3S-GE BEAMS-powered KE36 Corolla panel van

Michael Ellard's blacktop BEAMS-powered KE36 Corolla wowed 'em on debut at MotorEx


Image Conversions bossman Michael Ellard never really planned for his KE36 Corolla to be a MotorEx hero, but the boosted BEAMS-powered beasty snapped plenty of necks at the Melbourne event earlier this year.

First published in the August 2022 issue of Street Machine

The project began in earnest about six years ago, shortly after Michael pulled the covers off his ‘Severed Ruby’ Rodeo (SM, May ’16). The ute was a resounding success, but when Michael and wife Lani’s family began to grow, the two-seater became less than practical. “I had a little Toyota motor I’d built years ago and it was just sitting there, so I’d always wanted to get another Corolla,” Michael recounts.

So began the hunt for a more family-friendly weekender, Michael finding this neat one-owner panel van six months later in Menai, NSW. “It belonged to an old couple; it was the husband’s car and he’d passed away,” he says. “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!”

Michael stayed true to their wishes for a while, driving the van in stock form for two years before getting stuck into the build. Though the 20V Toyota 1.6-litre 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-kilometre ‘blacktop’ 3S-GE and J160 six-cogger in place. Much to Michael’s glee, the 2.0-litre four also wore a turbo kit. The mill now runs an Aeroflow T28 snail, with engine management handled by a Link G4X ECU. On E85, the 1100kg car makes about 350hp at the tyres – heaps of grunt for a lightweight, manually shifted family driver! “After driving it for a bit, we’re probably going to pull it down and do a full build on the motor,” Michael says.

The third member is a HiLux diff with a Truetrac 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 coil-over kit, while the rear springs were relocated inside the chassis rails 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 enthuses. “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 biggest change to the exterior is the addition of side glass from a JDM-spec KE36 two-door wagon, replacing the factory van panels. KE20 front and rear bars were also cut-and-shut to fit and the front valance was reshaped, before Michael and Image Conversions’ Matthew Johnston dipped the car in Corolla-spec Rally Red.

“I’ve got a sun visor, 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. “One thing I’ve learned from building cars is that you can have all the crazy sheet metal and motors in the world, but if you don’t get the right colour, wheels and stance, it doesn’t make the car.”

A Corolla wagon rear seat was shortened 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,” he explains, “but they didn’t have the tweed.” The cloth inserts are surrounded by Bentley brown leather for a neat, understated look, even using OEM-style 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 Design & Execution, 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 says. “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.”

When it’s not being caned at roll racing meets and gigs like Street Machine Summernats, you’ll find the ’Rolla performing everyday duties with Lani at the wheel. “She wasn’t impressed when she first saw the car,” Michael says. “She didn’t see the potential in a Corolla, but now she claims it for herself. She plans to do the shopping and school drop-off in it!”


Paint: PPG Rally Red
Brand: Lexus BEAMS 3S-GE 2.0L four-cylinder
Turbo: Aeroflow T28
ECU: Link G4X
Fuel system: Aeroflow pump, 800cc injectors
Cooling: Custom radiator, Spal fans
Exhaust: Stainless 3in with Aeroflow cat and Growler muffler
Gearbox: Lexus J160 six-speed manual
Clutch: Brass button
Tailshaft: Chrome-moly, billet input shaft
Diff: HiLux, Truetrac, 4.3:1 gears
Front: Custom Techno Toy coil-overs
Rear: Factory leaf springs
Brakes: R33 GT-R calipers and BA discs (f), R33 GT-R calipers and MA70 Supra
discs (r)
Master cylinder: Mitsubishi Pajero
Rims: Work Wheels Seeker; 17×8 (f), 17×9 (r) 
Rubber: Bridgestone; 205/45R17 (f), 245/45R17 (r)

My team at Image Conversions: Matthew, Paul, Frank and Burnie for all their hard work and late nights; Bill, Kailen and Steve at Hy-Tone Motor Trimming; Ali at Mobility Engineering; Avit at Toast Graphics; Pat at Aeroflow; Brenden and Keith at Auto West Paints; Jeff at GT Tooling; Joe and Aaron at Precision Racing; Michael, Mitchell, Justin and Jason at Rad Rollers; my wife Lani and kids Indy and Benji for giving me the time to complete the project.