For eighty-five thousand miles this little Scion sports coupe served its owner diligently. It was a sporty little runabout for someone in Massachusetts. It lived a fast life and left a beautiful corpse. This car was owned by a heavy smoker, judging by the unrelenting interior stench, the spent vape pens, and the Game Stop rewards card left behind. At some point a couple of years ago it was involved in an accident which, judging by the damage to the wheels, involved a curb. A friend purchased the car from a salvage auction in 2019 and had it transported to Ohio. Life got in the way, as it has a habit of doing, and here it has languished under the shade of an evergreen in the meantime.
I have been actively seeking a car that I can use to get back into some form of motorized sport or another. I was once heavily involved in SCCA rallycross, and wanted something cheap and easy to get rowdy in the dirt. I was looking at clapped out WRXs and Civics, and even entertained the idea of garbage like a modern Mitsu Mirage, just because they were cheap and could be beat on. That is when this car fell into my lap.
The price was too good to pass up, especially in the current car buying market. Even with an automatic transmission onboard, this is a lot sportier of a car than anything else I was looking at. It’s hard to get something that runs and drives for under 5,000 dollars, especially when it comes to sports cars. I was willing to put in the elbow grease, and thus was able to make it happen at a good price. According to KBB a 2013 FR-S in “good” condition is worth between 10 and 12 grand!
This poor FR-S just needed a little bit of love to come back to life. It was just sitting there in the driveway with the front end missing, but nothing badly broken. It came with two replacement front bumpers and a set of functional headlights, but some assembly was required. Nobody has given this car the respect it deserves, until now.
Not only will it be able to rock around in the dirt, but I’ll also be pressing this machine into daily driver duty, and the occasional track day. With some coaxing, this could also be the car that convinces my wife to get out and explore the limits of handling, whether paved or unpaved. Hopefully this little white boxer will whip us into shape in short order.
So, what was the path I took to give this car the montage makeover it needed? Follow along.
Before even agreeing to buy the car I wanted to make sure I wasn’t getting in over my head. While scoping out the car I put the key in and cranked it over. Despite having not moved all winter, the car fired up on the first try, and moved under its own power. Success. I then grabbed the passenger’s side headlight and plugged it in to make sure both lights would illuminate, and they did.
It wasn’t until I fitted the fresh Toyota-sourced grille into the middling quality Chineseium replacement bumper and slapped it up to the car that I decided this was a done deal. It looked like it had enough potential at that moment that I wanted to save the car from whatever sad fate might befall it otherwise. This car was a spit polish away from being passable, and just a few days and a couple thousand dollars from pretty damn good.
Thankfully all of the hardware for the bumper was in plastic bag in the trunk, so I set about installing that, and the car had me wanting to go all the way. It might have required a little bit of zip tie engineering to get everything back where it should be, but it’s a ten-year old salvage title car, so who cares? With the bumper on it looked like a real car, one that would be ready for the track any day now. A quick test drive around the block confirmed that it would need brakes at a bare minimum. I’m not positive, but I might suggest the complete lack of brake pad material on the front axle played a part in the accident which saw it wrecked.
All four of the wheels had curb rash, but the front right had a pretty nasty gash. Even though they all still held air, I wasn’t about to trust my life to them, so I poured a heavy glass of booze and dialed up the Tire Rack website. After putting together several wheel options over an evening of drunken daydreaming, I settled on a fairly affordable program of gold Sparco rally wheels and sporty-ish Firestone Firehawk Indy 500 tires. As luck would have it the car came equipped with RallyArmor flaps when I got it, so these complete the look. The wheels and tires ran me right around $1,500 delivered.
As for the tire choice, I’m not looking to set any track records. I just want a reasonably fun and affordable tire that isn’t going to wear out on me in a single summer. I’ve used these tires on Porsche 944s in the past, and the FR-S is basically a modern 944. They’re a solid option for fun street driving and occasional autocross or track days, if you don’t take it too seriously.
