ruts and bumps. On command, the bark from the four throttles provides a timely reminder that this is something quite angry, competing with the staccato hammering of rocks against the floorpan.
Rally tyres, it seems, do their job well. The AE86 squats and rockets towards the next right-hander, a rinse and repeat situation of button off, drop a gear, turn in, power out with handfuls of opposite lock, while balancing the attitude of the car on the throttle. And, of course, that ruthless naturally-aspirated soundtrack throughout.
Thanks to Rally Drive New Zealand, we’re out at Maramarua Forest, taking in a rallying experience that’s quite literally like no other in the country. Perched on the gravel among the pine trees is Chris Woudenberg’s freshly completed AE86 Corolla Levin rally
machine, almost unassuming in its aesthetic. Outwardly, the AE86 looks like any other rally-focused example of Toyota’s cult chassis. These builds are a product of function over form, constructed to withstand abuse from the driver, and the uncompromising environment of rallying.
Chris’s immaculate creation is, in fact, a byproduct of an unfortunate encounter with the aforementioned environment. Something of a Toyota loyalist, this isn’t his first AE86 rodeo, as his previous example met an untimely demise during the 2014 Silver Fern Rally. Entered with the sole intention of “having a good go at those pesky Escorts”, Chris had the 150hp 4A-GZE-powered AE86 running comfortably in the top 10 at the halfway point. Belting along a South Island forest stage, the AE86 made an involuntary call to engage in an argument with a roadside boulder.
The boulder won, and while the mechanical components of the car survived the impact, the chassis did not. Damage to the roll cage meant any chance of repairing the car to continue chucking stones the following day was out of the question. Chris and the team returned to Auckland to plot an eventual return to the stages.
In one of those moments of convenience, five years earlier Chris had already acquired a ‘spare’ car, in the form of a somewhat rusty AE86. Rust or not, the team began a strip down, reducing the AE86 to a mere shell to begin patching up the rust. At this point, Kerry Holland of Top Gear Autotech was engaged to build one hell of a roll cage. Nicknamed the ‘Melanie’ design (after Chris’s wife, who clearly wants to keep life that way), Kerry crafted an extensive chromoly masterpiece, devoid of gussets and fitted close enough to the factory shell to weld directly to the pillars. Further metalwork to the shell includes modification to the floorpan to locate the seats both lower, and more central to the car. With a tick from MSNZ following stress analysis of the roll cage, and the rust work — always a bigger job than you think — ending, Chris turned his brain to choosing an engine. He’d done the 4A-GE thing, and that wasn’t going to cut the mustard against the hordes of potent BDA-powered Escorts. Something special was going to be required. The Toyota 2ZZ-GE was briefly considered as a means of keeping it in the family, but as was the custom in 2014, the internet came to the rescue.
Chris stumbled across a story about an AE86 based in the UK, running something called a Millington engine. Further research convinced Chris that the Millington was the ticket to beating the Fords, and the prompt response from the engine builders in the UK soon saw one of the world’s best aspirated four-cylinder lumps sitting on the floor of Chris’s man cave. So, what’s this Millington fuss all about, then? Known as the Millington Diamond Series II+, the 2.5-litre twin-cam is an all-alloy long block based on a YB Cosworth. While the original Millington Diamond featured a modified YB head on their alloy block, the Series II makes use of a revised design to address the YB’s shortcomings.
These include an altered valve angle for increased combustion efficiency, revised exhaust ports to suit the naturally aspirated (NA) application (the YB was designed as a turbocharged engine), and a refined combustion chamber. Integral to the head casting is the responsive roller barrel–style throttles, which, instead of a traditional butterfly, use a cylindrical roller with a port-sized aperture through the middle. A stout bottom end is required when hammering through stages, on and off the throttle at 8000rpm. The Millington comes well equipped with a steel crank, forged rods and pistons, as well as a dry-sump kit to keep things oily and ensure reliability under high lateral loads.
In keeping with the Millington being a complete package, the engines also come with a pre-mapped DTA Fast S60 ECU
and wiring harness to suit. While Millington dyno tune all of their engines, power isn’t specified, but it’s a safe bet to assume it’s somewhere in the 220kW range. Ken Block, for example, runs the same engine in his own ‘Hoonigan’ Mk2 Escort, with a proven 250kW. Topping off the impressive package is the stainless tunedlength headers, fabricated in the UK by Simpson Race Exhausts, and modified to suit Chris’s application in the AE86 — the obvious hurdle being that, from factory, the AE86 has an exhaust on the passenger’s side, while the Millington’s exit is on the driver’s. It’s an exhilarating experience for the NA engine faithful. From around 4000rpm the 2.5-litre rides the crest of a torque wave, which doesn’t appear to fall off all the way past 8000rpm. Oh, and did we mention the sound it makes?
Keeping the Millington in its torque band is a Drenth DG400 sequential dogbox. Acquired following consultation with local gearbox guru Kayne Barrie, the Dutchmanufactured sixspeed is essentially a replacement for a BMW Getrag 265. The allure of attainable spares sealed the deal, and while some thought was required to adapt the bellhousing to the Millington block, there’s just something about urgently banging through gears to a gruff NA soundtrack that just feels so right.
Chassis-wise, most of the underpinnings have been repurposed from the damaged AE86. Top-end Drummond coilovers keep all four Dunlop rally tyres at their tractive best, and even though the AE86 still rocks a T-series 6.7-inch diff, uprated axles from Weir Performance and a TRD plate LSD ensure it keeps up with the Millington for the time being. Techno Toy Tuning’s catalogue can be found throughout, with caster arms, four-link arms, strut braces, and knuckles all used on Chris’s car.
Everywhere you look, the AE86 is indicative of a meticulous engineering background. Inside — among the cage, Racetech seats, and harnesses — is a modified transmission tunnel to accommodate the gearbox. Not content with the first attempt, it took three versions to finally settle on a tunnel that looked ‘factory’ enough. Peeking below the flocked dash is the electric powersteer unit, fitted to a relocated steering column and making life easier for Chris as he flicks the Momo suede wheel during big ‘scandies’ while entering corners.
Watching Chris come in from a couple of fast runs for the camera, the smile says it all as he coasts to a stop, asking how the shots came out. There’s nothing quite like that satisfaction of creating something so immaculate, so focused, and of course this translates to something so damn cool. With the rally season only months away, it’s worth keeping an eye on local events and trekking into the forest to experience the noise of the Millington. Or, if you’re suitably equipped with a solid supply of brave pills, Chris is even seeking a co-driver. Get in touch with Chris at email@example.com if you’re keen!
Bigger engine means bigger fuel consumption. The modified OEM fuel tank in the AE86 now holds 65 litres of fuel, to keep up with the 1.92L/km fuel usage under racing conditions
The AE86 is dripping with quality fabrication. Dry-sump tank, radiator, and exhausts were all fabricated in the UK, while local influence extends to the cage, suspension, and chassis modification
SHOES WHEELS: 13x6-inch Bridgestone Zona TYRES: Dunlop or DMack rally tyres