The Fast Samu­rai

Flat-out in a Toy­ota Corolla SR1600 that took on Monte Carlo

Classic Cars (UK) - - Contents - Words Ivan OSTROFF Pho­tog­ra­phy Mikkel THOMSAGER

‘I need fo­cus and com­mit­ment, be­cause the bor­der be­tween un­der­steer and over­steer is nar­row‘

In 1977, one of the legs of the Monte Carlo Rally started from Rad­hus­plad­sen (The Town Hall Square) in Copen­hagen. It was a big event in Den­mark in those days be­cause sev­eral Dan­ish teams took part. Bent Egede Olsen and Soren Terp were en­tered in their Group 2 Toy­ota Corolla SR1600 Levin, which fin­ished sec­ond in class. Stand­ing there watch­ing, wish­ing he could drive that Corolla, was 18-year-old en­thu­si­ast Kenneth Saust. To­day, Kenneth is gen­eral man­ager at Yoko­hama Den­mark and owns that very car.

To­day, the re­stored Corolla is im­pec­ca­bly turned out in its orig­i­nal colours and sports its 1976 reg­is­tra­tion. The orig­i­nal pe­riod rollover bar is still in place but strength­ened to com­ply with cur­rent reg­u­la­tions. I lower my­self into the Co­bra seat and se­cure the OMP full har­ness. In­side it looks much like any other stripped-out com­pe­ti­tion sa­loon of the time. The orig­i­nal brown vinyl Toy­ota seats are long gone – they’d be deemed quite un­ac­cept­able by rally scru­ti­neers to­day.

I twist the mas­ter switch next to the fuse bank, flick on the fuel pump and press the round rub­ber starter button. The Corolla’s dou­ble over­head camshaft four­cylin­der fires in­stantly and I be­come im­me­di­ately aware of the rorty in­take noise from the twin Dell’orto DHLA40 car­bu­ret­tors.

The ba­sic in­stru­men­ta­tion is stan­dard Toy­ota Corolla SR largely as it was from the fac­tory. There’s an oil pres­sure gauge where the clock would be in a stan­dard car, while the ra­dio has been re­placed by an alu­minium panel with ex­posed fuses for easy ac­cess. The doors have pe­riod-cor­rect alu­minium pock­ets for road maps. There is a brake cut-off lever to the right of the gear­stick – in­tended to make ser­vice work eas­ier – while a knurled knob to the left of the hand­brake ad­justs the strength of the rear brakes, ef­fec­tively pro­vid­ing a le­gal brake bal­ance sys­tem. A later ad­di­tion is the dig­i­tal speedome­ter, ac­cu­rate what­ever the gear­ing.

Ad­di­tional fit­tings in­clude a fuel pump switch, ex­tra light switches for the four pow­er­ful Hella units fit­ted for night ral­lies, and a flexible in­te­rior map-read­ing light that clips onto the roll cage. Ham­mers and knives are at­tached to the door panels for smash­ing the win­dows and cut­ting through seat belts in emer­gen­cies – clas­sic ral­ly­ing is still a dan­ger­ous game.

In front of the pas­sen­ger seat is a rather un­usual pro­to­type trip com­puter. It was cre­ated in Den­mark by John Hader­stal who per­suaded Olsen and Terp to let him use this car as a test plat­form and was in­stalled for the 1977 Monte Carlo Rally. The Dan­ish po­lice sub­se­quently used this car to cre­ate the pro­to­type for a mo­bile speed-check­ing de­vice – at the time it was the first such elec­tronic sys­tem and was sub­se­quently de­vel­oped into the first com­mer­cially avail­able elec­tronic ral­ly­meter.

I de­press the sur­pringly light clutch, en­gage first and pull away. With­out any sound in­su­la­tion there is a lot of noise from the gear­box and driv­e­train; first gear is es­pe­cially long. The gear­box is not a straight-cut de­vice but a syn­chromeshed H-pat­tern unit that is nice and easy to use. How­ever the clutch, while sur­pris­ingly light, is switch-like in its op­er­a­tion and I have to re­mem­ber to keep the revs up in sec­ond gear to stop the en­gine fluff­ing. Kenneth tells me he uses 7000-7500rpm when driv­ing the car in anger. ‘I’m still my own main spon­sor so I change up 500rpm be­fore the lim­iter in def­er­ence to my pocket!’ he says. I de­cide to change up at 6500rpm just to be safe and that’s plenty to keep it up on cam, where it pulls bril­liantly in any gear.

