SpeedTECH The definitve guide to EFI transplants


Project Planning

Project Planning is the single most important aspect of the entire project. Inadequate planning leads to wasted time, effort and $$$, and also is the predominant reason for 'unfinished project' sales.

The aim of this page is to help you plan your project wisely. It is generic in nature and so will be of use whether you are scratch building or rebuilding. I can assure you that the time you spend now working out what you want to do will pay back in big dividends later - so take the time now to plan thoroughly. 

Page Contents

Car Purpose Research My AE 86 How Much Power?
Power Sources Power to Weight Engine Weights Overall Balance
Hi Tech on No Bucks  Rebuilds Shopping List Wank Value
Where to Shop Donor Vehicles Damaged Vehicle Auctions Free to Advertise Newspapers
Local Knowledge Self Help Wreckers Parts Importers Unfinished Projects

Car Purpose

Consider the use your car will get (race, commute, Sunday drive etc) and what an average annual mileage will be. If you are going to be doing a high annual mileage then a late model low mileage engine is the way to go. 

Think of it in exactly the same way you would treat buying a normal car: would you buy a 12-15 year old car with 150,000-200,000 km on the clock to use every day for the next 3 years? I certainly wouldnít if I had a choice. So why should a 12-15 year old used Japanese engine be in any better condition? Do any of us still believe that used import engines miraculously cover only 5000 km per year?!

If you put a 15 year old Japanese engine into a Ďnewí car that you expect to cover 20,000 km a year then all you have done is create a brand new 15 year old car... and if that engine production run stopped 12 years ago then there is basically no chance of getting a better engine than the one you just wore out... and reconditioning is considerably more expensive than replacing.

Having said that, if you do not intend doing a lot of motoring then it may not be a concern. In my case I drive the Leitch every single day and do a lot of open road mileage. I got tired of cars breaking down in the middle of nowhere or not starting on winter mornings years ago, so I set out to make the car as reliable as possible. Home built cars do not have to be unreliable - but if you do not use your head they can be.


Get out and talk to people with similar cars to yours or who do similar things with their car. Look at their cars. Talk to owners, builders, racers. Read books. Join a car club. Surf the Net. Talk to the people who have made a similar investment in their cars. This is also a great way to meet similar minded people and you never know - it may lead to a good deal on an engine or other parts.

Find out the amount of horsepower they are using, the good points and bad points concerning the engine they use for their application, and how much they paid for their running gear. I have found very few people that can give an accurate figure for the cost of their engines - and the vast majority underestimate by a HUGE margin. 

Engine transplants are an area where you need to get it right first time otherwise you start throwing away large amounts of money doing it properly a second time. I can vouch for this from personal experience. Far better to do it once and do it right. The best way to achieve that is to know what you are trying to achieve from the outset - and that means thinking through what you want to use the car for: 
A good race car will never be a good road car, and vice versa. 
A car you take out of the garage once a month on a sunny Sunday is a different car to one that lives outside and takes you to work every day.
A car that covers 2000 km a year is a very different car to one that covers 2,000 km a week.

If you are anything like me you end up with a compromise. I can't afford to have a car just lying around as an indulgence - it has to earn its keep. Sure, I want a car that will go well, be reliable and that is fun to drive. But - any car that I can't fill up with fuel and drive 700 km overnight, secure in the knowledge it will get me there is of no use to me. A car that overheats in traffic or is noisy at highway speeds is likewise no use to me. These are some of my needs - yours will be different.

The point is this - you need to be brutally honest about what the car will be used for - and how much you are willing to compromise one aspect for the other. To illustrate the point, I will use my current project - a 1986 AE 86 Corolla GT hatchback rebuild. Our need is a second car. Joanne is selling her car, and the simple fact is we need two cars. The second car needs to be something a little more practical for day to day grocery getting and transporting stuff than a Lotus 7 replica - as much as I hate to admit it! 

My AE 86

I decided on an AE 86 because I have always liked them and have wanted one for years. I have owned 4 1/2 so far - the first two were turned into parts due to accident damage and rust respectively (I bought them like that). The third one is the current project, the fourth one is a rusty but straight 1500 model that will donate some bits to the rebuild. The half is the rust free front cut panels the project needs. 

I like the look of the AE 86 Hatchback, I prefer a RWD car, they can seat 5 at a pinch, can carry a reasonable amount of stuff and are a reasonable performance package in GT spec. They handle pretty well, especially if you tweak them a bit in the suspension department. I have no need or desire for a 4WD car - why carry an extra 200-300 kg in weight when you don't need to?

