IMage Conversions boss Michael Ellard never quite intended his KE36 Corolla to be a MotorEx hero, but the Beams-powered boosted pano broke plenty of necks in the unveiling room last weekend.
The project started in earnest about six years ago, shortly after Michael took the covers off his SEVERED RUBY Rodeo. The ute was a smash hit, but the birth of his daughter with wife Lani made the two-seater less practical and prompted Michael to go in search of a more family-friendly weekend.
Six months later he found this neat one-owner example for sale in Menai, NSW. “It belonged to an old couple; it was the husband’s car and he was deceased,” says Michael.
“The guy had it again. He had used it to bring surfboards to lifeguards at Menai Beach, and there was a large wooden roof box so the roof was fully protected. They didn’t want to sell it to anyone who would destroy it,” he laughs.
Michael stuck to their wishes for a while and drove the van in stock form for two years before getting stuck in the build. Although a Toyota 1.6 20v in his shed was the initial choice for a swap, plans changed when he opted for a six-speed manual gearbox.
Michael salvaged a 1999 Toyota Altezza with a low-mileage 3S-GE and an intact six-gear J160. Much to Michael’s delight, the 2.0 also sported a turbo kit.
The factory now wears an Aeroflow T28 snail, with an AltezzaLink TALKTX overlay computer that will soon be replaced by a new Link ECU.
On E85, Michael estimates the 1100kg car should produce between 350 and 370bhp with the tires set – heaps of grunt for a lightweight, manually shifted family driver!
The third member is a HiLux differential with a Lexus Truetrack center, and stopping duties are handled by R33 GT-R calipers all around on Falcon and MA70 Supra discs.
The front features a Techno Toy weld-on coilover kit, while the rear springs have been relocated to comfortably accommodate tubs.
The bodywork was left mostly stock, with Michael aiming to highlight the often overlooked styling of the model. “I think the Corolla has nice sides, body lines and a roof,” he says. “It’s something nobody notices – when they look at the car they’re like ‘did you put that groove in the roof?’ And I say ‘no, it’s the factory!’ »
The highly sought-after 17-inch Work Seeker SX wheels were first ordered for a mate’s Corolla. “He sold the car but the new owner put in stockies instead,” he said. “[The wheels] were resold, but my buddy found them. I had a set bought from Simmons for this, but when he found those wheels, I put them straight on!
The biggest change to the exterior hardware is the addition of side windows from a JDM-spec KE36 two-door wagon, replacing the factory van panels. The KE20 front and rear bars were also cut and closed to fit, before Michael dunked the car in Corolla Rally Red.
“I also have a sun visor and rear vents and stockies with wheel covers, so every once in a while we can change the car up and give it a factory look,” says Michael.
A Corolla wagon rear seat was to sit between the tubs, which Michael says was bolted in using mostly pre-existing holes. “The seats were a similar color [when new] as they are now,” explains Michael, “but they didn’t have the tweed.
Fabric inserts are surrounded by Bentley leather for a clean, low-profile look, even when using OEM-looking stitching. The dash is also a factory part, although the gauges have been replaced with TA22 Celica units.
Work on the after-hours project wrapped up a few weeks before MotorEx, for a planned spot at sponsor Aeroflow’s booth. “They ran out of space, but I still decided to go in for fun,” says Michael. “The next thing you know is that they wanted to expose it, and people went crazy about it!”
In MotorEx’s Street Elite Showcase, the car won third place for overall innovation alongside plenty of attention from onlookers.
Michael was blown away by the reception at MotorEx, especially given the relatively modest goals of the project. “It was amazing,” he enthuses. “The car was never meant to go to MotorEx, it was just a budget street car.
“But when I was putting pictures of the build on social media, it was probably our highest rated car. We were a bit shocked by that! It was a pretty relaxed build. We just kept it simple and tinkered around until it was done.”
Once the new ECU is hooked up and proper tuning done, the ‘Rolla will see both mid-week returns to school with Lani at the wheel, and a good weekend beating when roll racing and concert events like street machine Summernats.