Grip through fast cor­ners is as­ton­ish­ing. The Corolla is easy to con­trol on the throt­tle and is very pre­dictable, but it can be­come rather tail-happy if you’re not con­cen­trat­ing be­cause it’s ex­tremely light at the rear. I need fo­cus with com­mit­ment when set­ting it up for a cor­ner, be­cause the bor­der be­tween un­der­steer and over­steer is rather nar­row. Kenneth has pre­pared the car with neu­tral to un­der­steer ten­den­cies at the limit; he’s more fa­mil­iar with fron­twheel drive cars, so that feels more nat­u­ral to him. On a nor­mal road you might think that the quick­est way through a bend would be to set the Corolla up side­ways be­fore en­try, but no. The neat­est way through a cor­ner is to brake in a straight line, then slam the car round and drift through the cor­ner on op­po­site lock. This is not a point-and-squirt car, but a se­ri­ous com­pe­ti­tion ma­chine that han­dles ex­cep­tion­ally well on all sur­faces, al­though Kenneth prefers tar­mac be­cause it’s not so pun­ish­ing on the car.

The ex­haust growls an­grily through the two-inch bore of its straight-through ex­haust, but it’s the in­take noise that is most im­pres­sive; a stripped-out Group 2 rally car is like a sound­ing

‘Straight away I knew it was the Dan­ish Monte Carlo Rally car – it was love at first sight’

board. Charg­ing along at around 6000rpm in top, about 90mph, the roar of the air be­ing sucked through the trum­pets of the Dell’orto 40s is soul-stirring. The racket; the vi­bra­tions; the smell of petrol all the while – you don’t get that in a GT86.

What­ever the na­ture of the road sur­face I can feel ev­ery el­e­ment of it through the re­cir­cu­lat­ing ball steer­ing, which is light and pleas­ingly ac­cu­rate. The front brakes on the Toy­ota Corolla 1600SR rally cars were the same as the rear brakes that Ford’s com­pe­ti­tion de­part­ment fit­ted to the Ford Es­cort BDA. The com­pe­ti­tion-spec Ferodo pads need time to get hot so at first I ex­er­cise rea­son­able cau­tion, but now they are up to tem­per­a­ture they are par­tic­u­larly effective. The hand­brake is ac­tu­ated by hy­draulics, so there are no ca­bles be­low the car and it is very effective when you want to pivot the car for a hair­pin, even on as­phalt.

Ac­cel­er­a­tion out of a cor­ner with the cur­rent axle ra­tio is im­pres­sive with 60mph com­ing up in 7.4 sec­onds; the car tops out at just 104mph but mid-range torque is ter­rific. Go­ing up through the gears it’s not a case of wait­ing for the lim­iter to cut in, not in a clas­sic Sev­en­ties rally car. I have to keep an eye on the rev counter, sense where the torque is and know where it is best to change up. It re­ally comes alive af­ter 4500rpm and then from 5000 on­wards it’s like a rocket, with up­graded valves and springs that fa­cil­i­tate ex­tra power and lift the rev limit to 8000rpm. I feel the en­gine reach­ing its peak out­put be­fore then and don’t press it any fur­ther, just grab the next gear. As a re­sult, the driv­ing ex­pe­ri­ence of the Corolla SR1600 is just com­pul­sive.

In­ter­est­ingly this car ac­tu­ally left the fac­tory in 1976 as a 1.2-litre SR1200. Bent Egede Olsen was the son of the Dan­ish Toy­ota dealer at Jaegerspris and wanted a car to cam­paign in the 1600cc Dan­ish Rally Cham­pi­onship. The 1600cc Corolla SR model wasn’t avail­able in left-hand drive, so Toy­ota Den­mark im­ported a left-hand-drive Corolla SR1200 that was im­me­di­ately stripped and re­built for ral­ly­ing on ar­rival, with parts can­ni­balised from a brand-new Corolla 1600. A gen­uine TE37 ho­molo­ga­tion model built with fac­tory sup­port, the left-hand-drive Corolla SR1600 was very suc­cess­ful in Scan­di­navia and achieved fourth place in the 1600cc Gp2 cat­e­gory of the Dan­ish cham­pi­onship.