Think seriously about whether or not you will race the car - even if it is just between traffic lights. Will it be put on display at car shows? Will it live outside or just be taken out of the garage once a month for a drive? Can you readily source body parts if you crash it? No point having a race car if you can't fix it after you crash it. One of the most important points: is the body going to last without rusting apart? I have seen some cars that have had a lot of resources tipped into their mechanical components only to have the body disintegrate through rust - kinda pointless if you ask me.

I bought the current project from a damaged car auction. It has got moderate front end damage but is otherwise in fantastic condition. It had actually been crashed earlier in its life and was repaired by splicing a new left hand inner guard to the old one, just forward of the firewall. Under the new accident repair legislation in NZ you are not allowed to splice panels - you can only join at original panel joins. This means I have to replace the whole inner guard. To make it even more fun I also have to fix some dimpling in the front 'chassis' rails where the front of the car was pulled back into line during the original repair.

Is it worth the effort? To me it is. I bought the car for $400 US equivalent. The car is an Ex UK model, so it is European spec. Most of the AE 86s in NZ are either the remains of a small number (like about 30) that were imported in 1984 predominantly for racing purposes (these were effectively Japanese spec cars), or used Japanese imports (which make up the vast majority). Both these types come with really horrible trim options and have generally had a hard life. My one has nice black and white trim (better than the Japanese Brown and Orange or Blue and Grey combinations) and the interior is in perfect condition. 

Being a 1986 model it has had the facelift, so it has front indicators in the corners of the bumper, not set in from the edge. The car has the full factory body kit - air dam, rear spoiler, side skirts and wheel arch extensions (not to be confused with the wild TRD body kit). It has factory 4.3:1 LSD and an engine oil cooler, as well as tubular headers and a 2 1/4 inch exhaust system. It has been professionally lowered with up rated springs and front sway bar. It sits on 15" alloy wheels and is shod with 205/50 x 15 Dunlop Eagle GT radials that are hardly worn. It still has the original factory digital radio cassette and an electric sunroof. To finish it off it has a really good alarm complete with central locking kit and air horns.

My aim is to rebuild it, because I believe I can, and do it for minimal cost (but quite a bit of effort). I have the factory chassis manual so I have the dimensions to use to get it straight. I have bought the majority of the panels etc I need for the repair from a self help wrecker - it has cost about $200 US for effectively everything from the windscreen forward. 

Yes, I have thought about re-shelling the car - but the remainder of this one is dead straight, and more importantly, it has only four spots of rust each no more than 20 mm diameter. If I bought another shell (say a poxy 3A powered AE 85 Levin) it would probably cost at least $1000 US to get a straight, minimal rust example. If I spent that much money on my shell it would end up far better. 

Having said that, I have actually bought a poxy 3A powered automatic AE 85 Levin as well (rescued it from a scarp metal yard - cost $50 US). It is missing some odd panels and all lights but I had most of what was missing already lying around. The Levin is straight but very rusty. It will probably donate its fully automatic aircon to the GT which has only a heater. I am tempted to rebuild the Levin shell too (much later). Hell, for a cost of only $50 bucks why get rid of it? These things are getting less common, especially straight ones. Rust I can fix.

Once you have figured out the nature of your project's usage you can move onto the next step.

How Much Power?

OK - so you know what you want to use the car for. Next question is how much power do you need? This is relatively 'easy' to figure out, and there are a few ways of doing it. One way is to check out cars similar to yours that have the performance you are after and ask what combination they are running - politely. 

There are very few secrets amongst genuine people - those who truly want to see how good they are will not mind telling you what combination they run. The people that have 'secret' cam grinds etc piss me off. What are they afraid of? Being beaten by someone better/smarter than they are? These are the same kind of people who never shared their toys when they were children - and somehow they still are!

Back on with the story. The trouble is, a lot of people either do not know or exaggerate their car's performance, so be wary of a bum steer. End of the day, lap time cards or quarter mile time slips count. Anything else treat with caution - especially what you read in half the magazines or on websites!

Alternatively there are some free software programs that you can enter a number of figures into and get a ballpark performance figure from. I used one for my stillborn 105E Ford Anglia project. With a 4AGZE on extra boost (making say 180 horses) and a 4.44 diff ratio, the 800 KG Anglia (allowing for the added weight of the engine over the original 1000 cc pushrod, plus other mods) would have been theoretically capable of 0-60 MPH in under 6 seconds, and a top speed of about 130 MPH - if it had not gone airborne by that stage. Can't remember the quarter mile time, but it was high 13s, I think. Strange thing was that varying the diff ratio in steps from 3.5 to 4.44 made minimal difference to the performance. Irrespective, it would have been a lot of fun.

Makes Andre's twin-charged KP 61 Starlet project (aiming for 300 horse and 800 kg) look a bit scary...

