[BUILD THREAD] My AE86 GT-S Hatchback.


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Jan 29, 2024
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Los Angeles, California
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This will be a loongg write-up. I have always wanted to make a build-thread, and I figured instead of doing it on Club4AGE (a dying, old-head gatekept forum with who knows how many years left before it pulls it's plug), I would do it on here! If you don't frequent automotive forums: a build thread is a thread documenting the entire build of your vehicle. Some of the best ones span years, including all the little journeys along the way. So! To do this right, we have to start from.. the beginning...

--- PROLOGUE ---

I, like many people, have been a car guy my whole life. I love all cars: US, Euro, Japanese. But, Japanese cars really are my main-thing. My first exposure to an 86 was in Need For Speed Underground 2; I received the game back when it launched (mom used Amazon to get it all the way back in 04!), and when given the selection of starter-cars, I saw the AE86! Not long after, my dad took me to a local arcade, and I played Initial D Arcade Stage 2, and again, I saw that same car.. It stuck with me from then on. Fast forward to maybe.. 2009? I had taken the deep-dive into Anime and Youtube, with Doriten, Hot Version, and Initial D being my gateway into everything AE86-- I was fully obsessed. I needed one so bad!! The coming years were spent going to drift events, car shows, and spending quarters at (another) local arcade that had Initial D Arcade Stage 3.
86 FEST, either 2013 or 2014?

Eventually, I got my license, and my first car: A 1992 240SX convertible (which I still have almost 10 years later!). But, I still wanted that fabled AE86...


Its now 2015. The AE86 market had gone crazy. Just a few years prior, you could get a clean, nicely modified AE86 for just 2k, maybe 4k if it was a hatchback. Now, prices were hitting 7k.. 10k.. even 12k!!! What the heck!! And I was still in highschool; before I knew it, my dream started to become unobtainable. At the same time, I had been going to local car meets, made a ton of new friends, and one day, one of them texted me with an offer. I jumped on it immediately, spent all the money I had, and came back with the dream.....
.... almost. It was an AE86. It was a GT-S. and, it was $1,000!
But most importantly, and not disclosed to us, it was on lien. Imagine my surprise when two debt collectors showed up at my door at 4 in the morning, looking for the previous owners of the car, who apparently had dipped out on a ton of money they owed. I, a 16 year-old at the time, gave them the information they wanted, but the previous owners had dipped once more, and were nowhere to be found. The debt collectors said that if I wanted the title of the car, I would need to pay-up the rest of the debt. It was like 15k. LOL. So, I sold it for 1k (rip), disclosed all the problems to the buyers (they didnt care), and it was over. It's okay. The car was a POS. 300k miles, misfiring engine, trashed interior. I was sad, but it wasn't meant to be. Only had it for a month..

--- THE SECOND (and near-perfect) ONE ---

The year is now 2018. The AE86 market is just fucked. Tiktok exists, and that means a whole new generation of Initial D/AE86 fans. Drift-tax has long claimed the Japanese car market scene, but it is just getting horrendous. And yet, a gem was waiting for me on craiglist, only not in California, but in Texas...
(pictures are from when I got it back to Cali btw)uncracked dash too!
This beautiful, bone-stock AE86 SR-5 was waiting for me for a clean $2500. Under 100k miles, untouched interior. But it still wasn't the one..
You see, I (and everybody else) want a GT-S, and this was an SR-5. The difference?
The SR-5 is the base model of the AE86. Single-cam engine producing maybe 60-80 hp, lower trim interior, a weaker rear solid-axle, open differential. It is similar to Japan's AE85.
The GT-S is the sports package: The iconic twin-cam 4AGE engine producing 118-128 hp (bluetop ver. unlike japans redtop), nicer interior, optional LSD, stronger rear solid-axle (its still not that strong). And of course, more cool points!!! (also, thanks to RCR, everybody thinks it isn't a real AE86, it's an AE88. WRONG. The VIN has AE88 to define it's package, but if you check the chassis code, it still reads AE86. GRAHHHHH).

So, this wouldn't be my forever AE86. Plus, this car was just.. too nice, I didn't want to mess with it at all. I was worried though, as the market got worse, and barn-finds got rarer, would I really be able to find my 86 for a fair price? I mean, I like these cars, but 15-20k for a corolla.. Even I have to be realistic. The hunt continues.


