PRUK PRUKSATHORN’S ’70 TOY­OTA COROLLA

Super Street - - Contents - WORDS Aaron Bonk PHO­TOS Chad Bur­dette

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.

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