I entered my 20 valve Leitch into the same software - 160 horse, 600 kg, 4.44 diff plus a host of other info and it delivered performance figures accurate to within 5 or 10% of what the car actually does, which is near enough for bench racer project planning.

Power to Weight

Power to weight is the single biggest factor in making a car perform well. Quite simply, the less weight a car has to haul around, the harder it will go for the same amount of power. That is why a Starlet with a 4AGE will always beat an AE 86 with the same engine - because it only weighs 75% of what the Corolla does. If you are building a fast car from scratch, do yourself a favour: buy a light one to start with - and then it will go even faster.

You need to be smart about it though. The 2K engine in a Starlet weighs less than a 4AGE - as does the Starlet K-40 gearbox compared with a T-50, same goes for the rear end. By the time you put in a bigger fuel tank, up rate the front struts, put nicer seats in, add a killer stereo (OK - we are here for go not show - ditch the stereo!) and some bigger wheels and tyres you will add probably at least 100 KG to the car. Having said that you now have a very well set up car that still weighs say 150 KG less than an AE 86.

Of course, you have to make sure the bits will fit - the Anglia was a shoe-horning nightmare because it was so narrow. Possible by all means, but a lot of effort. If you start thinking about alternative body shells don't forget aerodynamic drag (effectively free horsepower), cost, rust, ease of modification and ease of repair especially if you are looking at competition use.

Back to my Corolla GT. The car already has reasonable performance. Factory fresh it is supposedly capable of a 120 MPH top speed and a 0-60 mph time of about 8.5 seconds - not bad for a 15 year old design, hell, half the new stuff is no quicker. Trouble is ultimately I want more. Much more. 

I like the idea of a daily driver capable of 0-60 in under 6 seconds that is still reliable, economical and drive-able. Top speed is kinda academic - the policemen here take your license (and car) away if you go too fast. Plus on the open road you might just end up killing someone. Not a good look.

What I really want is a car that accelerates pretty damn hard. I have gotten used to the performance that my Leitch has, and it is a real bonus for overtaking. The ability to overtake in a short period of time is a big safety factor in my book, especially given the opposing traffic roads that make up the bulk of NZ's highways. I guess I just want that shove in the back feeling when you put your foot down hard on the accelerator. 

And to be honest there is an element of wanting to show up some of the half-wits who drive cars that are too low and too loud with seat bolted to the floor pan and base ball caps on backwards! Don't bring a knife to a gunfight!

My Leitch has about 275-300 horse per ton if I unload all the junk out of it. I would like the Corolla to go just as hard - so as it will weigh about 950-1000 KG in road trim it will need about 300 horsepower to deliver similar performance.

This raises the next question: now I know how much power I want, where do I get it from?

Engine Weights

The following table gives the comparative weights of various engines. Thanks to Trevor Gatland (last know to be lurking on a south pacific island) for this information.




4AGE 20 Valve 1.6 litre & T-50 155 kg Complete as fitted to car (less exhaust manifold)
T-50 5 speed 29 kg RWD Gearbox as fitted to some Corollas, Coronas etc
3SGE two litre 92 kg Head and block complete only - no manifolds, alternator, starter etc
3SGE & T-50 132 kg Includes Twin 45 DCOE Weber carburetors, intake manifold, alternator, starter motor, 1S bell housing and T-50 gearbox - cast iron block
3SGE & T-50 161 kg Complete assembly on carburetors as fitted to car
Nissan SR 20 two litre 139 kg Alloy block & head, manifolds, alternator, factory EFI
Nissan 5 speed 44 kg 5 speed gearbox fitted to SR 20 in Nissan 200 ZX etc
Nissan SR 20 & gearbox 183 kg As fitted to car - sourced from Nissan 200 ZX etc

Power Sources

There are two ways of getting the performance you require from an engine: you either modify one to give an increased output or you select one with the power you need in the first place.

OK - time for a little correction: I use the term 'power' pretty loosely. In actuality it is TORQUE that really matters. Torque is what accelerates a car, and it has the single biggest effect on the overall performance. So, don't get too wrapped up in horsepower figures, torque is what is really important. 

In the first instance do not limit yourself to a brand or model engine - look at it from a needs basis. Although I am a die hard Toyota fan, my loyalty is a result of realistic cost, ready availability, comprehensive parts back up, ready compatibility with RWD gearboxes, compact size and light weight (later models anyway) and proven reliability. 

I am the last person to rubbish other manufacturer's products (is there anything sillier than Ford/Chevy rivalry?) and seriously considered a Nissan engine and gearbox for the Leitch. Honda engines unfortunately rotate backwards, but are a great option if you can use the transaxle as well. Mitsubishi engines have great potential, and Subaru's are brilliant for Porsche 550 Spider or Speedster etc replicas, to say nothing of providing a really low centre of gravity. Remember, you have to somehow connect a correctly configured gearbox to the engine, with the right ratios. 