In January 2020, a good friend from the car meets (and former AE86 enthusiast, now MKIV Supra owner) gave me some insider knowledge. Apparently, there was an AE86 for sale by an old gentleman, local, and he hadn't posted about it anywhere. Already, I was interested. Rusty, beat AE86 GT-S' had started to hit 25k, 30k, and few: even 40k. "What kind is it?", I asked. And I was greeted with the best answer I could have hoped for: "It's a GT-S... Hatchback." Woah. A GT-S, and a hatchback.. The holy grail of USDM 86's. "The dude has owned it since 1992, and its super beat. But it runs..." He didn't need to say anything else, I wanted to buy it. I didn't care. Could this be the one? My friend knew how bad I wanted it, and vouched for me to the owner, letting me have first dibs.
And so, for the third time..
friend's apartment pics!man that quarter panel was just.. toast.
I came home with an AE86.. for $4,750. That is a lot for a shitbox, but at the same time, an insane deal. As you can see, though, it has seen a lot.
The Pros:
GT-S Hatch
JDM redtop 4AGE swap, rebuilt, has 50k miles
OEM optional LSD, rebuilt, has 50k
Runs and drives fine, passes California SMOG!
The Cons:
Salvage Title
280k miles on chassis and transmission
Core-support is crumpled
Bondo-filled Quarter panel
Suspension is completely shot all around
Completely destroyed interior
Leaks, rust, etc.
It is a true shitbox. And at the time (foreshadowing), I loved it. It was a total death trap and I took it everywhere.
canyon pics, before any repairs.still looks good!
This was going to be a huge project, but it was great timing.. shortly after I purchased the car, COVID-19 struck. So, I was about to get very familiar with every corner of this thing.
Thank you for reading so far. The next post will start documenting the actual build. My journey with these cars has been such a big part of my life, it felt wrong to start documenting my 4+ year build of this car WITHOUT first talking about the journey here.
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--- Chapter 1: Getting Familiar and Suspension ---

The first few months of ownership consisted of daily driving. Yes, obviously, it needed work aesthetically, but before tackling that, I needed to figure out what it needed mechanically. So, I put it through its paces; Driving it 40 min. to my college course, taking it on local mountain passes, sliding it on totally legal roads, etc.
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The Takeaway: This thing desperately needed a suspension overhaul, bushings specifically. The car was uneven, clunky, the steering felt horrendous, the body-roll was atrocious.. I promptly ordered an complete prothane bushing kit for the entire car, and got to work. As I tore apart the oem control arms, I couldn't help but feel immensely lucky that the car had stayed in one piece so far; these OEM bushings were shot--- no, they were non-existent!!! I can't believe there was any steering control at all considering how trashed the factory set-up was.
I mean, the passenger sway-bar bushings weren't even there! Literally, someone just took them off and didn't put them back on! I knew this car was bad, but damn!
And right as I was finishing up the front bushings (plus new tie rods), the OEM front shock/spring separated from its rubber top hat.
This is supposed to be in one-piece.. I can't believe the shock literally dropped out of the fucking car. How close had it been while I drove it through the canyons?
This was a great excuse to order up some coilovers, though. Hands-down my favorite mod to do to any car.
I went with Fortune Auto 500s, with the OEM-style rear setup (spring and shock separate, instead of having them together like.. say, a 240SX).
They didn't send the spring though; Annoying.. A week later, they sent a replacement spring; surprisingly, this seems to be a common occurrence with Fortune Auto and AE86 owners. Whatever.

The rear bushings were a whole different beast, though. I am sure you can tell that the driver's side quarter panel is dented, bondo-filled, and horribly miscolored. Well, that damage is not just surface; The 4 suspension arms connected to the rear axle housing also took some of the damage. The mounting points on the axle were twisted. So, after pulling the arms out, I tried my best to bend everything back into place. It took almost two weeks to get everything back in, but eventually, it was back to normal.

The axle-housing itself is still bent, but it drives straight. And, since it is an OEM LSD axle housing, it costs almost what I paid for the car to get a replacement unit! So, we will make do with what we have.

Once everything was together, I took it out for a drive, and it felt.. Almost good? The steering had an insane dead zone still. I looked through the car again, and found that my supposed "full car" bushing kit did not include steering rack bushings, and my old steering rack bushing as also just.. missing?
there is supposed to be a large rubber piece in here..
Got the new one in, and despite needing an alignment, it felt incredible. Like a completely different car.

Oh, also put in an adjustable panhard bar-- This is a long solid piece that connects the solid-axle to the chassis. The OEM one is non-adjustable, but as you lower these car's ride heights, the rear axle tends to become un-centered. So, an adjustable one needs to be put in so you can re-center the axle after lowering it (and I tend to love my cars slammed!).
To top it all off, I got my car corner-balanced and aligned by a local racing-mechanic friend. This really was the final key. My words will not do it justice, but this.. This seriously made the car a handling machine. I took it up my local mountain road (that I've run hundreds and hundreds of times) and had one of the best feeling runs I've ever had.
also threw in my MOMO competition steering wheel, looks epic
For a final celebration, on 8/6 day, Cafe 86 was opening a location not too far from where I live, and they were hosting an AE86 car meet. My first one with this car! I drove it out there, new suspension and all. This thing was dialed in now.
Here is a pic my friend Robby took at the meet! (fun fact: Robby was the one who took that pic of me at 86 fest back in 2014)