Apart from the Monte, Olsen ran the Corolla in the Dan­ish Rally Cham­pi­onship in 1976 and 1977 which, in those days, in­cluded long cross-bor­der events such as the Baltic Rally and the Nord­land Rally with stages in Swe­den and Ger­many. Around 1978 Olsen sold the Corolla and it then changed hands sev­eral times un­til the en­gine blew up in 1988 when in joint own­er­ship. Af­ter an at­tempt to re­build the car stalled, its own­ers left it stand­ing dis­man­tled out­side for 12 years. ‘In 2000 a fam­ily friend told me that the ex-olsen Corolla was rot­ting away in a gar­den in Amager, south Copen­hagen,’ re­calls Kenneth. ‘As soon as I saw it I knew it was the orig­i­nal Dan­ish Monte Carlo Rally car. There was loads of rust to deal with but it was love at first sight.’

When Kenneth got the car home, his first job was to deal with all the ob­vi­ous cor­ro­sion so he started by get­ting the bodyshell sand­blasted. How­ever, when the body came back from blast­ing it was clear that a lot more work would be re­quired, be­cause most panels were ei­ther ex­tremely thin or rid­dled with holes. Find­ing orig­i­nal re­place­ment body parts for a Corolla SR was dif­fi­cult. Many of the re­place­ments had to be hand-made by Kenneth’s friends and re­tired fa­ther, but the wheel­wells posed a par­tic­u­lar prob­lem; a re­source­ful Kenneth found a donor in the form of an old Toy­ota post van left in a scrap­yard.

He also sourced orig­i­nal parts from as far afield as Cal­i­for­nia and Aus­tralia, with many com­ing from Toy­ota Rac­ing De­vel­op­ments (TRD) in Ja­pan. His co-driver Lars Mollerup looked af­ter the work on the en­gine, gear­box and rear axle. Says Kenneth, ‘He’s a flight me­chanic and I fig­ured that if he can make an Airbus fly then he could prob­a­bly make the Toy­ota do the same!’

Once the bodyshell was painted, Kenneth did ev­ery nut and bolt of the re-as­sem­bly him­self over a pe­riod of two years, with help from sev­eral friends. Af­ter fin­ish­ing the restora­tion in 2003, he en­tered the car into the Dan­ish His­toric Rally Se­ries. ‘It was just amaz­ing – af­ter start­ing with noth­ing more than a box of bits, to com­plete our first rally suc­cess­fully was a fan­tas­tic ex­pe­ri­ence.’

Af­ter 12 ac­ci­dent-free years com­pet­ing in var­i­ous his­toric rally events, Kenneth hit a boul­der slid­ing through a left-hand hair­pin dur­ing the Yoko­hama Rally Sprint Cham­pi­onship in Easter 2015, se­verely dam­ag­ing the right front cor­ner. Im­me­di­ately af­ter the ac­ci­dent, Kenneth was con­tacted by a chap who he had met a cou­ple of years ear­lier and had learned of the ac­ci­dent on Face­book. ‘He called and said, “Re­mem­ber me? I have an old Corolla stand­ing in the gar­den, you can cut off what­ever you need to re­pair your car.” It was like he was sent from heaven.’

Re­pairs com­pleted, Kenneth then took the op­por­tu­nity to have the car re­painted in the cor­rect orig­i­nal Toy­ota colour of 023 White. He also man­aged to get the orig­i­nal reg­is­tra­tion DZ54 867 back on the car. ‘Since the car has re-as­sumed its orig­i­nal ap­pear­ance, there’s been a huge re­sponse from peo­ple who knew the car in the past,’ says Kenneth. ‘Now it can clearly be seen that it’s the gen­uine car from 1977, peo­ple keep com­ing for­ward with sou­venirs that they’ve been keep­ing since the Monte Carlo Rally.’

Af­ter fin­ish­ing the Monte in 1977, Olsen and Terp were pre­sented with a plaque by Prince Rainier and Princess Grace. Just a few weeks ago Olsen gave that orig­i­nal plaque to Kenneth, who has mounted on the dash­board. ‘Bent said he was de­lighted that I had re­stored and was still ral­ly­ing his ex-monte Carlo SR1600,’ beams Kenneth. ‘For me that was the ic­ing on the cake.’

Straight-four en­gine boasts plenty of TRD good­ies

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