Little point getting a cheap engine if the gearbox costs a fortune...

On with the show. A recurrent theme in this website is me complaining over not having much money to spend on cars. If you have any spare money, feel free to send some my way. I am a great believer in what Liam Venter calls ĎGrin Factorí ,which can also be described as ĎBang for Buckí. 

For me the optimum return comes from lots of research followed by shoehorning in a more or less stock engine that already has the kind of performance I am after, rather than modifying an engine to attain these outputs. That way I get a car that is reliable, uses minimal gas and drives well. I have driven cars with full house race motors and around town they are a pain in the butt. Furthermore a stock engine will pass emissions testing, which has become a big issue in many countries (but not NZ - yet).

Back to my Corolla. Although my first aim is to get the car on the road, my ultimate goal is to have some 300 horsepower in it. How to do it? First off, the only way you will get 300 horse from a 4AGE is to use forced induction (and a LOT of it) - exactly what Andre is doing with his twin charged Starlet.

That is not quite my cup of tea. While I have no doubt whatsoever that Andre will achieve his aim (he is a smart cookie and he already has most of it together) I cannot afford to build a twin charged motor. Also I have a philosophical issue with it: I believe a stock engine delivering that sort of performance will be more real-world driver friendly and cheaper. That's OK, because Andre is building a road legal race car while mine is really just a road car  - our basic needs are quite different, and so are our solutions. 

So, engine options. I could put a Lexus V8 into the Corolla, but that would take a lot of work and would ruin the car's balance. Same for a Supra twin turbo 6. Nope, I like the idea of a 3SGTE from a late model MR2 Turbo. These engines are around 245 horse standard. Add a three inch exhaust, more boost, better inter-cooling and a cold air intake and I reckon 300 horse should be pretty easily achievable - certainly far easier than getting it from a 4AGE. 

Note also the size of the power increase I am after (I have no interest in going from say 130 PS to 165 by fitting a 20 valve) nope, I want to more than double the output. I figure anything less will not be 'that' noticeable, so why go to the effort to get only half the result you are after? Bottom line: once you decide to transplant an engine, it is generally the same amount of work no matter what engine you fit. I don't reckon fitting a 20 valve would take less effort than a 3SGTE. 

Overall Balance

The catch to throwing in a lot more power is that you need to think in terms of the complete package. A car is more than just an engine: it needs  stop, corner and stay together if it is going to be enjoyable to drive, to say nothing of safe. 

Be realistic about the carís structural and dynamic ability to handle the power, and your skill to drive it. I went from driving a clapped out Valiant (huge Australian built tank) running on alternative fuel (whole car cost 150 bucks) to the Leitch - which demanded a 'subtle' difference in driving style! 

Donít even think that, say, by adding a 4AGZE to an ordinary MR2 you will end up with a cheap supercharged MR2 model. The supercharged cars have bigger brakes, stronger transaxles, bigger axles, etc etc. Trust me, it is way cheaper to sell your car and buy the factory product. Of course if the factory product was not sold where you are then you are kinda left with no option.

Well, you could move to NZ.

So, I have now identified the engine that will do what I want. The next question is how do I get it into the car? First hassle is that the 3SGTE is a transverse only engine and I need it to be North-South. Having done my research I know that a T-50 gearbox off a 1S (poxy 1800 SOHC carburetor dog of an engine) will mate (with minor mods) to a 3SGE. I also know that a T-50 gearbox will NOT handle 300 horse in a 1000 kg car for long at all - if at all! What I really need is a W-55 series Supra gearbox.

No problem - they are rare, but there were some cars fitted with both a poxy 1S engine and W-55 gearbox. I don't ask why, I just say 'thank you Toyota'. I have got one of these bell housings (being modified to fit a 3SGTE) and also a close ratio W-57 gearbox. That sorts out the engine and gearbox. Now what about the diff?

The LSD already in the Corolla is pretty strong but I have my doubts about it handling abuse. No problem - some early 80s Celicas (RA 45 series) fitted with the 18RGEU engine came with a 7.5" diff as opposed to the 6.7" unit in the Corolla. A small amount of work will have to be done on the housing mounts, but the track is virtually identical. Got one of these within easy grasp too (Richard?!). I suspect the LSD centre from the 7.5" IRS Supras can be made to fit - have to see what happens.

Intercooler - got a fairly big front mount one out of a Mitsubishi Eterna, so that should do the job. Already have the oil cooler. The engine fit poses a few issues - the distributor and water plumbing want to stick into the firewall, but I reckon I can either modify them to clear (maybe mount the dizzy off the front of the cam) or build a recess into the firewall. I could mount the engine a bit further forwards, as has been done already, but I would prefer to keep the weight as far back as possible. See how it looks with the engine sitting in the hole.

