1985 Toyota Corolla Travels from Japan to the U.S. to Find its True Home

A healthy history of knowledgeable previous owners makes for the ideal Levin Toyota Corolla hatchback GT-V build.


The best thing about taking ownership of a 1980s project car like cult classic Toyota Corolla Hatchback is the collection of parts that often come along with it, courtesy of its previous owners. The worst part about getting your hands on one of these front-engine, rear-wheel-drive wonders is that you’re usually left dealing with some ugly hidden mistakes made by those same owners. Fortunately for Ariel Espanola, his Toyota Corolla Hatchback Levin GT-V passed through the right hands-on multiple occasions before eventually landing in his driveway.

Family Tree

Tracing the car’s roots, Espanola found that the Corolla had served as the model for the creation of Pandem’s Rocket Bunny kit years ago before ending up in the hands of J.C. Pepino of Work Wheels and Speedhunters fame. From there, the car spent a very short amount of time with Stancenation’s Elvis, and that’s when Espanola spotted it for sale on Instagram before making an offer, transferring a deposit and soon after, receiving the keys to his new project.

If you’re at all familiar with these older Corollas, then you know they don’t usually rely on big horsepower output and most owners focus on finding a solid balance of suspension upgrades and useable power to fully exploit the lightweight liftback’s ability. Renowned for its ability to tackle turns and its inherent fun factor, the cars tend to take well to updated suspension changes.


Toyota Corolla hatchback Levin Coilovers


Handling in this instance is markedly improved with the addition of TRD anti-roll bars and Function+Form’s Type 3 coilovers. The track-oriented, full-bodied coilovers offer independent ride height adjustment (separate from spring pre-load), monotube shocks filled with high-viscosity fluid, and include 24-step adjustability for custom tailoring the feel and feedback. Additional rigidity comes by way of a 6-pt. roll cage and what seem like miles of intricate stitch welding that runs throughout the chassis.

To take advantage of the handling upgrades, 15×8 front and 9 rear Work Equip 03 wheels with tacky Toyo R888 rubber increase the car’s footprint. Fender clearance is made possible by DMax front and custom reworked rear arches that add noticeable width to all four corners, and a more modern fascia is achieved with a TRD lip bolted to a Zenki front bumper.

Smothered in white paint, you’d never know that the rear hatch is made of lightweight FRP and fitted with an even lighter plexiglass style rear window. The weight watching continues with the interior, where the rear panels and all carpeting are long gone. A pair of Bride seats take over where the worn-out factory buckets were once positioned, and a Nardi deep corn steering wheel offers a much sportier look and feel than that of the OEM ’80s version.

The Charmed Life

To bring the GReddy shift knob up and closer to the steering wheel, a WC Latheworks titanium extension was added. With functionality being the main goal, from Espanola’s angle in the driver’s seat, everything is right where it should be. Wires poking out from beneath the passenger side of the dash, just above the bare metal floor, a lack of audio componentry, and a row of analog gauges serve as reminders that this is the epitome of an ’80s build and the disarray is all part of its charm.


Toyota Corolla hatchback Levin


No music, no problem, as the Levin’s engine bay provides an on-command symphony courtesy of AE101 individual throttle bodies fed by Tec-Art’s trumpets all bolted to a big port 4AGE planted with TRD mounts. You can easily spot the Fujitsubo header and HKS muffler but out of plain sight are Toda cams, though their matching timing gears are on display under a clear cover. Keeping the sprints from behind the wheel worthwhile is a close-ratio 1st – 3rd gear TRD transmission with 2-way limited slip.

The tried-and-true engine upgrades don’t equate to extravagant power numbers but get behind the wheel and test the merits of a build like Espanola’s Levin and you realize after the first few turns that the intoxicating combination of sound, driver feel, and 1980s nostalgia are worth far more than dyno bragging rights.


Toyota Corolla hatchback Levin

Toyota Corolla hatchback Levin


Ariel Espanola’s 1985 Toyota Corolla Levin GT-V

Engine Specs 4AGE (big port); TRD engine mounts and head gasket; AE101 individual throttle bodies with Tec Art’s stacks; Toda Power 256 in/exh. Cams; Fujitsubo header; HKS Hi-power exhaust system; Gluck radiator and fan; AE92 distributor with coil on plug conversion

Transmission & Drivetrain TRD transmission with close ratio 1st, 2nd, and 3rd gears, 2-way limited slip, short shifter, 4.9 final drive; Toda Racing clutch and flywheel

Suspension Function+Form Type 3 coilovers; TRD sway bars; stitch welding throughout; Safety 21 roll cage; Cusco lateral bar

Resistance WinMax Super Zgen brake pads; Dixcel discs

Rolling Stock Work Equip 03 15×8.5 -6 front and 15×9.5 -9 rear; Toyo R888 195/50 front and 205/50 rear

Outside Custom modified rear FRP fenders, hood, rear hatch with acrylic glass replacement; DMax FRP front fenders; Zenki front bumper; TRD front lip; Winds Auto Type 2 mirrors

Cabin Bride Japan Zeta XL seats; Nardi deep corn steering wheel; Personal hub; WC Lathewerks titanium extension with GReddy shift knob





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