It's funny looking back on this phase of the project. I was driving it so much more, and didn't care as much. Kinda wish I kept it like this, but at the same time, I do remember how absurdly gross and disgusting this car was inside and out. Taking off the rose-tinted glasses, I know it was for the best to take the project past this point.
The next several chapters is where the real meat of this project is: The aesthetics.
Thank you for reading!
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Well, I have some extra time today, so I decided to post the next chapter :headbang:

--- Chapter 2: Wheels and Fitment ---

Now that the car was mechanically sound, I could get to the fun stuff. I think this was 2021, now. I drove it a lot at the state it was left in, on the last post. There was nothing technically wrong with it at this point, but it was time to put my own taste's into it.
The Inspiration:

One of my personal favorite AE86's was Katsuhiro Ueo's black Professor AE86 hatch. It's lowdown style, 14" wide-spec wheels, long CBY front bumper with stock sides and rear. So angry looking. This style was the go-to style for 86's (often referenced as turn-of-the-millenium style), but Ueo's car just had such a crazy aura compared to everyone else.

Another great example of this style are the Team Disco/Team Tekno guys in Ireland.

So, after some patience with Yahoo Japan Auctions, I ended up with a set of original print SSR Mk.II's.
They were 14's, 7 inches wide, offset +12 (or 14" 7j +12)
These were nowhere near as wide as I had hoped, pretty sunk fitment, but they were a good deal, and I could always have them rebarreled. These wheels are hard to find (if they are the OG print), so I hopped on the chance.
But, before I could do that, the Yahoo Japan Auctions greeted me with a much better, much rarer find.
SSR Mk. II, 14's, but: one pair is 7.5j -7, and the other is 8.5j -6. Pretty close to perfect; I would love for 8j all around, but negative offsets is worth the slight width difference. Just look how much deeper these are. So fucking good.

A little comparison:

So, the first tire setup was not great. I live in a pretty... republican town, so a lot of the automotive shops are boomer hotrod and truck guys who put Vossens on Escalades for a living. To put it blunt, they don't get what I want. I wanted a slightly stretched tire, but all of the tire shops said I was crazy for that; Finally, I found one shop. I said my tire size, they said "thats impossible." (185/55's btw, pretty standard for these cars). I said its not, showed proof, they wouldn't budge.

They said these would do a 195/60, and I was pretty desperate just to get these on the car, so I caved. They got it done, there is barely any stretch, wayyy too much sidewall. Ugh.
Good thing about the hatchback, it can store sooooo much stuff. Miss cars being so small but so practical.
Not only was I unhappy with the look, but they didn't even attach the wheel weights correctly. So now it rode like shit, too!

And even worse, I reeaallly needed to roll the fenders. This shit was not gonna fit otherwise, it was rubbing bad. Plus, I need to go lower!
Fortunately, I had heard from a friend about a legendary fender roller, named Tony. Hit him up, just asked to roll the rears since I was going to replace my front fenders with clean ones anyways (the door had become misaligned, so it was crunching the fenders, etc.).
Within a few hours, he had the fenders rolled out perfectly. Hilarious guy to talk too, a master of his craft, working out of his garage. Unfortunately, he later passed away later that year before I could bring the car back to him. So many enthusiasts in SoCal trusted him with their cars over many of the big bodyshops. He was a true class act. RIP Tony.

Later down the road, I came across a set of used 185/55 tires, and a shop who would stretch and fit them to my wheels, no questions asked. Shoutout to Andy's Tires, a huge supporter of the drift scene, and a refreshing change of pace from all the boomer shops who laugh in my face just for being young and optimistic. I think this actually happened wayyy later, but I am mentioning it right now since it fits with the topic of this chapter.

Anyways, with the wheel setup situated, it was time to get onto the long part. The body and interior.
Here is one last pic of the car looking the way it did. The next chapter might have to be separated into two parts due to the picture limit, but we will see.
--- Chapter 3: Prepping for Paint ---
So, time to disassemble the car for paint. That means going through the entire interior, finally cleaning it out, and assess the damage. The interior restoration would start after paint since the car is much easier to paint as a near-shell instead.

Lets start by showing you guys the original condition of the interior:
IMG_3124.jpegIMG_3120 (1).jpegIMG_3122.jpeg
All the junk, plastic bits, random wires; that is not mine. Cigar wrappers, broken police-radars, booger-esque glue.. This car had lived a varied life.

It's a shame, I really like the OEM full-blue interior. But this would cost more to save instead of just replacing. It stunk so bad in here, every cushion stained with who-knows-what. The carpet was completely discolored under the pedal box and front seats, in a gradient of bleach white to brownish black. All the cheap material around the doorcards and rear seat panels was cracked, peeling, and shoddily repaired. The only thing's I've added to the car are the MOMO competition steering wheel and the authentic TRD shift-knob (a gift from my buddy Jose). The original steering wheel was crumbling in my hands, and the original shift knob was glued on, and the exterior of it was strangely sticky..

