This Old Picture

So I had to find some old pictures of me when I used to work at TRD USA as a race support engineer for a video that was being put together by Bowls Films.  Unfortunately, over the course of my life I have lost all of my old race pictures. Back then, before smartphones, pictures were not super common and were a hassle. You had to carry a camera with film and get the film developed later. I know this sounds pretty basic, but this sort of thing almost seems unimaginable nowadays. In the days before selfies you didn’t take or have pictures of yourself taken very much. Thus a lot of us don’t have a lot of casual pictures of ourselves at work.

I had a bunch of racing pictures in an old shoebox somewhere, but for the life of me I cannot find them. I had also lent out a bunch of TRD and SCCA pictures to a writer who was doing a book on Toyota Racing about 15 years ago and I don’t think he ever gave them back. I have since lost touch with him.  It’s a pity, there were many cool pictures of Toyota’s SCCA racing history in there.

So when Bowls needed a picture, I was at a loss to provide one. I made a post on Facebook to see if any of my old friends had any. Garrett Yamada, who used to work at TRD then later at Toyota Motorsports, found this and sent it to me. From the looks of it, it is from the SCCA Runoffs at Road Atlanta in 1985. We are in the hot pits – back in the day the hot pits were on the opposite side of the track from where they are now.

I can tell this was 1985, because it was the first year of the AE86 and we were campaigning several in the GT3 class. This was the last year the GT class cars had to be unibody. Tube frames were allowed the next year turning GT racing into a silhouette class and TRD’s 1986 GT3 cars were a radical departure from this more production-based car.

The first 6 GT3 cars were built in Japan by TRD to FIA N1 specs. The cars kept their unibody and had a simple (by today’s standards) weld-in cage that tied the shock towers together, but had relatively few tubes compared to the stiff and triangulated cages of today. All of the suspension links were tubular and had spherical bearings. The shocks were replaced by single adjustable, twin tube, low-pressure gas Tokico manufactured coilovers. All of which were super exotic parts for back then!

The upper link of the 4-link rear suspension was considerably lengthened and the inner pivot relocated inboard and upward on a new mount that was welded to the interior of the car. This was done to reduce the extreme anti-squat the stock rear suspension had and to reduce bind. The front lower control arm was replaced with a tubular part with a spacer between the lower ball joint and the knuckle to correct the roll center without adding to bump steer.

The car rolled on 13″ cantilevered sidewall slicks that were designed to get around the SCCA’s 7″ minimum rim width rule. The brakes were Girling two piston deals with vented rotors, dual master cylinders and a balance bar. The two piston brakes sound lame, but back in the day this was awesome stuff.  The car also only weighed only 2,100 lbs, so the brake stress was low. The hood, doors and decklid were fiberglass and the windows lexan. The car had wide fender flairs, a deep airdam, and a rear deck spoiler. It looked pretty badass and was a factory works car that at the time was state of the art. Nowadays it would just be a nice track day car!

The transmission used the stock Toyota T50 transmission case, but the internal gears were dog-shifted and super close ratio made by Quaife. The 4AG engine had billet rods that looked like Carrillo, but were Japanese and mated to 11.5:1 compression Mahle pistons. The TRD cams I think were 320 intake duration with 12mm lift with 304 exhaust duration with 11.7 mm lift set on a 100-degree centerline. The lubrication was by a 3 stage dry sump. The heads were hand ported and had 3mm oversize intake and exhaust valves. The engine was fed by dual 44mm Mikuni Carbs and the whole thing made about 230 hp at the crank.  Again, super badass back in the day, but today my SR20DE powered Sentra Dog Car is faster around Willow Springs than these cars were!

I believe the car in this picture was a privately owned but factory-backed car driven by Tom Notey, SCCA’s Cal Club regional GT3 champion. 3 of the cars were owned by Toyota and the other 3 were allowed to be purchased by qualified drivers and given factory support. I am pretty sure the guy messing with something behind the right front wheel is our master tech Howard Watanabe. I am the handsome young guy with the shades, wearing the black puffy TRD jacket and the brown corduroy pants, very stylish.  I think this picture was taken right before qualifying. It was a tough few days and Tom had blown up his main engine and his spare in practice.  The day before I pulled an all-nighter taking parts from both engines to make one running engine.

I didn’t have any decent measuring tools but I could tell the piston-to-wall clearance was too loose. The pistons rattled in the bore! It sucked, but I had no choice and it had to do. The bearing were select fit, so mixing and matching them from two engines was sketchy at best. All I had was a caliper, not exactly the precision tool of choice to measure bearings. The crank spun around freely with the main caps torqued and it still spun smoothly with the rods bolted down. I built the engine in Toyota’s support tent with a Coleman lantern for light. Of course, there were no dial indicators and I made a rough degree wheel out of cardboard and put a chopstick in #1 plug hole to eyeball things to do the cam timing.

Somehow the thing ran and ran hard. Tom qualified 9th and ended up coming in 4th. It was worth not sleeping and my 23-year-old self thought I was awesome.

Photo by Chris Sullivan

Now here is a picture of me 33 years later, last month to be exact. Still at Road Atlanta, in the pits, on the other side of the track. Still working on a Toyota 86, but a modern one that Dai Yoshihara drove to a first place finish in RWD Unlimited class at Grid Life. It easily has over 4 times the power of that old TRD car. Man, I got old and ugly. Some things change, but other things don’t!


  1. Awesome! Cars nowaday are getting faster than ever and we are getting used to the speed the go.

    This old AE86 might be slow by today’s standard but it must be a blast to drive. Light, small, raw and rev happy. How was the stability with bumps in mid-corner with the 4 link straight axle in the rear and those huge sidewall racing tire?

    1. I feel that a properly set up live axle usually isn’t that much of a disadvantage in road racing. What messes people up is the high roll center which when combined with the high unsprung weight makes people set them up too stiff. People also forget that toe steer is still a significant issue with live axles as well. Usually, when lowered, a 4-bar linkage ends up with too much antisquat and gets wheel hop and on throttle oversteer as well. Keep this stuff in mind and a live axle turns lap times just as fast in many situations.

  2. Really cool to see old stuff like this.

    I don’t think the rules for GT-3 have changed much since they went to tube chassis, even if power has crept up. Lotus linked rear live axles, cantilevered slicks on 7″wide wheels (mostly 15″ instead of 13″ nowadays) and so on and so forth.

  3. Not associated with the seller at all, but there’s one a lot like this up on Racing Junk. Came across it randomly today.

        1. Interesting, as I recall the coupes were all made into rally cars and the hatches were road race cars. A lot of the parts seem to be right. This might make a good restoration project!

  4. I remember seeing one of these run at Texas World Speedway in 1986. I was in Formula Vee working on my SCCA regional ticket. I also drove a tuned 86 as my daily driver, so watched with great pride as the Corolla GT3 lapped the field. Very fast for its day even against GT1 and 2 cars as I recall. My day job at Ferrari took me to LA for training from time to time, so I’d always stop and pick up parts from the TRD guys. Mike, I remember looking through the air controlled area at all the AE86 engine work being done. Good days, great memories.

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