Image Conversions boss-man Michael Ellard never really planned for his KE36 Corolla to be a MotorEx hero, but the boosted Beams-powered pano snapped plenty of necks in the unveil hall last weekend.
The project began in earnest about six years ago, shortly after Michael pulled the covers off his SEVERED RUBY Rodeo. The ute was a resounding success, but the birth of his daughter with wife Lani made the two-seater less than practical, and prompted Michael to go hunting for a more family-friendly weekender.
Six months later, he found this neat one-owner example for sale in Menai, NSW. “It belonged to an old couple; it was the husband’s car and he’d passed away,” Michael explains.
“The guy had it from new. He’d used it to take surfboards to the lifesavers at Menai Beach, and it had a big wooden roof box so the roof was all protected. They didn’t want to sell it to anyone who’d destroy it,” he says with a laugh.
Michael stayed true to their wishes for a while and drove the van in stock form for two years before getting stuck into the build. Though a 20v Toyota 1.6 in his shed was the initial choice for a swap, plans changed when he decided on a six-speed manual gearbox.
Michael snapped up a 1999 Toyota Altezza front cut with a low-km black-top 3S-GE and J160 six-cogger intact. Much to Michael’s glee, the 2.0 also wore a turbo kit.
The mill now wears an Aeroflow T28 snail, with an AltezzaLink TALKTX piggyback computer that’s soon to be replaced by a new Link ECU.
On E85, Michael reckons the 1100kg car should make between 350 and 370hp at the tyres once tuned — heaps of grunt for a lightweight, manually-shifted family driver!
The third member is a HiLux diff with a Lexus Truetrack centre, and stopping duties are handled by R33 GT-R calipers all ‘round over Falcon and MA70 Supra discs.
The front end features a Techno Toy weld-in coilover kit, while the rear springs were relocated to comfortably accommodate the tubs.
The body was left mostly stock, with Michael aiming to highlight the model’s oft-overlooked styling. “I think the Corolla has beautiful sides and bodylines and roof,” he says. “It’s something no-one picks up on — when they’re looking at the car they go ‘did you put that groove in the roof?’ And I say ‘no, that’s factory!’”
The highly-desirable 17-inch Work Seeker SX wheels were first ordered for a mate’s Corolla. “He sold the car but the new owner put stockies on instead,” he recounts. “[The wheels] got sold again, but my mate tracked them down. I had a set of Simmons bought for it, but when he tracked down those wheels I put them straight on!”
The biggest change to the exterior metalwork is the addition of side glass from a JDM-spec two-door KE36 wagon, replacing the factory van panels. KE20 front and rear bars were also cut and shut to fit, before Michael dipped the car in Corolla Rally Red.
“I’ve got a sunvisor and rear venetians and stockies with hubcaps for it too, so every now and again we can change the car up and have it look factory,” Michael says.
A Corolla wagon rear seat was to sit between the tubs, which Michael says bolted up using mostly pre-existing holes. “The seats were a similar colour [when new] as they are now,” Michael explains, “but they didn’t have the tweed.”
The cloth inserts are surrounded by Bentley leather for a neat, understated look, even using OEM-look stitching. The dash is also a factory piece, though the gauges have been replaced with TA22 Celica units.
Work on the after-hours project finished up a couple of weeks prior to MotorEx, for an anticipated spot on sponsor Aeroflow’s stand. “They ran out of space but I decided to enter for the fun of it anyway,” Michael says. “Next thing you know they wanted to unveil it, and people just went crazy over it!”
In MotorEx’s Street Elite Showcase, the car took home third place for Overall Innovation alongside plenty of spectator attention.
Michael was blown away by the reception at MotorEx, especially considering the project’s relatively humble goals. “It was unbelievable,” he enthuses. “The car was never meant to go to MotorEx, it was just a budget street car.
“But when I was putting up pictures of the build on social media it was probably our highest-ranked car. We were a bit shocked by that! It was a pretty relaxed build. We just kept it simple, and tinkered away until it was done.”
Once the fresh ECU is hooked up and a proper tune is done, the ‘Rolla will see both midweek school drop offs with Lani at the wheel, and a good thrashing on weekends at roll racing events and gigs like Street Machine Summernats.