The car probably lost 20lbs just from vacuuming up the debris. So many random wires that weren't connected to anything, sooo many cigar wrappers, and some very yellow tissues.. gross.
Getting the front dash and surround off was a bit overwhelming; I mean, look at this nightmare. It almost felt like I went too far lol.
This pic is from much later, but I mean, look at all this junk.

But, after pulling off the remaining panels (most of which were missing all their screws), and vacuuming/wiping down the now-gutted interior, we could move to prepping the exterior.

Let's talk about what I need to get done on the exterior.

The front driver's side fender is crunched in, due to the door becoming misaligned. This happens because after almost 40 years, old-car door hinges will sag. This also damages the door itself, because it is constantly bashing into the fender. And with my car, this has been happening for awhile, so both the door and fender started to rust through in their damaged areas.

So, I needed a new fender and a whole new door. And some new door hinges of course, fortunately some enthusiasts make reinforced replacement ones, so that was no problem. Oh! Also would need new door handles as well, since the old ones were broken (which made getting into the car very, very hard for a few months).
Got a new door after a little bit of looking. The window mechanism didn't work on it though, so I scavenged that off the old one.

Plus, got a pair of front fenders from a guy I met at a canyon-cruise. We talked once, he was like "Oh, I have a pair of those laying in my backyard, you want them?" Went over to his place that day, they were laying in a bush. He let me have them for free! He also had an AE86 but hadn't had it running in 10 years. Gotta love the adventures these things will take you on, man.
I didn't need to replace the passenger side fender, but I figured I would just to keep the front matching. Also threw on those reinforced hinges on both sides, and somehow was able to buy the door handles brand new from Toyota still. So, this car was opening and closing like a dream.

To top off the exterior prep, I decided it was time to spend the big bucks. The USDM bumpers were trashed, plus they are just so big and bulky, so ..
I bought a set of JDM Kouki bumpers. I like a lot of the aftermarket offerings, but these are just so timeless. They suit the body of these cars beautifully. (also, for anyone who cares, these are not the bumpers on Takumi's AE86, his is a Zenki model, also known as the pre-facelift model). I am glad I picked these up when I did. I paid 1900$ total, not including brackets, but these days, this combo runs $2500 - $3500. This is mostly due to the US AE86 market being monopolized by a few select vendors, unfortunately. Gotta pay to play, I guess.

I was fortunate enough to get the brackets on Yahoo Japan Auctions though, so I wasn't completely robbed.

With all this acquired, the car was ready for paint. All I wanted was for the car to be a solid color; the quality did not need to be that good. Just wanted them to sand, primer, paint, clear. Also referred to as a "drift-spec" paint job. Not many shops were willing to take this on, due to costs of material, and the reputation they want to uphold. Some shops (boomer loser guys once again) told me it was not worth saving this car, it would never look good, and to "just find another one thats better". Yeah man, I would if I could. They wouldn't even give me a quote. Like give me a number at least!!

Luckily, I found an old school rebel-type hot rod guy; he took it on, no questions asked. And so, the car was dropped off at paint.
Its funny to see how little pictures I took of the process, but despite that, this took forever. Like almost a year? It was dropped off for paint in Spring 2022, but disassembly started in Mid to Late 2021. It would've been quicker, but the unthinkable started happening around this time: Brawlers World was ... becoming livable. Oh, and I was carrying Higround's social posts on my god damned back. Hahahaha.

Next chapter is when the visible changes really become noticeable. Maybe I'll post it later today or tomorrow.
Thanks for reading! :mrgreen:
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--- Chapter 4: The Big Interior Restoration ---

What color did I go with? Well, I was thinking either all black, high-sonic toning, maybe a metallic rootbeer brown, but I ended up going with classic 041 Toyota White, the OEM white color for late model AE86's (like mine). Also, white was very cheap to get sprayed compared to the other colors.
Shoutout to this website for documenting all the JDM market colors: http://www9.plala.or.jp/ae86_gt/newpage28.html

Also it would match the JDM bumpers I picked up!
Looks like a completely different car now that it is all one color. Monster truck height + the original thick tire setup don't do it justice though.

Now, onto the interior reassembly.
I had picked up a nearly complete black interior swap from the same guy who sold me the replacement door. But, it was missing a few items. Fortunately, most of
the missing items I had, but in blue, so I needed to clean/paint/dye them! Not a problem! I was keen to save a few bucks anyways

Let's start with some cleaning!
Some more painting...
And before I knew it, it started to look like a car again! Took a break in the assembled rear to admire my hard work.
Also picked up some JoyBreak floor mats to spruce up the inside. Salem approves!

Only took a few days to get everything together, though. Minus a few odds and ends (which, coincidentally, I only finished up this past week..), it was complete. And man, did it look like a whole new car. This right here is what it's all about, man.


