1987 Toyota Corolla Levin: A performance classic redefined

Originally bought as a bare shell Brandon Grandison has taken his time to bring new life to a Japanese performance classic.

The term ‘Blue Sky Thinking’ is modern terminology for someone who thinks outside the box. In the case of Brandon Grandison, it has a figurative and literal meaning when it came to his automotive restoration project, a 1987 AE86 Toyota Corolla Levin, which is now a 370-horsepower, deep blue tyre shredder.

Having purchased the car as nothing but a raw shell, devoid of the important things any car should have — engine, transmission, wheels and an interior — he set about his plan of updating his classic Toyota. That began by stripping down and prepping the exposed body. The current horsepower figures are no accident as that was a project goal. Grandison knew from the start that the only way for the small Japanese chassis to have a chance at maintaining any traction was to get as much tyre to the ground as he could. This led to one of the car’s signature modifications, wide arches. These were baked in from the start. Rather than using fiberglass bolt-ons, Grandison had them made out of metal then welded seamlessly into the bodywork. As an extra he did the same for the trunk, adding a rear deck spoiler for some further aerodynamic aid towards grip. The whole process meant that the Levin now wears Revolution 15×8 inch wide rims and 15×10 inch, front and rear respectively. This allows Grandison to put all that power through massive 245/40/15 high performance tyres.

Grandison’s 1987 Toyota Corolla Levin is a widebody show-stopper in its stunning deep blue paint, with wider fenders and a rear trunk spoiler.

With the body taken care of and draped in the blue of his choice, the running gear followed, again with the plan of massive horsepower.  The original Levin became a performance classic on the basis of its lightweight and handling prowess. A powerful car it was not, generating 130bhp at most from a 1600cc four-cylinder. There was no way the original engine was going to cut it. This is where his Blue Sky Thinking kicked in again. He turned to the 2000cc four-cylinder from the Levin’s bigger brother, the Celica, called the 3S-GTE, an engine already turbocharged from the factory. Even then, things had to be modified and the engine was pulled apart, filled with stronger rods and pistons. With the engine reinforced, the aftermarket additions continued, with a larger turbocharger and matching manifold feeding air into a front-mounted intercooler and expelling said air out a custom 3-inch exhaust system. The standard engine management was ditched for a Haltech programmable ECU maintaining the fuel and ignition parameters necessary for seventeen pounds of boost pressure. On the dyno, the Levin spat out 370hp at 8,500rpm to the rear wheels via gearbox from an A70 Supra and a Dana rear differential that contains a limited slip differential.

That amount of power needs plenty of control, even with the large contact patch created by the tyres, and helping settle things down are coil-overs and four-piston brake calipers at all four corners of the Toyota.

Rather than retain the OEM engine, the Corolla uses an upgraded 3S-GTE motor outputting 370hp to the rear wheels.

Grandison liked the raw exposure of the missing interior, generating a very racecar vibe, so rather than change it he returned it to a livable state putting back in necessities like the dashboard and lightweight versions of several of the panels. Cosmetic upgrades included a MOMO steering and Recaro bucket seats. Other modifications saw the front and rear ends of the car swapped to look like its Japanese counterpart. As with many automotive projects, Grandison said his isn’t finished, but he’s happy with where the car is, given where it started.