Quick Shift and Quicker Steering
For those of us who speed our AE86's through twisting roads, it's always been nice to be able to shift rhythmically and steer fast and fluidly. These are some modifications that may be of interest to you if you are willing to spend a few hours on the weekend just so you can have this advantage in your cars.
Getting Precise Shifting
There are popular kits called "short-shifter" or "short stroke shift lever" on the market for many cars today and this is what you will need to achieve that race-car-like feel on your shift lever mechanism.
The kit usually supplies modified shift lever to be replaced with the OEM lever in your AE86. Usually available for racing purpose, these shift kits are mainly designed to reduce the travel of the shift lever to accommodate a tightly strapped driver. In the case of AE86's however, old transmissions usually exhibit a notchy, gated feel and may cause some miss-shifts. But, usually once a driver gets acclimatized to this setup similar to race cars, the shifts tend to become more accurate and quick. In any case the installation is straightforward.
One other factor with quick shift levers are that most are equipped with a metal collar peg and sometimes it will make lots of noise in high rpm or stiffer chassis setup. The metal collar is for withstanding high forces of the driver's shifting cycles and speed. For street applications, it can be modified to standard collar at a machine shop to provide less rattling effect.
For drag races, this is not recommended as driving position is different and oriented more for shift lever and less for steering, and banging into gears usually is more reliable with a standard shifter.
Getting Increased Steering Response
Now that we've covered the shifting feel, we are probably wishing for a faster rate steering... True that most racing cars are within 360 degrees for lock to lock action. However our AE86, being designed to be "Corolla" did not have quite as fast a ratio. There isn't really a quicker rack available for them either so what do you do? Well, it's a pretty good question...
Here's an answer which won't quite get you that 1 turn lock but here's a way to speed up some of our steering boxes up to speed by 8%. This modification applies to all power steering models of AE86's.
(Note: power steering above, non-power steering below.)
The steering knuckle of the power steering cars were actually shorter than those of the non power steering rack cars. What this means is that when non-power steering knuckle is used on a power steering rack, the steering ratio will decrease by that much. This means the reverse is true, where if you use a manual steering rack on the power steering knuckle, the steering ratio as well as your steering angle will increase. It's a method that was used since long ago by junk-yard hunters and canyon racers. Does it work? Well, yes... with 8% increase in steering speed, those who drift especially benefit from rapid counter-steers, and wider steering range.
There is one drawback though however... with mismatched rack and knuckles, the tire travels slightly more left and right at full lock position. The tire will scrub lightly in the inner fender wells and apron at full lock. (a minor drawback compared to gains in my opinion...) Also, for those with lack of strength to turn a faster rack with shorter knucle, especially since you will be using a non-power rack...you may have a problem until you build that strength to do so...
In both of these cases, you will be modifying a control-related part. Please do take serious care in working on such parts and always refer to manuals for proper assembly. If you neglect this fact, well you might lose your steering in your next track outing or shift lever. Be careful.
Also, finally, these are personal preference modification, and their impressions are highly subjective to each driver. I would suggest trying it out on someone who's already done it before buying or disassembling things...