Another post in the same day! Wow! I've been tidying up the final things on the 86, but currently SoCal is dumping rain on us, so even though I have the motivation to work on the car, I'm trapped inside. Typing up these forum posts is really helping me keep the momentum up haha!

Thanks for reading!
--- Chapter 5: Exterior, Gremlins, and the Present Day ---

So, I had a few small issues. I had noticed the steering column wasn't locking, the hood latch cable was broken, but due to Brawlers really taking off, I had just too much on my plate; at this point in the build, I had spent so much money and I still couldn't drive my car. I was jaded, fed up, and so, I took a break. From mid-2022 for almost the entirety of 2023, I did not work on the car.

But, being a car addict, I was still collecting plenty of parts.
All brand new, deadstock pieces! Radio Cubby, new hoodlatch cable, radio brackets, window crank handles, climate control panel, and Kouki JDM Eyelids/Turn Signals.

I think the only thing I did in 2023 was the climate control panel and the Kouki JDM Eyelids/Turn Signals.
Here is a comparison to the USDM/Zenki ones.

In my break, I had to go get my motivation back. August 2023, I ended up in Japan, just in time for 8/6 day.

Man, the standard their cars set.. America is still playing catch-up.

Only in the past few weeks, in 2024, I have gotten back to working on the car.
The reason it took me so long to work on the 86 was that most of the issues would require disassembling my interior again. I just was not in the mood. But, my buddy Robby came over, and within the hour we fixed the steering column issue.

With the momentum, I went ahead and took apart the car to get that new hoodlatch cable in.
Once in, it was so worth it. Finally, my hood can open normally again.

Now, before finalizing the interior, it was time to tackle the sound system. The 80's, literal paper speakers were rotted. Hell, the rear ones didn't even work. All 86's I have owned have had horrible, horrible speakers.

So, I got JBL's for the whole car, wired those bad boys in. I wanted to keep my super rare, double-DIN OEM cassette player (which you can see in the previous interior pictures), but the tape player didn't work.

Fun Fact: the double-din came out of the red car. This 86 came with the base radio-only unit. I swapped the base unit into the red one before selling it so I could keep the deluxe, double-din unit all for myself hehehe :mrgreen:

I am big into keeping things period-correct. I don't want a kenwood touch screen with Apple Car Play in my 80s car. Looks tacky imo.

So, after some hunting, I found a Pioneer Casette player. DEAD STOCK. Literally never installed, brand new. And I won the bid for 30$!

My boy Jose came over, wired it in; of course, that meant sorting through the hack-job the previous owner left behind for us. Jose did a good job all things considered.
After chasing some fuses, we got it working. I went with this unit specifically because it came with orange-red lights in it, which matches the orange LED's I put in the gauge cluster. I would've kept the OEM gauge cluster lights if they weren't completely burnt out, but the orange looks sick!

Finally, the interior can go together for the FINAL TIME.


So happy to have this finally squared away. The sound system is crystal clear, the rear speakers work, and I can finally listen to all my cassettes again.. This thing is going to be a real treat to drive around.

Now, to put on the JDM Bumpers. Here is the test fit, including the Zenki lip. It was a popular mod to install Zenki Lip on Kouki bumper, giving it a very awesome, lowdown look.


Unfortunately, this car was hit in the front, so the passenger side doesn't line up too good, but still, not bad!

The Takeaway:
- need to roll front fenders to lower the front more
- need to shave bumper tabs because it rubs against the tire rn
- level out the ride height on drivers side.

the passenger rear is the only one that is at the correct height currently.

But man, the JDM bumpers look soooo good compared to the old USDM ones.
Oh! Also, I took the OEM wing off and got the holes in the trunk filled when I got it painted, totally forgot to mention that. I like wingless AE86's more than wing'd ones.


Even got it out of the driveway! Looks fantastic. The rear end especially. Gooodddd damn.

But this brings us to the present day. I need to roll fenders and shave bumpers still. Here is how it sits right now.

I plan to finally wrap this up in the next few months. I will post about it here as I get the final things completed on it. So, some parting thoughts. I am going to be a bit blunt, but I think if I had read a post talking about the costs and trials of a project like this, so many of the issues I created for myself would have been avoided. Maybe someone else can find it helpful before they dive into their own project.

Closing Thoughts:

This was the first car I've done a full "build" on, and I have had a very fortunate few years, letting me make the choices I did without financial stress. I didn't know how much this would cost to do, and if I had known, I don't think I would have taken this on. I couldn't fathom that people would spend 15k+ on parts for cars, but as I got deeper, I found that this was more-or-less the standard for thorough builds.

I thought the 15k, 20k, 30k AE86's for sale were jokes. But here I am touching the mark, and my car is nowhere near as nice as the ones for sale. Suddenly, they didn't seem so insane..

