BUILD: ‘Salt and Pepa’ 20v 4AGE AE86

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As the years go by, AE86s are slowly becoming more and more extinct. Whether it’s enthusiasts buying them all up and locking them in their garages to tinker on for years, or whether they’re all being made into drift cars and subsequently thrashed or crashed, one way or another it has become nearly impossible to buy a “nice” AE86 without it being crashed, stripped, or a rust bucket.

Fortunately for those of us with a soft spot for the AE86 there are still some really clean examples out there, and this one is no exception. This car came to us in a somewhat rough shape. Although not visibly in that bad of a shape on the outside, the car was hardly running as it rolled through our door with a long to-do list attached to it. 

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As you can see the car was definitely a good looking AE86 right out of the gate. This one had minimal rust, apart from some of the more common problem areas. Still, although at first glance one would think that there’s nothing wrong with the exterior of this car, there was some hidden stuff that needed addressing before she received a fresh coat of paint. Obviously, any kind of imperfections or small dents in the fenders/body must be smoothed out…

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…and the door which had been opened way too far at some point would also need to be fixed. There was more bodywork to be done, but we’ll get to that a little bit later. If you were looking closely, you probably would’ve noticed that this AE86 came to us already swapped to a 20 valve Blacktop 4AGE. You may at first think that this is a good thing, but actually it really wasn’t. The problem was that it came to us looking like this:

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Many cables were left completely unplugged and hanging, a few vacuum hoses were blocked off, and there was an MSD ignition coil somehow wired into the headlights, among other oddities that I won’t bother listing here. Needless to say, the car could hardly even move under its own power.

Another big problem with 20v 4AGE installs is that there are several different methods on how to actually get the ignition system to work in the AE86 chassis, as this motor was originally developed for FWD cars. One method involves using a kit which you can order from New Zealand (or Australia, I don’t remember which). The kit entails cutting a big hole in the timing cover and attaching an adapter onto the cams so that you can run the distributor on the front of the motor instead of in the back like stock. Though it seems like a good idea at first, what they fail to mention is that this kit causes excessive wear on the cam gears; making it somewhat less than desirable.

Another method is to change the ignition system to ‘coil-on-plug’ which involves getting ignition coils from a newer car and mating them to the 20v 4age. This is probably the least painful way of doing things, as it is for the most part a plug-and-play option.

The last option is to actually keep the distributor right where it’s supposed to be from the factory, and add some clearance to the firewall to make everything fit.

This one, however, found yet another way to do it:

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No, I’m not kidding. We did indeed find the firewall with a massive hole that looks to have been cut using a corkscrew, or safety scissors. In place where the firewall used to be was now a piece of somewhat flammable insulation, with carpet behind that. Needless to say, this was something that we needed to fix before going any further. We considered switching to an alternative method of ignition, but decided to keep it as it was since the firewall had already been modified.

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There! Much better! At the very least, now there’s significantly less risk of a fire entering the cabin in the event of such an emergency.

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It’s always amazing to see how much bodywork goes into a “near perfect” car to get it that much closer to “perfect”. There’re a couple extra bits going on here, however: the antenna holder has been removed from the front fender to make things a bit cleaner up front; the beginnings of a body-kit are forming on the car, including the fender arches having been chopped to accept wide wheels and fender flares; and the quintessential AE86 TRD rear spoiler has been added for the classic sports car look.

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