Rear brakes will be OK - the 7.5" rear end has bigger discs on it, and I will probably modify Celica Turbo fronts struts to fit.

Do you see my point yet? Although the only parts I have so far are the bell housing, gearbox, intercooler, front struts and base car (and maybe the rear axle - Richard?!),  I have a pretty sound idea of what I need for the rest. I have seen 3SGTEs modified for RWD, so I know what is involved. I am also aware of the oil problems you get when you mount the engine upright, and I have a plan for modifying the inlet manifold/bonnet if required to get clearance. 

So, next on the list of things to do - making the list. 

Shopping List

If you have got your act together you should now have a fairly comprehensive shopping list. By researching, talking to other people, looking at cars, surfing the Net, reading magazines etc you should have gained a pretty good idea of what will work and what will not.

If you haven't, go away and research some more until you do. There is no point buying something until you have got at least a 80% chance of it working - especially the expensive or hard to get stuff.

Notice I haven't talked about money at all yet? There is a simple reason for that - you need to plan thoroughly and completely first otherwise you will have no idea of what components you need. And how can you figure out what it will cost you until you have a full list of all the bits you need?

Write out an ideal ballpark specification, such as 4 cylinder, front mounted, rear wheel drive, 5 speed manual, 2 litre, 200 plus horsepower. The following is a list of things you may need:
Accelerator cable
Air filters
Air flow meter
Alternator and bracket
Battery and leads
Bell Housing
Car loom computer plug
Circuit open relay
Clutch plate
Pressure plate
Release Bearing
Clutch fork & rubber boot
Master & slave cylinder/cable
Coil, igniter
Computer if applicable
Cross members
Drive shaft/yoke alterations
Dry sump system
Engine mounts
Engine relays/fuses
Engine subframe
Engine to gearbox braces
Exhaust manifold
Flex plate
Fuel filter
Fuel lines
Fuel pump
Gauge senders
Gear lever/knob/linkages/boot
Gearbox mounts
Gearbox subframe
Heater & control valve
Hose clamps
Inlet manifold
Instruments including connections
Oil cooler/hoses/sandwich plate
Oil filter
Polishing/plating/powder coating
Radiator hoses
Reversing light switch
Spark plug leads
Speedo cable
Starter motor
Throttle linkages
Wiring loom
Workshop manuals

Notice how much of a car you really need? This is why buying a complete car is such a good option, especially if you are on a tight budget. The majority of manufacturers now produce predominantly FWD cars so if you are looking for a front engine/rear wheel drive configuration your options may look limited at first glance, however, this is not actually the case. 

In the first instance a lot of current generation FWD engines have evolved from RWD installations, and so in many cases the older model RWD gearbox will either bolt right up to a FWD engine or else requires only minor modifications. A number of front engine/RWD cars do still exist, however few of these are 4 cylinder. Things such as Nissan 200ZX/SX leap to mind, as do Mazda MX5s.

Consider the practical aspects - will it all fit or can it be made to fit? Does it weigh too much? Will it clear steering? Do the specifications vary from year to year, or between models? Seriously consider the reliability and fuel economy you require. Once you have decided on the exact engine you want you need to get hold of one, however, do not buy an engine unless the car will be on the road with in the next 12 months. Engines only get cheaper and more common as they get older, and newer engines tend to make more horsepower, so as time goes by you end up with a wider choice of better engines cheaper.

Next step: getting the bits you need.

Hi Tech on No Bucks 

Now you have to buy the items on your shopping list. I donít know about you, but I really have very little money (read no money) to spend on cars. The good news is you donít have to spend much if you are smart in what you are doing. The key to saving money is to do it right first time, to not change your mind halfway through and to do as much as possible yourself. Planning and research is something I will emphasise over and over again. The more homework you do the better (and cheaper) the end result will be.

Saving money means you have to do as much as possible yourself. If you don't know how to do something, learn! Go to a night class. Ask friends. If you really aren't able to do the job yourself see if you can trade what skills you do have with someone who has the skills you need. If you have to pay someone to do the job find someone who will let you help with the job, or at least give you a steer on what you can do to reduce preparation time. It is pretty silly to pay say a panel beater money to take the dead panels off your car... prepare the car so that any money you spend pays directly for their specialist skills.

Think about getting a second job to pay for the modifications or parts so you are not cutting into your own cash reserves. Loan money at your peril!

Another key to saving money is doing the project in stages. I will get the Corolla GT back on the road with the standard engine first and look at engine swaps later. I suggest that wheels, tyres, suspension (to an extent), interiors and paint have a greater cosmetic effect than true performance gain compared to driveline mods. So focus on what is really important first. Also, don't underestimate the importance of a good body: there is no point getting it running right to find the car is turning into dust through corrosion...