With JDM cars becoming the hot commodity, replacing the previous era of classic muscle, prices for all the parts relating to them have skyrocketed. And listen, they're not that rare. This is a Corolla, first and foremost. One of the most manufactured vehicles in the world. They made 300k+ of this generation alone. And yet, everything is priced out the wazoo. A lot of this is due to most of the market for the desirables being completely cornered by a select few sellers on the West Coast, who buy and hoard as many parts as they can.

Idk. Having to deal with these fucks preying on the 86 scene, just to get shitty plastic bits to finish the interior, man.. I really fell out of love with this car just from that alone. "Are these my people? Are these the enthusiasts I am going to be dealing with if I want to talk shop?" It felt so grim. Sure, I can just hang out with my lads. But I LOVE AE86's! I want to talk about AE86's!

If they're not sellers, then they are oldhead elitists. And even though I have been into these cars since I was a kid, read and learned any and all knowledge relating to these cars, learned about all the different styles and cultures that raced these cars, etc., the people who own them locally(SoCal in general) blow me off because I am young.

And then, we come to the car itself. As I got deeper, more problems became apparent. Bent frame rails, cracking seams, rust and bondo filling the quarters, etc. No matter how much I spruce it up, it still feels like a shitbox. The body feels weak, it feels sloppy still. The axles have 300k miles on them, the transmission has 300k miles on it, the core support is crumpled and misaligned.. To get this car really where I wanted it to be, It would cost another 10-20k. And its just not worth it, man. I probably have 18k in it as is.

I am about to be 25, I was 21 when I bought this car. My priorities have changed. The money from this could go into Brawlers, and I would be so much happier. This car has left me lonely and jaded. And even though when I look at it, I still have that "damn, this looks sick as fuck" feeling, I think there is a good chance I sell it after I finish it. I want to strike while the market is still hot on these.

I still want to finish it, and say "I did it!", but yeah, after that, I don't think I will have it that much longer.

It wasn't all bad, though. I learned a lot with this car. I tore down and put together a car all by myself! And I did it right! Lots of late nights, lots of blood, sweat, and mosquito bites. Lots of journeys all over the state for parts, lots of hours with my pals, battling plastic clips. The confidence and satisfaction of this is truly irreplaceable. The lessons and struggles I have learned, I will carry these experiences with me through the rest of my projects. Plus, when I do get another AE86, I know everything about assembling/disassembling them. I can do this shit in my sleep. Putting the interior back together a second time? Took like 15 minutes hahaha.

So yeah. That's where we are at. Don't worry, I will make sure to get some nice pictures and videos of it once it's done! I will also post the complete mod-list once its finished :)

Thank you for reading. Sorry if it seems a bit of a downer at the end here, and there's a lot of money talk, but I don't want to sugar coat anything. I am glad to have been able to document this car here, the journey with this one has really changed me in ways I wasn't expecting. I hope if any of you guys pursue projects, you can take something away from my writings; and also post them here!

Feel free to comment in this thread btw, now that the main journey is "finished."

One day I will have another AE86. But this build made me realize that, this still isn't "The One." I guess the hunt continues.. :headbang:
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--- Chapter 6: Finalizing the AE86 and Compromising on Dreams ---

One of final things the 86 needed was the Zenki (early model) front lip to be put onto the Kouki (late model) front bumper-- A staple of this style of 86. Of course, they don't just bolt up naturally, and even though thousands of people have done this, I could not find any guides anywhere online. But, the other week, I finally hit the right string of words to being up the perfect search result.

Archiving the link here for anyone who is curious: https://www.club4ag.com/forums/viewtopic.php?t=8165

Anyways, I followed the guide besides the part for mounting the side of the lip, since I have a better plan for it that does not involve drilling through an expensive JDM bumper.

Car looks awesome. Nearly done now, just need to fix some fitment issues with the front wheels and bolt the sides of the lip up, and then its done.
Topped it off with some stickers I have collected over the years, have always wanted to do a "spine" style look on the rear window of this thing. The bottom sticker is from Seeker, a Honda tuning shop in Oshiage, Japan. I got it when I visited their shop in 2019. The middle two are replica stickers of old tuning brands, Goodline having some exquisite AE86 parts, and Rough World is Nakai's old team name before switching to RWB. The top one is Go-Time, an Australian Corolla youtube channel that I like a lot.
The white die-cuts look so good on this car. This angle in particular makes me swoon.

I have been trying to rush and finally finish this thing, because I knew my waning motivation for this car was about to go to something much more desirable...

Among everything happening in my life right now, I thought, "Man. I should import a car." As if I needed more tasks to do! But, I needed a daily driver, which (maybe a bit naively) I was thinking the AE86 would be once I got it perfect. Of course, this was four years ago, and it only ever was my daily when I first bought it. And now, after putting so much money and effort into it, I was almost too scared to drive it. It was too nice, and also, knowing how poor the cars condition actually was, it was too sketchy. And now, I can afford something a bit nicer, I don't have to only peruse the shitbox price range.

