Michael Heape really, really did not want to sell his 1984 Toyota Sprinter. He had spent the last nine years slowly building, driving and evolving his AE86, and it was now his perfect machine. But to live a debt-free life, sometimes a man’s gotta do what a man’s gotta do, even if it hurts like hell — and this hurt like hell. It was with a heavy heart that he realised the time had come to hand over the keys.
If Michael thought that moment hurt, he was in for a shock because things were about to get much worse: he’d just sold his beloved Hachi-Roku to a man in the middle of quite possibly the worst streak of luck in the world.
He wasn’t to know that way back in early 2001, when a much younger Michael took the plunge and bought a tidy AE86. At that time the car was completely standard and in great condition, thanks to its previous elderly owner. Over the next few years Michael slowly built up the car, drawing inspiration from around the world and taking his AE86 from one guise to the next, even competing in a few full seasons of D1NZ.
“The car performed really well when I was competing,” Michael says, “but by 2005 all the other cars were putting out some serious horsepower, and there was just no way the naturally aspirated Toyota could keep up at that level of competition.”
From that point on, Michael built his AE86 up as a clean, road-legal weekend warrior: street driveable but a whole heap of fun on the track.
Under the hood, a fully forged black top 20-valve 4AG-E replaces the original 16-valve. “I had planned to run a turbocharged setup, which is why I forged the motor,” Michael explains. “I never went through with it in the end, but there is no harm in running the built engine in naturally aspirated form.”
The motor, when tuned using a Link G4 computer, makes a healthy 90 kilowatts at the rear wheels.
Although 90kW isn’t massive, it suits the car’s purpose perfectly. “I wanted the car to be as much like a road-going go-kart as possible,” Michael says. “Well balanced, low to the ground, light and quick — it doesn’t need heaps of power.”
To achieve those kart-like properties, Michael spent years tweaking his machine, always opting to use only the best parts, irrespective of the cost. Michael’s other car, a 20-valve-powered Corolla, was sold purely to finance the purchase of custom Bilstein coil-overs and Dobi springs.
With a full eight-point roll cage and Nolathane bushes all round, the Toyota is stiff, precise and very controllable. The struts have been wound low onto very rare Japanese Rock Racing rims measuring 14×8 inches, which sit flush with the guards thanks to a -10 offset.
With only a simple seat, harness, wheel and dash combo left inside the car, it’s easy to see why Michael likens it to a go-kart, and even easier to see why he didn’t want to sell.
But that time had come, and Michael knew exactly who to call.
Although there had been many admirers of this Hachi over the years, there was one who loved it just a little more than most: accomplished drifter and Driftcorp stalwart Shaun Yearbury.
“Shaun always asked me to call him first if I ever wanted to sell the car, so I did,” Michael says. Despite the fact that Shaun now resides in Australia, he instantly said yes, put down a deposit and patiently waited for his next journey home.
Given his subsequent run of luck, Shaun now probably wishes he’d never made the trip.
Michael handed over the keys and the 20-valve fired up, destined for Taupo Motorsport Park. By all accounts the car performed brilliantly with Shaun behind the wheel, screaming at the top of fourth gear around the sweeper as its new owner turned the dial up to 11.
Near the end of the event, however, Shaun’s awesome day with his new weapon turned ugly. As happens on occasion, a corner was over-cooked and Shaun was unlucky enough to be in the wrong place to do that, hitting a solid object and heavily shunting the left corner of the car.
When Michael heard that his beloved car had taken a hit, it hurt. “I was gutted, the car was in perfect condition, and in three days it had been damaged. But that’s drifting and I felt pretty bad for Shaun, especially after what happened next.”
Yep, it gets worse. After having the AE86 towed home, Shaun pulled his other drifter, the infamous Driftcorp C33 Nissan Laurel, out of the garage to do a little work before he headed back across the ditch. At which point a tall tree dropped a massive branch on top of the freshly panelled and painted Laurel, doing serious panel and window damage. That’s an expensive visit home.
Despite the calamity, both cars are being repaired, and this beautiful AE86 will once again hit circuits all over the country.
With this car, Michael built a near-perfect AE86 — light, quick and very nimble. All it needed to be perfect? The addition of a four-leaf clover or a lucky rabbit’s foot may have helped…
For more photos and full specifications, visit the Performance Car website.
Words: Peter Kelly. Photos: Adam Croy.