Be careful if you plan to tackle it in stage though - no point buying anything to replace it later, ie don't convert a car to take a 4AGE initially if you really want a 3SGTE in it eventually - save your money and go for the 3SGTE from the outset.

Don't forget the cost of engineering certificates and compliancing as well.

Wank Value

I am amazed at the number of people who want to fit say a 20 Valve to their car - you would think it was the best kept performance secret going. Donít get me wrong, it is a very good motor (I wouldnít have bought one otherwise) but for many applications a 4AGZE or 3SGE would be a far better solution. Itís that torque thing again...

This leads me to believe the 20 Valve (and other engines) have a lot of wank value, at least in some peopleís eyes. Donít make the mistake of getting caught up in buying an engine just to impress your mates. I dunno about you, but I think it is kinda pitiful when someone spends big bucks to fit an engine that a cheaper one blows away because it is a better solution...

Each to their own, for sure, after all that is what makes playing with cars so much fun, but end of the day bank for buck is an important bottom line. Face it, if money is no object why are you bothering to read this website..? You may as well buy a faster car in the first place! So, make sure you don't buy something just because it is the latest and greatest - buy it because it does the job - cost effectively.

By the way, if anyone out there does have too much money, I am willing to work for some of it. A location somewhere in California is appealing. Anyone know if Boyd Coddington is hiring?!


Unnecessary rebuilds are a great way of throwing away money too. If the motor is going to be used in unmodified form then I suggest you go no further than remove the cam covers to inspect the top of the head, and remove the sump and check a couple of bearings. If these are OK I would not bother stripping the engine down for a rebuild until it starts to misbehave. Unless they have been abused modern engines are inherently very reliable.

Of course if the engine is a runner check the compression, check for fumes and check the oil pressure.

Bottom line: why rebuild a perfectly good engine? If you buy say a 4 year old engine ask yourself this: if you had just bought a 4 year old car instead would you rebuild it? Didnít think so. I am amazed at the number of people who pull a perfectly good motor apart when there is clearly no need to. Remember the old adage - if it ainít broke, donít fix it!

Where to Shop

Now you are at last ready to buy what you need. The absolute cheapest way of getting what you need is to steal it. Now, I am a law abiding citizen and hopefully you are too, so unfortunately what we need to do is the next cheapest option (which is almost as good as stealing) and is detailed below. 

But first, some key words on purchasing. The cheapest way to get things is to be patient. Have the money available (amazing how much discount you can get with cash in your hand), know exactly what you want (with some fall back options) and pounce when the time is right.

People keep telling me how lucky I am to get the bargains I find. Rubbish. I just know what I want, keep my eyes open and am ready when the opportunity comes up.

Donor Vehicles

If there is a single car which has a large percentage or all of the parts you need then it may be best to buy a donor vehicle. Depending on what you require a damaged car may be sufficient. 

I have had good luck with buying complete donor vehicles from the Trade and Exchange ( a free to advertise advert-only newspaper). A few examples, with prices converted to $US (I tend to be Toyota biased!):
1983 Toyota Levin GT-V 16 Valve (RWD) with 84,000 km (yeah, right) injected 4AGE 1600, 5 speed, 4 wheel disc etc I got for $550 in 1992. The car went sideways into a lamp post. I sold the remains I did not need for $300 - at the time the undamaged cars sold for $6,500. I used the running gear for the Leitch. This engine lasted 30,000 km in the Leitch. Tragically I suspect the remains included an LSD that I was too stoopid at the time to recognise - the guy who bought it got one hell of a bargain!
1988 67,000 km (hmmm....) Toyota Trueno Supercharged 4AGZE (FWD) bought late 1996 for $550. This supplied the Anglia engine. After turfing the Anglia project and selling all the bits I made $ 2000..... This car spun thru trees...... undamaged cars were selling for $5,000. I kept the alarm and CD stereo with twin amps and equaliser from it. The 4AGZE engine with loom alone was worth over $750 to buy separately at the time..
1982 TE 71 Toyota Trueno RWD 2TGEU 1600 cc 8 valve EFI (pre-runner to 4AGE Levin) complete but very rusty for $200 in Feb 97. Sold remains for about $300. The motor and gearbox with exhaust etc went into a KP Starlet (talk about tight fit!), as I bought it as a source of the Anglia gearbox but it turned out not to be the heavy duty one.
1985 Toyota Trueno( same as top Levin) rusty and minor damage. $325. Sold bits I did not need for $400. Bought mid 1997. The guy I bought it off paid $400 for it at the auction... he had to get rid of it - girlfriend pressures! The remainder of the running gear went into Andre's Twin charged Starlet (radiator, gearbox, front crossmember, steering, vented disc front struts, disc brake 4.3 rear end, 2.25" exhaust, wiring, dash etc). Car was a rare facelift model, and had aftermarket lowered springs as well.
1986 Toyota Corolla GT (same as top Levin). Current project, bought February 1999 for $435 from damaged car auction and described elsewhere.