Plus, it had always been a childhood dream of mine to get an import, and as a person who loves making bad decisions, it sounded like it was time to dive into importing a car. This is gonna be a long post, so bare with me.

So, let me explain a few things of note when importing a car into America right now:
  • Cars cannot be imported unless they are 25 years old (not including Show-and-Display exemptions)
  • The exchange rate is heavily in American's favor, pretty much a 30% discount on everything (not just cars obviously. if you want anything from japan, NOW IS THE TIME!!!)
Why don't I buy a car that has already been imported? Well, American importers tend to trust that their customers don't do their research of overseas prices. Their prices are absurdly inflated. Sometimes that comes with perks, like Top Rank, who also gets their car's California legal and registered-- this is a tricky process, and adds another 5-10k to get it emissions compliant. But other times, like with JapaneseClassics, their cars have a sketchy history that they cover up, doing shoddy repair work. And even Top Rank isn't perfect, they have had cars with rusted strut towers fetch near same prices as Musuem-esque examples. It's a big gamble, and I don't feel like paying a markup just to risk the chance of coming out a loser. (check out team_free_spirit on IG to see the horror stories)

I have been keeping an eye on the market for ages now, just watching from the outside. The prices of these cars skyrocket when they hit 25 years old, but if you can strike beforehand, you can snag a great deal. The problem then becomes storage, which can be very costly. This is why companies like Top Rank have gigantic warehouses in Japan filled with R34 skylines that are waiting to become legal.

And as mentioned above, with the exchange rate, and the cars I like still being under 25, I felt now was time to strike. Otherwise, I might never get my dream cars at a price point that isn't absurdly high.

No, I didn't chase for a GTR, even though that is still a big dream. Instead, I went for another one of my favorites: The Nissan Silvia S15. I LOVE these cars. Always have, ever since I saw one in Gran Turismo 4. One day I will go into my deep and permanent love for s-chassis, but to put it simply, this has always been the forbidden fruit, the best of them all, in terms of looks, performance, and status.

I even rented one on my trip to Japan in Jan. 2023 to see if I would even want to live with one. Honestly, I had no idea I would be purchasing one within the same year. It's just always been such an unobtainable car to me.
rental s15 2023 jan.jpg

Even though they aren't 25, they are already hitting a premium stateside: 35, 45k+, and they are grey market cars, so they weren't even brought over legally. Japan has caught on and their own market is already rising, ready to take advantage of foreigners. But this only really applies to the Spec R variant of the car, not the Spec S...

What's the difference? The Spec S is the base model, producing 165 hp. The Spec R is the premium, turbocharged, producing 265hp, plus the chassis is stiffer, has LSD, and other goodies. Of course I want a Spec R. No one dreams of a Spec S. But, if it means saving 30k, then I can compromise. Also, the S15 was produced from 1999-2002, so if it was a 1999 model, meaning it could be imported the soonest, that was another premium-charge added ontop of the increasing prices.

My dream spec was a EV1 (Lightning Yellow), manual, stock model. But if a good deal pops up, I won't be picky.

- Oct. 2023 -
After months of searching, one popped up on my Instagram story feed, posted by MidoriWorks. They serve as a middleman, sharing cars that are at dealerships or auctions on their story. (They are one of the more reputable importers, known for verifying the car's history, mileage, etc. with very reasonable storage and shipping costs) And best of all, it was a 1999 model-- a FEBRUARY 1999 model. meaning it could be imported ASAP (and it shares my birth year and month. Cool!) The price was great, too! So, I reached out! I asked if Midori could get the dealership it was at to send more pictures to verify if it has rust on the frame.
It was SPOTLESS. Which is super rare, coming from Japan. I pulled the trigger on it. Thus begun the 6+ month wait...

- Present Day -
In February of 2024, the car was officially 25 years old, and so, it was put onto the boat and shipped over. March 6th, it was in the port of Long Beach, and now it was my job to do customs paperwork to get it released. I was so close to the finish line now. After a lot of back and forth, and a lot of waiting, March 14th, I was able to bring the car home.
The condition is good! The paint is worse than I thought, but for a car I didn't even check out in person, I think I got lucky. The interior is near-perfect, the car runs incredibly well, and again: no rust. It is still so surreal walking out and seeing this every day now. Here are the specs:
1999 Nissan Silvia Spec S (S15)
  • 59k original miles
  • K23 Brilliant Silver
  • Manual
  • Aero package optioned from factory (same aero used on Spec R, saves me a lot of time and money already having it)
  • Rare OEM Xenon headlight option
  • Prodrive wheels (Advan Model V clones, bad specs, going to change asap)
  • Trust exhaust (sounds good, looks horrible though)
  • Aftermarket short shifter installed (feels fine, not a fan tho)
Now, to get it registered.. That is the last main hurdle before I can daily drive it. So close, now!
And for the AE86? I knew I would be obsessed over the Silvia as soon as it got here, so I wanted to finish it up before then. And I was right, because honestly, I just have no interest in spending more time on the AE86 anymore. BUT! I will get it tidied up still, get some nice photos taken of it, but I think it's time to prep it to sell. By the end of the year, heck, maybe even summer, I think I will have it gone. Who knows! It sure is beautiful, but I think it's time I took a long break from AE86's.

