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JDM Icon – 1994 Toyota Trueno AE85

16 June 2023

Join us, as we hit the touge with the South Island’s biggest AE85/86 enthusiasts, Andrew Saunders, with his 1984 Toyota Trueno — restored to JDM perfection!

Words and Photos: Jack Morgan

It could be considered the golden era of the JDM scene. Rare cars now seen as out of reach or extremely rare often cruised the avenues, showing off the best of what the car scene had to offer. Christchurch local and big-time old-school Toyota enthusiast, Andy, was eager to get his hands on one. 

“Growing up in the ’90s and early ’00s, I was lucky to be around what we call the classics now — but back then they were everywhere. I remember when I was about 16 or 17, skating down to Washington skate park late at night; we would watch the boy racers race past, saying, ‘I want those cars!’”

After his very first purchase of a Honda CRX, Andy was absolutely hooked. His next cars came hard and fast, as he moved to an S14 facelift and quickly learnt the lessons of being young with a rear-wheel drive car. Trading this in for an S15, it was clear where this hobby was going. Having spent most of his teenage years obsessing over NZPC magazines, Andy came across a unique hatch he’d never seen before. That hatch was a 1986 AE86 1600cc coming in at a whopping $10,000. Largely outside his budget at the time, this idea got pushed to the side. Instead, he went for a much cheaper two-door STI WRX, followed by an S14 facelift, S14 pre-facelift turbo, Pulsar GTI-R, Holdens, and multiple runabout FX-GTs. It’s fair to say his hobby turned into an obsession. 

Finally, after moving onto a 180SX, Andy ignited an inner passion for working on his cars. The 180SX got a complete home garage makeover, converting it into an Sil80, with an S13 front end and a stunning silver paint job. He eventually decided to part ways with the Sil80, but the new owner has managed to keep hold of it for all these years. 

“A few years after finishing and selling the Sil80, I came across an AE85/6 again — at my friend’s apartment. His neighbour came home in a black Trueno hatch, and I thought, “Oh hello! I ended up buying it off the guy and fixing it up.” 

After countless hours of cleaning up most of the rust and some of the most apparent damage, an at-home paint job was next on the list. The previous black with blue pearl was brought back to life with a fresh lick of paint. The factory 4A-GE engine was given a thorough check and clean up, and sent off to cert for the all-clear to drive it on the road. It would be an understatement to say Andy had fallen in love with it. Everything — from the feel of driving it to the love from the community — just sealed the deal for Andy, and his passion for Truenos began.

With Andy’s eagle eye for more Truenos to fuel his addiction, another found its way into his hands. This time the build wasn’t for Andy but his partner, Marie. Countless hours of tear-down resulted in new suspension and wheels and a repair of the botched steel widened guards on both the front and rear. Finally, the removal of body rust and fresh silver paint had it ready to be road legal. Now for the most challenging part: learning to drive a manual! As a quick learner, it wasn’t long before Marie was driving around — the coolest girl in town in her new Trueno hatch.

While restoring the silver Trueno, Andy was offered an empty red shell of a car, soon known as the wide-body turbo Trueno. After some hesitation about adding a third body to his collection, Andy decided to take a look. 

“I had already met the guy, as I had bought parts off him for my black and silver Truenos. I knew of the shell but hadn’t looked at it closely. So we caught up, went over the shell and its parts, and I thought, ‘If I say no, I’ll regret it forever’.” 

After some persuasive conversation and the promise of a 10-year build, Marie agreed. The following weekend the shell was loaded up and put on some stands in the garage. Upon close inspection, the body was rough. Rust was cut out everywhere, from the firewall all the way to the hatch, along with cut rear guards and some very dodgy welds. In truth, it would have made for a great parts car. However, with a live reg on hold and some imagination, Andy could see its beauty. 

“What will it be one day?” he thought to himself — then snapped back to reality, confronted with the fact that work had only just begun on the silver Trueno. 

After five months of the shell sitting and collecting dust, the perfect parts car came up for sale: a Trueno notch. As it had most of the parts needed for the wide-body build, Andy bought it, bringing the count now to four Truenos. If it hadn’t already been an addiction, it certainly was now.

