The Iida Akira AE86 Levin

The $100,000 dream of a GT500 driver...

The Iida AE86 is one of the most expensive street-semi race AE86 projects ever undertaken.  But why did he choose to start such a project?  Doesn’t he get enough from driving 500 hp race cars at 300 km/h day in and day out???  We’ll discuss that a little bit.

The Japanese driver was first introduced to AE86 during the mid 80’s when the cars were the reigning force in Japan’s Corolla Freshman Cup.  There he was intrigued by the archaic chassis design of the car that benignly handled well with correct driver input.  He was determined to win in a race which as a young talent was overwhelmingly difficult among 40 or so entries by veteran drivers.  He never won a title there but he did claim many podium finishes.  He moved onto formula open wheelers and higher classes of box-car racing.  Ultimately he won many titles in Japan’s racing series and have recently been one of the top Japanese drivers to march out to the world circuits.  His most memorable and credentials include his being selected for the Honda’s NSX-R LeMan’s 24 hours Project.  Anyway, the reason he explains, about the AE86, he said something in the lines of….  The AE86 was the focal point of my advances in racing skills…The cars are so quick provided the driver had the right skill, otherwise it was a handful just to stay on the road.  He drove for months in his first season back in the late 80’s in that car and never figured out the car.  He realized that in that one make race, all of the drivers were tracing different cornering line, braking points, and cornering character.  In other words, the car depended heavily on driver input and furthermore, it allowed a wide range of settings, and driver characteristics.  He remembers that it was one car that was different in each team though the base chassis and engines were all the same.  This really stuck to his mind and he promised one day that he will build his own AE86 that matched his style and nurtured his skills.  In late 1998, the dream was to take shape.  He commissioned his resources and contacts to gather components that would be assembled as his project AE86.

The AE86 project was featured in many volumes of Video Option in Japan throughout 1999.  The car took nearly one year to complete with many of the processes labored by Iida himself between his race schedule… The series was titled “Akira’s Work Box” 

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He started by obtaining a clean example of a late model AE86 Levin in two-tone red…  As clean as the car was, the vehicle was stripped down to the last bolt…  The monocoque body was then spot-welded in many different locations for reinforcement.  This included all frames of body cavities such as door sills, window frames, floor pans, etc…about 1200 spots in all.  The body was then injected with expansion polyurethane foam in all frame structures to reduce flexing with least amount of added weight.  The body was ready to be sanded down to bare metal from top to underneath and the shell was then painted with Toyota’s Super-White II… the whitest white Available from Toyota.  The scheme was them finished off with a black bottom two tone as it came from the factory.  The traditional but handsome “panda” two-tone.

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The rear suspension assembly took on much special work as lengthened upper and lower arms were installed.  Note the protrusions of the rear floor pan area.  Almost all of the ends on suspension links were full pillow-ball joints just as on a race car.  In all, over $25,000 was spent on chassis, suspension and body alone.  A roll cage was implemented when all suspension/ chassis was aligned to exacting standards.  Then after welding the cage, the body and chassis were re-aligned for heat stress and warps…just like the process taken to properly build a high budget works race car.

Brakes installed is custom one-off fitted Brembo 14” rotor four-piston calipers and 3 piece racing disk rotor in front.  The rear was augmented by adapting a Skyline GTR 2 piston system.   A special racing spec. brake proportioning valve was installed for driver adjustability of front-back bias.   The trunk room was modified to fit a FIA grade fuel cell with dual line pump feed and a surge tank. 

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While all of this was taking place, Iida landed on his engine of choice…  a Group A spec, TRD 4A-GE 20V, definitely NOT available to the general public…  This 255hp power plant from group A racing field features non-VVTi cam gears with re-worked internals allowing race-tuned versions to rev to 11,000 rpm.  The engine is also full dry sump, external feed oiling system.  Iida took home the head and hand sanded all ports, and combustion chamber to mirror shine.  He claims he took over a month to finish the polishing.  The 3 angle valve adjustment was done on a Yasuda precision mill, which is accurate to 3 microns, as was the camshaft bearing bores.   For those of you unfamiliar, it’s the same process that Toyota used for engines that went into the TS020 which dominated the GT1 LM class last 2 years at Le Mans, and probably also for Juan Montoya’s CART champ car’s engine, this year!…  

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All components were balanced and assembled by the same people who built the SARD Denso GT500 Supra, and the famous BP Kraft Trueno AE86 GT300.  The whole system was then installed in now a classic method of 20V-to-the-AE86 way of hammering the bulkhead firewall.  The system that manages the whole masterpiece is the Motec Engine management system, Pi research data logging and instrumentation….again, just like the modern race car, and by far, more advanced than the Fuji Freshman Cup AE86’s that he raced back in the 80’s…  The engine is detuned to 210hp with 9000rpm before it hits a limiter, just for the sake of reliability. 

Speaking of street, aside from not having an A/C or climate control, all other amenities are just as painstakingly thought out, and no expense spared.  The front seats are custom fitted Bride reclining buckets which is orthopedically corrected for Akira himself.  The interior panels are re-upholstered in matching cloth from Bride as well.  For the purpose of night racing, true xenon headlights were custom fitted from modified Celsior (LS400) lighting unit. 

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Well, all this stuff added up came to an estimated $100,000 USD but no one knows for sure as there are many components that have no prices such as the Gr. A 4A-GE 20V engine, and many hours and materials for all the one-off parts.  Let’s just say that in the hands of Iida Akira, it’s as impressive as anyone might imagine.  He still says he’s not done yet… No, it’s just a beginning…. 

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