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Best-laid plans: Matt Heslin’s killer SR20DET AE86

29 March 2024


“Matt Heslin never meant for his AE86 to turn out anything like this, but we doubt anyone will tell him that’s a bad thing ”

We have all seen those deals too damn tempting to ignore, you know, the cheap-rolling-body offers floating around, which seem to cause an electrical explosion inside your brain as it does a quick tally of the parts/money required to get it running. That rush of electrical activity is your brain’s right side attempting to convince the more rational left side, ‘Hey, sure we don’t need this project right now, but for as little as $xxx we could be up and running, and get back to doing what we love.’ It’s a scenario most of us with a brain wired for octane will have gone through at least once in our life. The NZPC team has a theory that the right side is a little shady, and certainly a little manipulative, knowing all too well that a quick tally will at least triple the cost, if not more, but it also knows a few tiny white lies will get it what it wants. As they say, it’s always easier to say sorry than to ask for permission.
Forgive us for the Dr NZPC moment, but we had to laugh when the owner of this AE86, Matt Heslin, explained how he had all but given up on building cars until he spotted a rolling-body AE86 for only $1000.


It had been a few years without a drift car for Matt, following a string of blown SRs and RBs in his old Nissan S14 which ultimately saw the Silvia parted out, and car builds put on the back burner. But the AE came as a complete roller with registration on hold, a full interior, as well as a complete parts car also on offer to the buyer. “It’s a bit of a running joke between me and my mate Brad that my initial plan was a $10,000 budget, and to keep it road legal. Now it has spiralled into a car that has never been driven on the road, and has taken so long to complete. My response is that good things take time,” Matt explained.

It’s been a total of three years to get to this point, the budget blew out years ago, and the first drive was actually a few drive-bys at the photo shoot. But when you learn it’s basically been built twice, you get to understand Matt’s commitment to getting it right, even when it was only ever supposed to be a quick build.


The original plan was for no roll cage, and the SR20 conversion. An SR20DET was picked up for a bargain and soon found its way in, and the project was moving along. When a Wilwood pedal box went in to control the MRP Wilwood brake upgrade, a roll cage was added purely for ease of mounting the reverse-swing pedal box. The car then sat dormant for a few months with the cage in, until Matt decided to bring it home. But the more he looked at it, the more he decided it wasn’t to his taste. Sure, it would do the job, but Matt decided to cut it out and start from scratch. After talking to fellow 86 Fighter Keiskei, Graeme Smyth from SMS Fabrication was presented with a clean slate. Now some of you might think Matt is mad starting from scratch so far into the build, but at the end of the day that decision has effectively seen the AE86 step it up a notch in all areas of the project, as a roll-on effect.


It was at this point that Matt began to lose focus on keeping it road legal, as the build became increasingly track oriented, and thoughts of returning to competition started creeping in. “I never intended it to be a track car, I love the freedom to be able to drive and get a wheel alignment, or go for a drive at night. But the further we went, the further it got from that point. Graeme had a few ideas, actually many ideas on what we should do, and soon it became a major project that took three years to complete.” Out came the swing-mount pedal box, swapped for a Tilton floor-mount model, and in went a pair of Bride Zeta III seats. Smyth also fabricated a long list of parts including the new roll cage, catch cans, exhaust, a switch box and a false floor in the boot space, which hides the surge tank and fuel system that now occupy the spare wheel well, and removes the need for a rear firewall.


The Tilton pedal box forced — or rather, allowed — the seats to be mounted as far back in the cabin as possible, which in turn required the fabrication of a longer steering column, a component most people would ignore and paint black. But as you can see, it’s certainly not easy to ignore, as it shares the same bright-pink retro ’80s paintwork that occupies the rocker cover. Just how did the pink come about? Thanks to the sick mind of GT Refinishers painter, Ben Phillips, as Matt explained. “The lovely — and unique — bunch at GT Refinishers, Grant and Ben, had a few ideas for the car. All they said in regard to what paint should be applied to the rocker cover and column was a simple leave it to us”. I am so stoked with the way the retro ’80s Neon Miami came together.” Doing its best to combat that pink is the House of Kolor Mars Gold metal flake that adorns the engine bay and roll cage. Now, metal flaking a roll cage is certainly not common practice, but again, if you give a painter free rein, you never really know what to expect.


When it came to getting the external styling right, plenty of inspiration came from Japan in the form of the very iconic Major Force and Run Free AEs. The necessary J-Blood and Run Free components were sourced and purchased off Japanese auction sites, and then shipped to New Zealand through an import agent. Thankfully the body itself wasn’t in too bad a shape, so that process went pretty smoothly.


Japan can also be thanked — in the form of Ken Maeda and his mental SR20DET-powered AE86 — for Matt’s decision to run an SR over a 4AGE. Matt recalled his teenage years watching Option and Hot Version DVDs of Ken’s AE blasting D1GP. That distinctive SR20 bark resonating from the stainless exhaust first grabbed our attention from many streets away, indicating it’s no stock block under that J-Blood bonnet. The engine is actually one of the few surviving parts of the original $10,000 street-car project. Picked up for $900, it was at the time a very cheap option to get the car running. Since then it’s been stripped bare and built up from a naked block using the usual suspects from ARP and ACL, along with a set of JE pistons with Eagle rods. The head received a port and polish, BC 262 degree cams, BC cam gears, titanium valve springs, and Tomei rocker stoppers. Matt did say that he wishes he had gone down the VE conversion route, but we suspect 300kW in this car is more than enough to keep him satisfied for now, in a chassis that would barely weight 1000kg.