With an inventory of parts ready to go, it was time to get stuck in. An RN40 Hilux rear diff quickly got it rolling, while the front was left factory and equipped with BC Racing golds. After the notch was stripped bare, the wide-body started taking on a factory aesthetic. Now was the time for aftermarket improvements, and, wasting no time at all, Andy decided to purchase his first welder. After fixing most of the parts that had been cut out, the shell was ready to be prepped for paint. The AE86 Kouki off-white only coated a bare shell but Andy certainly created some interest and appeal by posting regular progress updates on Instagram. 

Andy then started assembling odd parts while keeping his eye firmly on Trade Me. This paid dividends, as he was able to swoop quickly on some Recaro seats. Andy wasn’t afraid to import parts either, having sourced a widebody kit and other pieces from overseas to complete the build. 

At this time, Andy decided to part ways with the notch, allowing more funds for the current project. The years of Trueno part hoarding had paid off, as he was able to throw in countless parts for the right deal. Upon the arrival of the wide-body kit, Andy immediately took to fitment and paint. However, something didn’t look quite right, it needed new wheels, with only one option: Watanabes. 

“The day they arrived, I just couldn’t believe it; I was so excited I put them on Marie’s car, just so they would get used and seen while the build continued at home.”

While all this was happening, Simon at Surfab was rebuilding the 4AGZE engine. When Andy collected the motor, Simon asked, “So what kind of power are you going for?” 

Andy replied, “I’d be happy with 250hp.” 

Chuckling, Simon said, “This engine will be good for almost 400hp!” 

Andy almost couldn’t believe it. As quick as he could, he loaded it up and dropped it in the freshly painted engine bay. At that moment, he thought, “Damn, I’m excited now!” 

The end was in sight. 

Andy started working on the small jobs around the car, such as fitting the gearbox, clutch, starter, alternator, interior parts, body looms, carpet, dash, and Recaro seats, and the preparation of the exhaust, before heading back to Surfab. Within a few days, Simon had created a fantastic stainless exhaust, from dump pipe to shotgun exhaust tip. After Andy decided on a Link Monsoon ECU, the car was booked in for its first-ever tune. 

During the engine build, Andy was advised to change the turbo set-up but he decided to use the old one and sort it after the tune. That decision was almost a catastrophe. The day came to drop the car off at Flame Performance for the Link to be wired in and the engine dyno tuned. All started well until the power run, when the turbo stopped making boost. The turbo had seized up solid. Fortunately, the team found it early enough to prevent pieces of the turbo from flying throughout the rest of the engine. 

“When I got the call, I was worried and unsure what to do next. [The team at] Flame helped with advice and parts for what is only successful because of them.” 

A new Pulsar turbo was fitted, providing an excellent opportunity to add extra sensors for the ECU to read the oil pressure drop cut-off and wideband 02. The car was away and ready again with a couple more exhaust modifications, making a modest 224kW before fuel supply shortages prevented further power. 

Andy loaded it back on the trailer and took it home; it was finally time to fit it with the Watanabes. 

“I remember looking back at it, shocked that it was moving under its own power. All I could think was, ‘I made this!’” 

Andy finally decided to go with a black and blue pearl bonnet to match the Initial D look, but the car was still missing one thing: AE86 Limited Edition black retractable fog lights. Fortunately for Andy, a friend had been stashing some away, just waiting for the perfect project to add them to, and this was the one. 

With the last piece installed, there was only one thing left to do. Andy had spent many hours preparing the build for cert, and passed with flying colours. The stunning two-tone paint, tastefully matched with the Watanabes and retractable fog lights, perfectly fitted the Initial D aesthetic. Andy’s dream build was complete. 

“I take it out every chance I get, not only for me to enjoy but for others as well. Putting smiles on people’s faces makes it worth the hours of work, and I would do it again in a heartbeat. I learned that doing something like this makes you step out of your comfort zone, meet some incredible people, and make new friends along the way.”

Unsurprisingly, the journey doesn’t stop here. Andy has purchased a fourth AE86, and is starting from scratch once again. This time, he, and his best friend. Renan, will be sharing the entire build process on Andy’s YouTube channel, The Initial Project.


This article originally appeared in New Zealand Performance Car issue 299