General maintenance is good practice when dealing with a car rehab. While I was on Tire Rack (not sponsored, I paid full price) I grabbed a set of Brembo blank rotors and Hawk HPS brake pads, plus some track-ready ATE TYP 200 brake fluid. That’s my go-to combination for any car that will be driven in a sporty manner. You can’t go wrong with Brembo/HPS/Typ 200. It was a gross and cold snowy day when I woke up on Saturday, so this job took far longer than it should have, but it’s done! Under $500 for pads, rotors, and fluid of this quality is a totally acceptable price in my eyes.
It was so immensely satisfying to see the transformation that just a set of wheels and tires can make for a car. Obviously a car looks a lot more like a car when it has a bumper and headlights, too. The car’s fender liners were also removed when the bumper was taken off, so while the front wheels were off I re-installed those as well.
The last thing the car needed to be road-worthy was 5.8 fresh quarts of oil and a new filter. WalMart had the stuff I needed, and it wasn’t too awful expensive. Having just moved across the country I didn’t have much in the way of tools or even an oil catch pan, so this job took longer than it should have when I had to run to the hardware store a couple of times. As you can see from the photo above, I didn’t have a funnel, so I had to cut one of my oil bottles in half. Well, now I have a funnel.
So, all of the mechanical issues have been sorted with this car, and it received some much-needed deferred maintenance taken care of. Now it’s time to turn our attention to some cosmetic issues. Technically the car is drivable as-is, but it stinks like hell inside and there’s still mold and tree sap on the paint outside. I haven’t got all of that cleaned up just yet, but here are a few things I did do.
At some point early in the car’s life, a previous owner installed an awful stitch-it-yourself steering wheel cover and matching faux ostrich leather crimson seat covers. They all fit like shit and looked even worse, so they had to go. Luckily for me the covers did their job and kept the death stick stench from seeping into their surfaces. The stock steering wheel underneath the cover was like-new, and the seats were stinky but unblemished. The shift boot and parking brake handle boot, however, didn’t fare as well, with both showing melted holes in them from a dropped piping hot cigarette ash cherry or two.
I gave the interior a preliminary shop vac once-over to get rid of some grit and grime. Every surface got a multi-purpose cleaner spritz, and it actually made a huge difference. I am now the proud owner of a dozen blackened and browned terry cloths, formerly white. Where before it felt like the kind of place that required a hazmat body condom, it’s now capable of sustaining life. The smell isn’t gone, but I’ll work on that next.
I also ran the car through a touchless car wash, but as you can see from the photo below, the lion’s share of the paint mold remains.
Obviously the car needs a full run with a pressure washer, a second pass with soap and wash mitt, then a full car buff and shine. I don’t think the front bumper will ever totally match the rest of the car, but I can live with that. The cost of a good paint job these days is worth more than the rest of the car. There’s a reason it was totaled, after all.
The left rear tail light has lost its seal, from what I can tell unrelated to the accident. I ordered a pair of weird-but-cheap LED aftermarket jobs, and will be installing them when they finally arrive from wherever.
The fog lights and turn signals were included with the car as well, and I definitely need to get around to installing them. The front of the car looks a little empty without them, and obviously it would be nice to have fog lights and turn signals. The side markers at the edge of the wheel opening are nowhere to be found, so I’ll have to order a set of those to install also. Same goes for the bumper tow hook plug.
So there you have it. My work here isn’t done, but I’ve returned a car from the brink of heading to the junkyard to a roadworthy sports car that will hopefully serve me well for several years of street and track action. Even taking into account all of the ancillaries I bought to facilitate this job [shop lights, low-profile jack, miscellaneous tools, a carpet steamer, various cleaning supplies, and last night’s dinner] I’m still into this car for less than $7,000. Can’t beat that!
Obviously for proper rallycross competition, I’m going to need to purchase another set of wheels and tires. After some discussion with other rallyists who drive Toyobarus, the answer to fitting 15" wheels is to order a set of EVO Corse San Remos at about a thousand dollars for the set, plus another grand for proper gravel tires. The TRD Rally suspension kit from Japan is a stiffer but taller shock and spring setup that will be another thousand. And of course the car is going to need a decent stereo setup if we’re going to drive it several hours at a time to attend track or rallycross events. This is quickly adding up. Aren’t cars fun?