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Project Rolla

Well, no one can ever say my taste in cars is anything but diverse. After selling the Mini, it was time to get something a bit different.

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So here it is, a New Zealand built (In the Thames Plant), 1998 Toyota Corolla Liftback in the NZ only colour of Firefly Metallic.

The pinnacle of style, power, comfort and… well, no, its none of those things. What is it, is cheap, reliable, hardwearing and easily modifiable.

Built on the E11 platform, much like the much more desirable AE111 Levin/Trueno/Sprinter/Carib, but a far more practical 5 door liftback.

There are plenty of other, “better looking” Corollas out there, why didn’t I get one of those instead of the “Marmite” looks of the bugeye? Well, because I grew up watching these,

The Corolla WRC. Sure, they were 3 door, widebody hatchbacks, but look at the iconic bugeye front. I’ve always had a soft spot for that look, even if others don’t particularly like it.

So what about my car? Well, it’s a top spec 1.8 GLX, meaning it has all the fruit available at the time, such as 4 electric windows (Woah), an alarm (omg), a cd player (flash), air conditioning (cool), a rear spoiler (sporty), and 14″ alloys (racy). Of course, there are other options like ABS, electric mirrors, variable intermittent wipers, cup holder, and a towbar, but the main attraction to this particular car (other than price)? The big block 1.8L 7A-FE engine.

In these cars in NZ there were two options of engine. The far more common 1.6L 4A-FE, and the 1.8L 7A-FE. Both make about the same HP, somewhere about 110-115hp on paper, but the 7A makes more torque, about 20NM more, but at about 2000rpm lower, making it a stump-pulling torque beast.

Driving a 4A and 7A back to back was the reason for me hunting down a 7A powered car because the difference in low down torque is very noticeable. It feels more punchy and eager, whilst the 4A was a bit more rev happy due to its shorter stroke. Interestingly, to get the longer stroke in the 7A, the block is 15.4mm taller than the 4A.

Unfortunately, good 7A powered cars are a bit limited in their availability, which meant either paying a high price for one, getting one that was neglected and stank of cat wee, or going very cheap and getting one that has some dodgy paint and an automatic transmission. No points for guessing which I chose.

It was cheap, but its also filthy, the clearcoat on the bonnet is almost completely gone, the seats are all worn out, and there are various other issues here and there. It’s not perfect, but for what I paid for it, I wouldn’t expect it to be.

Of course, it wouldn’t be my car if it didn’t have some funny quirks… How’s this for a quality passengers mirror? I won’t lie, it actually kinda works 😂

The plans are to give it a really good service, to keep the engine as happy as possible, since its what I bought the car for, and convert it to manual.

Various other improvements will happen along the way, such as poly bushes, bigger front brakes, rear disk brakes, bigger swaybars, 15″ wheels and sticky tires, and maybe coilovers eventually. All of this is for the purpose of having a fun car to thrash around the streets, but also have the ability to drive the two hours to the track, thrash it relentlessly and then drive home.

Not to forget that since it has a towbar and its a liftback, it can be used to haul all the things I don’t want to put into the Honda, like runs to the dump, or scrap metal. A true workhorse.

This won’t be a short term project as I’ll be doing it on a very tight budget, so time will be spent hunting down the best prices on things instead of just making it rain.

We can all partially blame my friend with a 2ZZ-GE powered AE101 wagon for planting the Corolla seed in my brain. It just makes sense though, since I couldn’t drive the Mini hard for fear of breaking it, but a Corolla will go forever no matter how you treat it, parts are so cheap and available, and its all just Toyota Lego with bits being swapped from different models to improve it with minimal cost.

So that’s it. Follow me on this “boring car” journey; or don’t, it’s up to you.

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