After owning a string of nineties and early noughties Jap icons, Will Sanctuary decided that, when it came to selecting his next project car, the best way forward was to go back… We take a nosey around his modified Toyota Corolla KE30.
Fast Car. Words & Photos: Dan Sherwood
“I’d always been into old Japanese cars,” says 28-year-old Will Sanctuary, the owner of the eye-catching Tiffany blue Toyota Corolla that finds itself in front of our camera lens today. “They’re dripping with the kind of character you just don’t seem to get in more modern machinery.”
And he’s right, of course. With the abundance of platform sharing and parts bin raiding that goes on in today’s motor manufacturing, it tends to give everything a similar look, with few new cars breaking the mould and truly standing out. So seeing a late ‘70s classic on the street, with its chrome bumpers and bullet-shaped mirrors protruding from the front of the wings, it really is a welcome sight!
“The Corolla was just an itch I wanted to scratch,” laughs Will. “I’ve owned two Honda S2000s, two Nissan Skyline R33 GT-Rs, a Nissan 350Z, a Rocket Bunny S14 and an EK Honda Civic in the past, but as good as they all were in their respective ways, the Corolla is the one that puts the biggest smile on my face. With only 83bhp on tap from the 1.5-litre engine it’s far from the fastest, but if you buy a classic car for the way it performs, you’re kind of missing the point.”
But even with a long-held affinity for owning a Japanese classic, Will admits that he never set out with the intention of actually buying one when he did…
“I’d just sold my S2000 and was scrolling through the cars for sale on Facebook marketplace to see if anything took my fancy.” he explains. “To be honest, nothing was really floating my boat, but then I saw a flash of Tiffany Blue that caught my eye.”
The 1978 Toyota Corolla KE30 sedan was offered for sale through Japanese import specialists Fast East Classics.
“Tiffany blue is one of my favourite colours,” reveals Will, whose day job as a painting and decorating professional gives him some clout when it comes to selecting the perfect pigment. “The fact it was a rare model Corolla was cool, but more importantly, priced at £6.5k it was within budget, so that really sparked my interest.”
Will had dabbled in trying to secure a Japanese classic before when he decided to bid on a Datsun 240Z at a local auction. However, the guide price of £10-12k soon rose to well over £20k before the auctioneers gavel dropped, putting it firmly out of his price range.
“When I collected the car from Far East Classics’ Stonehenge HQ I was surprised at how good the exterior was,” recalls Will. “The paint was a bit faded but there were no bad rust areas, so that was a relief. However, the interior and engine were both a mess! So the first thing I did after handing over the cash and sealing the deal was to take the Toyota down to my mate Lezi who works at my local garage near Kings Lynn for an assessment, service and MoT.”
Surprisingly, the 40-year-old Corolla sailed through the test with the only snag being a new set of brake lines needed. So, with a clean bill of health, Will got cracking on sorting the car to his high standards.
“The first port of call was to bring the dull paintwork back to life with a full respray by Rich Heil from DV8 Automotive in Kings Lynn,” says Will. “Rich did a cracking job of matching the old paint colour and now the blue really pops with a flawless finish that offsets the chrome perfectly.”
Next up was to remove the old worn out interior, carpets and soundproofing and file them safely in the bin! “Unfortunately, you can’t just go and pick up a new carpet for a 78 Corolla off the shelf, so I ended up having to source one from Australia!”laughs Will.
Other parts were equally hard to come by, which led to Will using scouring the globe to get his new ride up to scratch. A new dash and wiring loom were found in Ireland through Will’s friend Leo, a deep front splitter and duck tail rear spoiler came from Thailand, while a brand new, old-stock grille made its way over from Portugal.
“Having to pay shipping for many of the parts I’ve needed has really upped the cost of the build,” Will sighs. “But that’s often the price you pay for owning a classic, as it’s part and parcel of the ownership experience, so I can’t complain.”
The interior now complete with a new retrimmed dash, seats, door cards and headlining, plus a cool Grip Royal mahogany-rimmed steering wheel, Will moved on to alter the Corolla’s ride height by modifying the stock suspension with a set of coilovers up front and a tweak to the stock rear leaf springs. Combined with a set of adjustable lower arms and tie rods, plus a quartet of hubcentric spacers, the stance is spot on.
“The car originally had a set of Rota wheels on it when I bought it,” Will says. “Now, I’m no wheel snob or anything, but they were just too modern looking for the age of the car, so I replaced them with a set of 14in SSR Mk1 alloy wheels with Falken Azenis tyres that I bought from Jason Grant at Rusty Rimz. I think they really suit it.”