Anyways, I will update again with the S15 once it is titled and registered. For now, have a good one, and thanks for reading.
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--- Chapter 7: The Long and Boring Road ---

So, the next step was registering the S15, but trying to not break the bank even more than I already had. This means avoiding getting it CARB legal (gov. sanctioned modifications to make it obey California emission standards) and not registering it in California at all! CARB mod costs 5k-15k + Sales Tax when registering the car itself (I was quoted 2.7k for that).

I am fortunate enough to have family in AZ, and in a smog-exempt county, so that was the plan! Register it there! I did all my research, made sure I had all my papers, get notarized translations of the export forms, but the big one: the car needed to be present for an inspection. Which means driving it all the way out to the Arizona DMV (or A-Dot).

I didn't even know if the car was road-worthy! I don't know its history! Who knows how long it had been sitting before I bought it!

The engine oil seemed fine, it ran smooth, but still.. The tires were 8 years old and cracking, so I got those replaced before the trip.
The wheels are a staggered setup, meaning the rear wheels are wider than the front. If switched, the wider wheels would hit the suspension (bad!). Of course, these professionals did exactly that, switched the wheels incorrectly (keep in mind there are big labels with the sizes on them). They fixed it after I chewed em out a bit. Car drives great now!

Now for the journey! I left for Bullhead, AZ yesterday morning and was met by horrible traffic. My 4.5 hour drive turned into 6.5 hours. Car was great though, AC was cold, gets good mileage. Pull up to the DMV at 4:30, and they closed at 5!
.... Except, as I walk up, I see a sign: "No Inspections after 4pm." Thought I would try anyways, maybe I'd get lucky. The workers confirmed I did indeed have all the paperworks, but they couldn't do an inspection. Rules were rules.

I was faced with two options. Go home, and try again some other time (maybe next month, since i'll be too swamped to make the time for this anytime soon), or make an appointment for tomorrow and stay somewhere for the night. And so, I found a hotel across the river in Laughlin, Nevada. A depressing mock-Las Vegas. Hotels were stupid cheap here, probably because they expect you to lose way more at the Slots.
Walking between abandoned Casino parking lots to get to a pizza place (River Rick's, pretty good actually!), then running it up on the Roulette and Blackjack table. Came out on top with a heft 35$, and promptly spent it on a Mcdonalds Ice Cream before watching a Harry Potter movie marathon until 2 AM.

Morning comes, and its time for round two. I show up for my 10:30 appointment, and it goes smooth. Worked with an employee who knew what they were doing, and soon I was on my way, all registered!
4.5 hours to go now.



And just like that, its over!

I am home now, just got back two hours ago, and she is good to go. Learned a lot about the car and thoroughly enjoyed getting familiar with it on its first road trip through this hilarious yet gorgeous country.
Now time for some much needed maintenance on it! Thanks for reading!
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im so unreasonably invested in this thread.... what happens next... the suspense is killing me
A small update. So many things going on, the car has taken a bit of a backseat-- not by choice, actually. Getting insurance for this thing has been a nightmare. I had insurance, but then they cancelled. Not for anything bad-- They said my backup car (AE86) cannot be older than this one. It was with Grundy, an enthusiast company. They cancelled my policy because my daily was too old. What?

I checked with Hagerty, and they would only insure the car if I used it for car shows only, not if you are daily driving it.

Geico doesn't insure in California apparently, and Progressive's rates were insane.

I usually use AAA, the reason I was looking elsewhere? They were just .. not responding to my emails, calls, etc. Literally ghosted lmao.

But I am typing now, because finally, AAA has got ahold of itself and responded to me. And the car is back to normal. hahaha. I just cannot catch a break.

Anyways, in June, my boy Jose detailed the car, got it looking brand new. Wax on the faded paint, buffed, polished, etc. Even the foggy headlights cleared up. God, this car looks so good. Had to get his hands on it before he moved away.. Idk what I'll do without his craftsmenship.


Pic of Jose's Supra, as mentioned in this thread prior. One of the best in SoCal imo. Perfection.

More pics of the Silvia.
(Gold color courtesy of a classic SoCal Wildfire.

Short post for today, but once my proof of insurance comes in, I will be posting some actual nice pictures of this thing taken with the DSLR.

Also have some new parts coming in for it already-- Why do simple maintenance when you can spend too much on upgrades? hahaha.. fuck.

Thanks for reading!