PRUK PRUKSATHORN’S ’70 TOYOTA COROLLA
While Mazda RX-7 owners worldwide are abandoning their 13Bs and anything that’s got to do with apex seals and eccentric shafts for things like Chevy V-8s, there’s at least one guy who’s gone and swooped up at least one of those sidelined rotaries. Pruk Pruksathorn isn’t going around rescuing any RX-7S, though. For him, it’s the second-generation Corolla’s 76hp lump that doesn’t cut it and got the boot for Mazda’s turbocharged 1.3L can of rotary bits. It’s the engine swap you never expected, stuffed into the ’70 Toyota you never saw coming, and it’s exactly what you didn’t know you were waiting for.
That is, if you’re Pruk—an Italian restaurant owner from Thailand who’s down with vintage RWD commuters most of the world’s forgotten about and the rotary mills some Mazda owners would just as soon never hear from again. And, as it turns out, you care about this whole mash-up for the same reason Pruk makes a living selling pepperoni pizzas right outside of Bangkok—it’s all very much at odds with the eight-valve, twin-cam engine you think he would’ve swapped into place. Or the Pad Thai joint you think he’s supposed to own.
Being different for the sake of being different doesn’t always work out. Your Integra really wants you to put its hood back on. And you look just as lame wearing that llama sweater while picking bits of avocado toast out of that handlebar mustache of yours as it sounds reading about it. But for Pruk, different works. That’s because the only thing wrong with Mazda’s 13B are the chumps who’ve failed to properly care for them over the years.
But Pruk is no chump. He knows the inner workings of the 13B and what it takes to keep himself from wanting something else. The swap’s controlled by the engine’s native ECU, so tweaking things like air/fuel ratios and ignition timing are non-issues. As such, horsepower remains conservative; Pruk estimates it’s somewhere in the 280hp range. And yet for everything he knows about Mazda’s 13B, he knows zilch about the one he’s got in particular. That’s because, according to Pruk, he’s got no idea whether or not that 13B of his has been overhauled. It’s a mystery many JDM engine buyers have been faced with for about as long as used Japanese engines have been a thing. Did whoever owned that decades-old B16A of yours before you put Type R cams in it? You swear it feels faster than your homie’s B16A. You hope.
Whether or not Pruk’s 13B has or hasn’t been overhauled isn’t as important as you might think. Bridge porting is in the engine’s future regardless, but not before the rest of the car was gone over. And by gone over we’re talking about the one-off widebody panels nearby TU Painting covered with a beautiful orangeish hue. According to Pruk, it’s that aero that makes this Corolla unique; without it, he says, it’d look just plain old.
The merger of unrelated Japanese car companies’ parts bins continues underneath the chassis where TEIN coilovers meant for an S13 sit behind brakes taken from an R32 GT-R up front and those from an FD RX-7 in the rear. It all makes about as much sense as that Mazda engine underneath the hood that sends all the right feels to those Falkens out back by way of the RX-7’S gearbox and rear differential. It was all very much a custom affair, one that didn’t come easy, and one that took Pruk five years to complete. Go ahead and ask him and he’ll tell you that if it could’ve gone wrong, it did. Plans even changed midway through the build, like that moment he realized Thailand’s streets and a low ride height wouldn’t bode well for those fiberglass fenders he had made up.
All of this matters because Pruk actually drives this here Corolla—at least a few times each week to his restaurant, which means it starts, it runs, and it’s every bit as functional as you thought it wasn’t. It’s also different, which was what he wanted from the beginning. According to Pruk, deviating from Thailand’s automotive norms wasn’t terribly hard. There, retro cars like the Corolla just aren’t all that popular. And there, at least according to Pruk, lingering within the automotive equivalent of a college campus safe space means deviating from things like new-car buildups and massapproved engine swaps doesn’t happen often. This car, if you ask Pruk, goes against all of that, proving to the rest of Thailand that it’s OK to be different. And to think twice before chucking that rotary of yours.