You’re not wrong there, Will. We love an old school rim job too! And with the stance sorted, Will could move on to more pressing matters…
“The wiring of the car was a state and a real fire hazard,” remembers Will. “The new loom obviously helped a lot, but there were still some electrical gremlins to sort out before everything would work properly, so I handed the duties over to Nuffy at King’s Lynn Auto Electrical.”
Sometimes it’s best to let the pros take the strain, especially with stuff like electricals, and Nuffy had the Toyota working sweetly in no time, which left Will trouble-free to start tidying up the aging engine bay.
“When I bought the car it already had an engine and transmission upgrade,” Will highlights. “The standard 1.2-litre 3K engine and four-speed gearbox had been swapped for a more powerful, larger displacement 1.5-litre 5K unit complete with five-speed ‘box.”
Still no powerhouse, but at least now some rice puddings would fear for their skins. With no real desire to try and extract more ponies from the puny lump, Will focussed his attention on making the bay look as good as possible and enhancing reliability by replacing the decaying rubber hoses with blue silicone items and fitting a set of matching blue NGK HT leads. He also swapped the brittle and discoloured fluid bottles for fresh new ones and mirror polished the rocker cover.
“While I was under the bonnet I decided to do a partial wire tuck and shave of the engine bay,” Will points out, propping the bonnet up with a matching Tiffany blue baseball bat. “I plan on doing a full tuck and smooth job in here in the future along with another engine swap to a more potent 1.8-litre MX-5 engine on motorbike throttle bodies.” That should endow Will’s machine with a bit more muscle, plus add in a wild soundtrack to boot, but in the meantime, he’ll just have to make do with the sweet sounds from the Corolla’s custom exhaust system.
“The exhaust was made my Wisbech Engineering and Edwards Motorsport and features 2.5in pipework with a mid-silencer and a twin-exit backbox with upswept, slash-cut tailpipes,” he says. “It doesn’t make a lot of power gains with the current engine, but it should liberate a few more bhp from the future setup, and it sounds great too!”
So with phase one of his Corolla project complete, how is Will liking his new life as the owner of a Japanese cult classic?
“It’s great, if a bit expensive at times,” he chuckles. “You also have to get used to living with their various quirks and antiquated technology. Things like using a choke to keep the revs up while the engine warms up. Once it’s warm though it runs like a champ!”
Will admits that, as a bit of a perfectionist, his Corolla will never truly be finished, but will continually evolve and grow as the years go by. And with plans for a tucked screamer of an engine, plus a possible rollcage and bucket seats still to come, we can see that this is one slice of old school cool that looks to be growing old disgracefully, and that’s something we can all approve of!
Tech Spec: Modified Toyota Corolla KE30
1.5-litre, 4-cyl, 8v Toyota 5k-c engine, custom 2.5in stainless steel exhaust system with mid silencer and twin exit back box, single carb, polished rocker cover, polished air filter housing and K&N filter, all new silicone hoses on radiator and fuel/air lines, all new fluid bottles, NGK blue HT leads, NGK sparkplugs, air con delete, part smoothed and tucked engine bay
Rear wheel drive, K50 5-speed manual gearbox
Lowered 75mm on custom weld-in coilovers (front), lowered 80mm on flipped leaf springs and lowering blocks (rear), adjustable lower arms and tie rods, new OEM bushes, custom strut brace
Full freshen up of existing set up, standard front caliper rebuild with upgraded Ferodo pads and vented discs, new master cylinder and custom brake lines, rebuilt rear drum set
Wheels & tyres:
6.5x14in ET0 (front) and 7x14in ET0 (rear) fully polished SSR Mk1 alloy wheels with Falken Azenis tyres all round with permanent raised rubber tyre writing, Superforma custom hubcentric wheel spacers, custom chrome wheel nuts
Fully resprayed in Tiffany blue, widened metal arches smoothed into body, custom metal chin spoiler, custom metal rear duck tail spoiler, new old stock front grille, chrome wind deflectors, chrome trim on bonnet, chrome bumpers front and back, chrome bullet wing mirrors, colour coded side vents, chrome headlight bezels, chrome door handles
OEM dash retrimmed in period correct vinyl with diamond stitch, new silent coat sound proofing, underlay and new carpe, seats, door cards and headlining all retrimmed in vinyl, custom OEM-style parcel shelf, Grip Royal mahogany steering wheel and HKB boss, fire extinguisher, aftermarket gear knob, centre console removed.