The idea seemed simple: we find a Toyota 86 that damaged in Hurricane Harvey, and then do whatever it takes to transform it into an endurance race car for a charity event aimed at helping the city’s residents get back on their feet after last fall’s devastating floods. But as with all my ideas, the execution itself was far from simple. Here’s how we pulled it off.
As previously noted, I was in possession of a kit from Toyota Motorsports Gmbh that would turn a plain-Jane street Toyota 86 into a 86 Cup Car capable of leaping tall buildings in a single bound, or at least lapping a race track with some degree of competence. The one caveat was that in order to work with all of the upgraded components, the car needed to be a 2017 or newer model. (The ABS module working with the upgraded brakes and high grip race tires was the main concern).
Sadly for owners but luckily for us, Hurricane Harvey’s impact on the Gulf Coast had left us with a fairly large number of potential donor cars to work with. More than a dozen cars matched our requirements for the most part (more on that in a second). Due to the volume for cars coming through Houston, the nation’s largest salvage car dealer, Autosource, had a number of inspectors on site at the IAA auction branch to examine each car that they were purchasing for their own inventory.
Luke Kjar, the CEO of Autosource, was kind enough to task one of his inspectors to our search, to make sure we had a car that wasn’t too far gone to turn into our race car.
I, like most people, just assumed that every flood salvage car was exactly the same. I thought that every car that was labeled as a flood salvage car was completely flooded it to the roof. It turns out that nothing could be farther from the truth. There are varying levels of what’s considered flood damage. Level one means the water reached the bottom of the car. Level two is up to the carpets. Level three is to the top of the seat base, and level four is to the roof.
Fortunately, the guys at Autosource were able to find us a level one car with very minimal damage that would allow us to mainly focus on the race car conversion and not spend too much time chasing issues. Autosource even had their crew of rebuilders go through the car and sort through any problems for us in advance. Turns out on this particular car the main issue was the fuel pump relay fuse had shorted out, basically starving the engine of fuel and preventing it from firing up.
They changed out the pump and fuses as well as all of the fluids (we did find a bit of water in the oil, but not enough to cause massive concern) and the 86 fired right up and ran like a champ. Not bad for a car we paid $6,250 for.
Just to be clear, I am not endorsing all salvage flood cars. Flood damage is such that it’s hard to know what problems may shake out over time. What I am saying that there are some very good, lightly damaged cars that are available if you spend the time researching them. Autosource did a great job here, so you can also contact a company like theirs to do the legwork for you.
From there it was all a matter of having the car shipped out to us so we could roll up our sleeves and get to work. We had the car shipped to 3R Racing, who should be very well-known to long time readers. They have worked on a huge number of my race cars over the years, from the Project Grocery Getter Volvo C30 to my salvage title Pikes Peak Hillclimb Corvette Z06.
Once the crew at 3R Racing received the 86 the next step was to install the car kit from TMG. This kit contains all of the parts necessary to turn a bone stock Toyota 86 into a full blown Cup car, virtually identical to the cars raced over at the VLN in Germany.
The basic kit contains a performance air box, upgraded shocks, brakes, wheels, race seat and harness, steering wheel, fire extinguishing system and a host of other performance upgrades all for under $20,000.
Mix in a $7,000 salvage car, and bam! Instant race car. Okay, fine, maybe not so much instant. A good race shop should be able to do the build in about 120 hours of shop time. A skilled at-home DIY-er would probably take double that.
The one thing that the kit doesn’t come with is a roll cage. In order to compete in any racing series in the U.S., one would need to be installed. Figure in $3,000 to $5,000 for a good cage, and you can put the final figure for a DIY build to under $30,000 and a pro build to around $40,000.
Now this would have normally been the end of my story. But you know me, I love to do things the hard way. We (IAA, Autosource and me) decided that we wanted to help the city of Houston with its flood recovery efforts, so we really wanted to source a car from the Houston area that was flood salvage. The only issue is that the only 86s that seemed to be available (and salvageable) were automatics.
Not the best choice to go endurance racing with both from a performance as well as the endurance side of things. So our only option was to get an automatic 86 from Houston, source a manual 86 from somewhere else and do a transmission swap. We can’t make this easy, right? Where’s the fun in that?
Fortunately both versions of the 86 are virtually identical, with the same mounting points and so on. So from a mechanical standpoint it was all pretty straightforward. But as usual, the electronics are what gave us the biggest headaches.
Once the car was all bolted back together we took it out for a quick spin around the block just make sure everything was working properly. And for the most part it was but the one thing that popped up was the ABS warning light, an indication that we may not have that at all. A quick stab of the brakes confirmed our suspicions.
I have no problem racing a car with no ABS, but a failed ABS system is another thing entirely. An ABS system is plumbed as a cross circuit, meaning the left front and right rear are on one circuit and vice versa. Under threshold braking a failed ABS system produces some very odd lockups that are impossible for even the best guys to control.
After running over to our buddies at Stevinson Toyota (several times) to run the car through their diagnostic systems we made the startling discovery that the ABS controller was transmission specific and we, not knowing there was a difference, still had the controller for an automatic bolted into the car.
One manual ABS controller and several hours later, and the problem was solved.
All that was left for us to do is bolt on a set of our Yokohama ADV08R’s (graciously supplied by Yokohama for this charity event) and head out to Pikes Peak International Raceway for a bit of shake down. The car completed its run with flying colors.
I will say this about the 86: what it lacks in power it fully makes up for in handling. The car is almost perfectly balanced and so easy to drive. It makes an almost perfect race car for a novice driver to get up to speed with. It’s a worthy competitor to any of the Miatas you’ll find racing across multiple series on a given weekend.
At the end of the day I think we have a great car to tackle the World Racing League endurance event at MSR Houston this weekend. Hope you guys follow me and my co-drivers Jordon Musser, Jeff Altenburg and Jalopnik’s own Stef Schrader as we try.
And don’t forget to support the charity we’re racing to help: go to SFFMA.org and donate to the State Fire Fighters and Fire Marshals Association of Texas. The city of Houston is still struggling to recover from the devastation of hurricane Harvey and they really do still need your help.