The trouble with doing all this is you need a very understanding and tolerant partner, and you have to be prepared to end up with something you cannot sell. I like wrecking cars. Joanne likes gardening and karate. Kyokushin-kai karate specifically. That is the really nasty one. Normally she gets her way...

That is why we are trying to buy 2 1/2 acres at the moment. Then Joanne can garden and I can go into business selling car parts, doing conversions etc without getting killed.

If you will not be doing too high a mileage then mid 1980s Japanese cars are an excellent source of engines as they have well developed motors, good horsepower and high reliability, but best of all they have bodies that turn from steel to dust really quickly and cost a lot to convert back to steel, so you can buy a car that is sound mechanically but shot body wise for very little money.

God bless Toyota!

Damaged Vehicle Auctions

Yup. Damaged vehicle auctions are a goldmine. Haul your carcass along to the local auction house. You need to do your homework, but as a rough example a car that would sell on a lot for say $US 5000-6000 in an undamaged state that has been rolled so all the windows are smashed and the chassis is twisted will have a wreck value of about $US 600. Hopefully there won't be any bits of the clown who crashed it remaining.

Seriously, be careful of cars that have had the 'mess' hosed out, or have sat in the rain with broken windows etc - the electrics may all be ruined. In all seriousness, it does not take much damage to write off a 10 year old car - and realistically anything really badly smashed will yield few useful parts. All the damaged cars I have bought have still been drive-able.

You need to go to the local auctions and get a feel for prices. Big auction houses do not set you up, they are only interested in shifting the stock. If you find something you like ask one of the staff what they reckon it will go for - they should be able to give you a rough steer, but remember anything is possible - I saw a complete car with 3TGTE, supra gearbox, IRS, vented discs, turbo timer, alloy wheels and a straight but moderately rusty body go for $75... ie half what the gearbox alone sell for in the paper. 

Get along to the auction early to get a feel for the way the experienced hands do it. Read the rules so you know what is expected of you and your obligations afterwards. Set yourself an absolute maximum that you are prepared to pay, and stick to it. Typically you can buy the complete car (if it is damaged enough) for less than the cost of an engine on its own.

Once you have it in your possession you need to strip down what you want from it (and what may come in handy) making damn sure you know how it all fits together - take photos, make notes, draw diagrams, then sell off what you don't need. If you have a free advert only newspaper in your area then you have it made. Just keep placing adverts until you have sold the majority of the car and then dump the rest. Odds are you will recover the purchase price and make a bit on the side into the bargain. Of course this is income so you should declare it on your tax return!

If you will be some time before you need the parts (say you are still fixing the body on the project when you buy the donor car in a windfall opportunity) then consider just parking the whole car up until later when you actually need the bits. Remember that the only thing an opened can of worms will fit in is a bigger can. Cars are just the same - once you strip one down you end up with a mountain of bits. And you have to remember how it goes back together! 

Free to Advertise Newspapers

Next best thing to the damaged auctions are the free advert newspapers. Get them early and be prepared to do a lot of running around, but once again they are full of bargains if you know where to look. I have bought a number of cars in this manner at very competitive prices - even got one for less than the seller had paid for it at the auction....

The key is to know what parent vehicles the bits you want come in. Look not just in the parts section, but also in the cheap cars section. may be cheaper to buy the whole car, remove the engine, and sell the rest for probably not much less than you paid for it.

Don't be afraid to dig a little too: an advert for just an engine resulted in me buying a complete car because the owner had thought he would only sell the engine and so did not advertise the rest...

Keep a close eye on the adverts - if something hasn't sold after appearing a few times you can bet they are getting desperate, so drive a hard bargain. Don't feel guilty about it - they won't sell it if the price is too low. In this manner a friend picked up a 3TGTE and a host of bits including loom etc that had been advertised for 2 grand for just 300 bucks... which was about what it was worth.

Want ads can be effective too.

You need to be patient - I bought an Anglia in 1994 for $50 as a cheap means of running around when I was doing the 20 valve transplant in the Leitch. It was rough, but drove well enough. My girlfriend at the time took it in to the testing station to get the official word on what was wrong with it. Basically for 12 bucks they will inspect the car and if it does not come up to standard will detail what needs to be done - hey presto, 12 bucks for a work list - pretty good investment in my book. 

