GALLERY: Behind The Scenes On Our 1973 Toyota TE27 Corolla Film
As far as chassis codes go, Toyota’s infamous figures are “AE86.” The Corolla generation made popular by real drivers like Kei Tsuchiya and fake ones like Takumi Fujiwara deserves the accolades heaped on it, but this isn’t a story about those characters or that car. This is about Mike Muniz and a Corolla chassis that predates the popular one.
I say chassis because he doesn’t just have one TE27 Corolla, instead his selection embodies three distinct approaches to the car. The sage green car is more or less completely new old stock, the orange one is a period-correct modified street machine, and the third, the star of this film, is a replica rally car that Mike’s owned since 1988.
Getting to this point wasn’t a straightforward task though, as there was the matter of regulations to deal with when importing cars that didn’t sell in the States originally. After moving to California from the Philippines, Mike jumped on the chance to buy a pair of TE27s that a friend from Japan knew about. He’d been a longtime fan of the Toyota since his early school days when he first caught a glimpse of the fresh compact, and the opportunity to own one in his young adulthood made it an easy decision, even though he didn’t have a plan for the legal stuff in the glovebox. He figured that instead of waiting for their eligibility age to hit or going through a tedious federalization process right away though, he would first focus on restoring and racing the car you see in this week’s film.
It’s been with him for a few decades now, and next year with be the 30th that the Corolla’s spent in Mike’s garage. It’s had a long and fun life, including seven different motors and the gamut of disciplines. It’s been a street car, a drag car, a road race car, and currently it’s an homage to the TE27 rally cars that began with the chassis’ debut race at the 1973 RAC Rally. The car was often underpowered compared to its class competitors, but it still achieved some success, including a win at Finland’s 1,000 Lakes Rally in 1975. Mike isn’t getting this one sideways in Scandinavian snow, but even in its long-travel suspension guise it provides plenty of canyon road excitement.
Getting back to the car that started it all though, Mike tracked down the owner of the Corolla he’d seen while in school, and it turned out the driver worked for Toyota Racing Development (TRD) Philippines. It wasn’t long before a 15-year-old Mike was heading to his garage to tune carburetors every day after school. He then progressed toward an understanding of the car’s other components, and after moving to the United States and working at an independent shop for a few years, Mike went back to school and earned a Mercedes-Benz certificate that saw him going to work at Mercedes-AMG for ten years.
He is now working as a shop foreman at Tesla, but throughout all of this he’s been wrenching on the Corollas. With the cars in their time mostly driven into the ground and the crusher like the workhorses that they were, it can be extremely hard to find certain parts for these now. So much so that Mike’s had to resort to borrowing, 3D-printing, and then CNC’ing some of the more elusive pieces whenever his friends in Japan and Thailand for instance can’t find anything.
Clearly he has troves of patience and lasting focus though, as the Corollas all present as if new. And there’s work to be done yet. The red one is, if you couldn’t guess, not ever going to be “finished,” and the Mazda rotary currently living under the hood is due to be replaced by a built Toyota 152E racing motor that can spool to 9,500RPM and provide north of 300 horsepower to the little car. It’s a story of evolution that isn’t over yet, and we can’t wait for the next iteration.