The Toyota Corolla E90 is now a thirty-year-old model. For those growing up in the 90's, the E90 is still fresh and modern, providing all the necessities you'd need for a capable, sturdy economy car that is perfect for daily driving. The 90 Corolla can also be fun – with the right motor, the lightweight chassis comes alive and provides a driving experience rivalling most modern cars. For a few people out there, lightweight sedans from the 90's give the kind of feedback that modern cars with their well-insulated interiors and dampened steering setups just can't provide.
Victor has always loved old cars, especially the Corolla. His father owned a KE70 Corolla in the 90's, and that had tremendous influence on Victor and his choice of cars. Couple of years ago he used to drive an EP80 series Starlet that underwent a full Starlet GT turbo 4EFTE conversion. Sadly, the car was totaled in an unfortunate accident.
Emerging unscathed, Victor wanted an immediate replacement so he decided to build a project around his E90 Corolla – the first step was throwing out the 1.5 5AFE motor in favour of a 1.6 4AGE Blacktop. The 4AGE Blacktop is legendary for its high-revving nature, utilising 20 valves, individual throttle bodies and Yamaha designed head combined with Toyota's VVT (variable valve timing) to give approximately 162 HP in stock form. Combined with a C56 5 speed manual gearbox, the setup is potent and delivers an engaging driving experience.
Extracting more power from the 4AGE requires smart expenditures. Victor opted for a set of aftermarket Tomei Poncam camshafts which increase the duration and angle of valve lift, increasing the top end power and making the powerband more aggressive than stock. While they're quite expensive, the investment is well worth it because the 4AGE's dynamics change drastically for the better. Feeding the motor's needs in the fuel, air and spark departments is a Tomei 255l/h fuel pump, K&N air intake, Denso IK20 Iridium plugs and NGK plug wires. Reliability during enthusiastic driving is increased with a Works Engineering oil cooler. Lightweight aluminum pulleys and a lightened flywheel helps the 4AGE rev freely. Parasitic loss from the engine was reduced by removing the AC power motor, compressor and power steering, all of which saps the engine's output. It makes life difficult for Victor, but the performance gains are worth it.
Putting the power to the ground properly meant upgrading the clutch and differential, and the Exedy Stage 1 clutch, pressure plate and KAAZ limited slip differential takes care of that. Where the differential and gearbox combo lets go, the Maxspeed coilovers and Achiles ATR sport 195/55-15 tyres ensure maximum grip virtually anywhere.
These are old cars, and stability is a huge concern when pursuing power. To tackle that, Victor installed Ultra Racing front, fender and rear bars, as well as OEM E90 GT anti roll bars. On the braking side, the front has OEM twin-pot brakes from a Toyota Carina GT and the rear is from the AE101 GT.
Outside, the 90 is seamless in a colour as black as the night. A simple lip adorns the X90 Sprinter front bumper, while the E90 wagon facelift was difficult to source but clearly worth the trouble as the replacement grille, headlights and parking lights make the 90 look distinctively fresh. Victor paid through the nose for the exorbitantly priced facelift parts, since Dholaikhal isn't exactly awash with 90 parts anymore. Subtle touches set this car apart from the rest - the rare Twin Cam badge for the grille, the Japan Automobile Federation badge, Speedhunters tow-strap, the lack of stickers anywhere - all combine to give the 90 a clean look that is part JDM, part Thai. In fact, this car is good enough to be on par with Adhi KZ's famous black E90 build, pictures of which nearly set the internet in South East Asia ablaze couple of years ago and single handedly created a resurgence of interest in the early 90's econo-box Corolla.
What's it like on the move? The power builds reliably and surges as the revs climb, the 4AGE working overtime to match the driver's inputs. When the VVT engages, the motor's regular howl turns into a shrill scream, the Tomei cams giving the engine a distinctive note. Victor's shifts are smooth and precise, and the combination of driver and machine results in a smooth pairing that is rare in the 4AGE community.
Only a couple of other people have mechanical setups this smooth or are synched as well as Victor and his E90. For that, this clean 90 is hands down one of our favourite 4AGE swaps in the country.
Photos: Farhan Ahmed