Anyway, I knew it was bad, but did not think it was THAT bad. Turns out not only did I get an inspection card absolutely covered in defects (I still have it as a memento!), but my girlfriend got lectured by the inspector for driving such a death trap! Simple solution - sell it!

Advertised the car for 5 weeks with no responses - then the first person who actually bothered coming to look at it bought it - for $150! Turns out they were going to use it on an island out in the harbour where there are no policemen and so no-one bothers with inspections... 

So - take your time and be patient.

Self Help Wreckers

The 'pull it yourself' type wrecking yard is good also. Generally they don't charge a lot for parts and most charges are flat rate - a Starlet gearbox costs the same as a Supra one. Also they tend to have a variety of cars so you can often pick the best example from a number of options.

I go regularly to the local one. I have learnt to buy el-cheapo tools from K-mart etc - they are actually reasonable quality and I don't cry when I leave a set of 7 spanners behind that cost 4 bucks...

I always seem to lose tools there! I keep the good ones for use around home.

Local Knowledge

If you keep your eyes open and also exploit your network of friends (car club members etc) to keep on the lookout it is amazing what you can find. Case in point: there was a damaged TA 45 Celica (circa 1980) parked up alongside a house around the corner from where I lived. It sat there for 6 months. I went with a mate to visit a friend of his one day and there was a similar Celica (less engine and gearbox with some minor panel damage) lying derelict out the back of his work. Some fast talking and I got one free for removal and the other for $US 50. Took a couple of hours work to make one 'good' car out of the two, and hey presto, cheap beater that I got 18 months running out of for no more than registration and oil changes. 

Who cares if it is butt ugly?! Best thing about it is you don't feel so bad when you tow a trailer with about one and a half tons of gravel on it and the car is straining, or when you use it to push a dead car out the way etc. You can also tie things directly onto the roof if you don't have a roof rack, and park it in dodgy neighborhoods and know it will be there when you get back. Make my day - coin the paintwork! 

Not that is was rough, but the door locks were all broken. Simple - never lock it.  used a cheap 'club' on the steering wheel to stop it disappearing - it may not have been worth much, but walking home is even less appealing. My friend Bill Sherwood, who is a professional 747 airline pilot, would park it in the long term staff park at the airport with a note on the dash stating that it was NOT an abandoned car, so please do not tow it!

Professional Wreckers and Parts Importers

Compare the above no-buck approaches with my experience in purchasing the late 1991 20 valve motor, loom, computer etc etc (but no gearbox etc) in mid 1994 for $1250 from Neil Fraser (excellent price at the time) for re-powering the Leitch (90,000 km on the 20 valve so far), and $500 for a 1983 RWD 4AGE with gearbox and loom/computer from a wrecker in Feb 97. I sold that motor, loom, computer for $225 a few months later - mistakenly hoping it was a cheaper way of getting the heavy duty gearbox I was after for the Anglia. Be aware of prices - they can change rapidly.

If you are after late model Japanese engines (ie less than 4-5 years old) then a parts importer may be your best or only option. Be careful to get the right engine and ALL the associated parts - it gets horrifically expensive buying sensors etc from a wrecker. I am always wary of getting a bitsa as well - far better in my book to get a complete car that goes - at least you know it is all there and working before you start.

Trouble is, not many importers have complete wiring looms and computers, and going to an aftermarket EFI system gets very expensive very quickly (and I have yet to see one that is affordable perform as well as a factory one for everyday use). Sure, if you are building a heavily modified motor that will run injection then you may have to run an aftermarket set up, and a race car has a vastly different requirement to a road car, however, you will not be doing it on a shoestring! As I said, be honest in your requirements.

Then again, buying from a wrecker or importer may cost more but you will get a warranty. Trouble is you will most likely find that installing the part yourself voids the warranty and also by the time you finish the project the warranty will have lapsed - so it may not really gain you anything.

Basically I recommend these for last ditch use only when all other options have been exhausted. same goes for dealer parts suppliers.

Unfinished Projects

Some poor soul's unfinished project can be either a goldmine or a bottomless pit of despair if you are not careful. If the car is not exactly what you want be very careful otherwise you could end up spending lots of $$$ turning it into something that would have been cheaper to do from scratch. 

Also be very wary of other people's engineering: well engineered mods look neat and tidy. Odds are if it looks messy it will be sub-standard. A good clue is wiring and brake lines etc - if the simple little detail things are messy, chances are the serious engineering items will be marginal too.

The Anglia mule I bought for the 4AGZE project was advertised as 'partially restored'. The turkey I bought it off obviously defined partially restored as brush painted in grey primer (over rust of course) and half the trim etc missing. Apply the X-Files maxim and trust no one.

Next: 4AGE into RWD


Copyright © 2000 SpeedTECH Last modified: January 23, 2000