As the build has progressed Matt’s plans to return to compete in D1NZ Pro-Am as a two-car AE86 team with Keiskei and his notchback have changed. Matt remembered what he realized when he entered a round of competition with his S14 all those years ago. “I quickly learned I was lunchtime entertainment. It’s a ton of money to compete, and only a few guys are ever really going to make it. I would rather just get out there and enjoy it with my mates, and do as many track days as possible.” But should he one day get that urge, the suspension package he has fitted to the AE is world class, and will certainly have it blazing tyres with the best of them. Well, that is once Matt comes to grips with pedalling the short-wheelbase car when he hits the track for the first time later this year. It may have taken three years to get to this point, but we suspect as soon as Matt smells a little smoke and taps the lock stops while the SR is howling at 7000rpm, all that will be forgotten!

Tuning menu

Make and model: 1983 Toyota Trueno (AE86)


  • Engine: Nissan S13 SR20DET, 2000cc, four-cylinder
  • Block: JE pistons, Eagle rods, ARP hardware, ACL bearings, GReddy winged and baffled sump
  • Head: SMS fabrication S13.4 rocker cover, ported and polished, BC Stage 2 262-degree cams, BC cam gears, titanium valve springs, Tomei rocker stoppers
  • Intake: Four-inch intake, HKS filter, custom intercooler piping by SMS Fabrication
  • Exhaust: SMS Fabrication three-inch stainless-steel system with V-band clamps, 2.5-inch twin pipes
  • Turbo: GReddy TD06 20g, Sinco top-mount manifold modified by SMS Fabrication
  • Wastegate: TiAL 44mm
  • BOV: GReddy Type R
  • Fuel: SMS Fabrication surge tank, Bosch 044 main pump, Tomei Type L fuel pressure reg, HKS 740cc injectors, Circuit Sport fuel rail, braided lines throughout
  • Ignition: Spitfire S15 coils, NGK spark plugs
  • ECU: Link G4+ Storm
  • Cooling: 50mm alloy radiator, Earl’s 15-row cooler, GReddy block adaptor/thermostat
  • Extra: GReddy boost controller, deloomed, SMS Fabrication oil catch can/ radiator overflow


  • Gearbox: RB25DET, five-speed
  • Clutch: Exedy hyper single
  • FLywheel: Lightened
  • Diff: Shortened Toyota Hilux LSD (4.3:1)


  • Struts: Parts Shop Max competition coilovers
  • Brakes: Tilton 600 series floor mount pedal box, Tilton brake bias, Neil Allport hydraulic handbrake with Wilwood master cylinder modified by SMS Fabrication, braided lines throughout (F) Wilwood four-pot calipers, slotted rotors, Convert Motorsport bracket (R) Wilwood two-pot calipers, slotted and drilled rotors, Convert Motorsport bracket
  • Extra: Parts Shop Max five-link, Parts Shop Max traction brackets, Cusco sway bars front, Cusco RCAs, Techno Toy Tuning lower control arms, Techno Toy Tuning steering knuckles


  • Wheels: (F) SSR Formula Mesh 15×8-inch (-15) (R) SSR Formula Mesh 15×8-inch (-27)
  • Tyres: (F) 195/45/15 Toyo Proxes T1R (R) 195/45/15 Evergreen EH23


  • Paint: Toyota Super Red 2 by the unicorns at GT refinishers
  • Enhancements: Mars Gold roll cage cage and engine bay with House of Kolor metal flake, custom-painted rocker cover and steering column by Ben at GT Refinishers, Goodline front bumper, Run Free rear bumper, Run Free side skirts, Run Free FRP hatch, Run Free rear flares, GT Refinishers custom front guards, J-Blood bonnet, East Beaver Kevlar mirrors, Aerocatch bonnet latches, all fitted by GT Refinishers


  • Seats: (F) Bride Zeta III, Takata harness
  • Steering wheel: Nardi, Lifeline quick release, SMS Fabrication column
  • Instrumentation: Link Pro 2 display dash
  • Extra: 10-point SMS Fabrication roll cage, carbon dash, SMS Fabrication alloy floor, SMS Fabrication alloy switch panel

Power: 298kW (400hp) at the wheels on 16psi, tuned by Grady at HiTech Motorsport Drury

Driver profile

Driver/owner: Matt Heslin
Age: 27
Location: Auckland
Occupation: Builder (owner of OTS Building and Maintenance Ltd)
Build time: Three years
Length of ownership: Three years

Thanks: Mum and dad, my partner Nikki, Brad Downing, Keisuke Nagashima from 86 Fighters for recommending the most elite team, Grant, Ben, Andy and Tyler at GT Refinishers, Graeme Smyth at SMS Fabrication for all his hard work, Tim Selfe, Brendan Duncker at Convert Motorsport, Nandra Dheda for taking care of and building the engine for me, Cam RFB Robertson, Hamish Parker at Parts Shop Max, Nick Campbell for the ongoing support over the years, Adam Maulder for his work at the beginning, HiTech Motorsport for tuning, Matt Watts, Mike at Prosport Auto, Engine Specialties for the machine work, Ewan and Shane at Stacked Inc, plus Tarran at Tyretech and anyone else I have missed, thank you.

This article was originally published in NZ Performance Car Issue No. 228. You can pick up a print copy or a digital copy of the magazine below: