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I try to convert a car that is older than me into a millennial-friendly runabout on a tight budget. 

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Ok so  this is not a diet post. It's been a year since the EP71 went through a major modification. I've been putting off writing this - but better late than never. So here goes! In my previous blog post I mentioned that the humble 2E engine was really nothing to write home about and I did mention how it like many old carbureted engines would develop weird symptoms of it's own. Around 3 Months into ownership I was a little tired of the ailing engine and when it failed the emission test I was looking forward to get that sorted. I had initially thought of doing a 4EFTE swap but that was really stretching my budget and to be honest I was in a bit of a hurry to get the project rolling so I decided to settle for a 4EFE. Around Christmas time (2019) I managed to source a complete 4EFE Engine (off an EP91)  with an Automatic gearbox (with ECU and wire harness) combo in Kandy. But a few days of Christmas revelry ensued and when I call the seller the ECU and the wire harness has been sold. Undeterred I decided to go for the engine and gearbox combo and source the ECU separately since the engine and gearbox was priced quite fairly. A trip to Kandy on a poya day in a Mahindra Bolero and we were able to haul the 4EFE home. (This also provided me my first Bolero driving experience - it was surprisingly fun. The 2.5 L engine on that's pulls really well). The choice of gearbox was something I lost a wee bit of sleep about - but eventually decided an Auto was ok as the main aim of the car was to be a beater, a nimble city runner and a lendable car that anyone could drive and whenever I had masochistic thoughts I could always borrow my dad's Datsun B110 and feel depressed about my diminishing stick driving skills. So it was eventually a very easy decision. 

With the engine and gearbox secured I asked my mechanic to start work on the car - while I source the ECU. And then I had to travel overseas for work for a couple of months. During this time my friend managed to source a recon steering column and shaft from an EP91 . This was 2020 now and Covid 19 happened. I barely made it home before the borders were closed. For the next 3 months the project stalled (sadly during this time a rat had managed to chew one seatbelt while the car sat at the mechanics) Around June things were getting back to normal and the project recommenced in earnest. Eventually we managed to source an ECU and wiring harness from a guy who stocked his parts in an old shed in his parents house deep deep inside the backwaters of Minuwangoda. After rummaging through a pile of car parts in the shed at 9 PM in the pitch dark, with the thrilling possibility of being bitten by 32 different species of indigenous snakes, we finally managed to find the wiring harnesses and a few more parts we needed. 

There was a few more things to be sorted - such as the condenser, A/C compressor, break and accelerator pedals and also the gear cable. Being a Toyota parts were quite easily found. The gear cable though was a bit tough to find and eventually we found out that a slightly modified AE110 gear cable would do the trick. Below are a few pictures of the engine swap. 


Transporting the Engine in a bolero 



The Original engine was a 2E with around 80Hp which was reasonable for a car that weighed 720 Kg. 


 The old 2E being taken out. 



Out with the old - in with the new : 4e about to go in. The retro-style gear shifter that came with the Automatic versions of the EP71 would have looked a lot cooler than the EP82/91 gear shifter unfortunately which looks slightly  out of place with the boxy/spartan interior of the car. 



Notice anything weird in the first pic? Things got tidied up a bit before I took the car for emission tests. 

 Another change that I was not quite able to capture was the power steering conversion - which was basically swapping in an EP91 Steering column 

Tune in for the next post - where I will write about the overall driving experience. 


[Edit in 2022]

Happy New Year Folks! Before I go in about the driving experience-  I thought about summarizing (as best as I can remember) the mechanical mods done on the car.


4EFE Engine, Gear box wire harness and ECU (obviously).


Oil Pressure Sensor

Engine mounts

Gear Cable  (recon sourced of an AE110)

Axel shafts (recon off an EP91)

Fuel Pump (as with all Carb->EFI swaps) 

A/C parts : recon condenser, condenser fan, drier filter

Wiper motor (Not directly swap related. The washer tank had to be relocated though) 

Steering (Entire recon column off an EP91)

Brake wheel cylinders, Brake switch

New Horn (again not directly swap related but the old horn wasn't working)

Front shocks (to counter added weight as the engine is heavier)

Silencer  bush mounts

This is all as I remember. I will add more if I remember. 











Sourcing a beater car

Alert : This is not the awe-inspiring blog  where a 60-year-old rare car gets restored. This, non-existent ladies, and gentlemen unfortunately is much much more mundane. So bear with me. 

Everyone needs a beater car - you could come up with many reasons why... but deep down another set of wheels is such an alluring prospect. Time to time it feels so good to keep your daily with all its techie bits aside and just rattle down the lane in a simple box on wheels with just a speedometer.  Three years ago me and my father bought a 1972 Datsun  (B110) and since I was broke then and had no space in my house which was being built it fell upon my father to fund it and keep it in his garage with his Beetle. I drove it on the weekends for short distance trips and let me tell you that car was fun to drive. However, cars of that vintage need a lot of TLC. It's not a beater car at all and you need to develop a bond with the car to keep it running - you have to know exactly how much gas it needs to stop it from stalling and when and when not to use the choke (yeah choke....remember?) So clearly it's not the type of car that you can throw the keys to a close friend (yeah I'm a little picky when sharing the car keys) OR even the wife (who by the way is quite a competent driver) and expect them to figure out to drive it in case of an emergency. 

I've always had a soft spot for the boxy little cars from the 1980's - you can read about that infatuation here.  Under these circumstances I decided to save up a bit and get myself a beater car from the 80's .Given that I have little parking space under a tree in the garden(the Civic sits in the garage) my choices were limited to hatches. In a sense the 80's was a decade where hatches gained popularity so a 80's hatch was an ideal retro-relic that would double up as a reliable beater car. My budget was quite limited ~500,000 I was ok with a car with a bit of work to do and . The  most tempting option was to go for the definitive hot hatch : a Golf and I entertained this idea for quite a while and did a fair bit of research. The other temptation was to go for a Fiat Uno. However, all the research I did gave me doubts. Golf's at that budget were disasters waiting to happen and the Fiat - as much as I loved it (one of my first die casts was a Bburago Fiat Uno and as a result I grew up loving Fiat Uno’s) didn't seem a very practical option unless I was really really into it : I'm talking about "Get on an illegal immigrant boat from Negombo and swim the last 100 miles to Napoli and walk to Turin and steal parts from a Mafioso's uncles Fiat" level dedication - since I can't swim anyway I gave up on that too and shelved these ideas under 'When I grow up'.

By now Japanese flags were appearing in my mind and some  usual suspects came up - Toyota Starlet EP71, Corolla2/Tercel, Nissan March K10 and Daihatsu Charade G11 .Yes the Honda fanboy in me screamed 'Civic' but Civic hatches are rare and unmolested ones are even rarer. One look at the Civic hatches for that budget with their garish Nilkamal  plastic mods and hideous color combinations (that only a guy who smokes too much KG and listens to bus-Ajith can think of ) gives you cholera that screams 'Hondaaa' when it exits your body.  So, I eventually narrowed down to basically 4 models and the hunt began. As usual the Toyota’s were overpriced and the only EP71 within my budget was mysterious car that had some work to be done but had the YOM as 1981 (the first EP71 rolled off in 1984) and the Corolla2/Tercels were well beyond budget.

At the same time, I’d been floating the idea of an engine swap and having read a few threads on 4EFTE swaps on Charades and March K10’s in Pakistani and British forums I started focusing on them. After many weeks and many futile trips, (and weird encounters - including a persistent and scantily clad lady insisting I wait till her husband comes and make an offer for a car that was on the verge of collapsing into a pile of rust and a small child beating a poor Charade while I was inspecting it with a wooden stick until the flaky paint started coming off ) I realized these once-honest hard working engines were basically gasping for life. Then April 21st happened, and things were put on hold for a few weeks. I continued to do more research on engines, repairing, parts availability as well as engine swapping along with my friend  and realized that the easiest 80’s Jap hatch to live with will be from Toyota AND when and  if I wanted to do an engine swap it would be relatively painless putting in a Toyota Engine that was easily found. As for the budget well – it was a bit above budget ( dad came to the rescue). In September 2019 I ended up with this – a Toyota Starlet EP71 from 1985 registered in 1989 with a fake Soleil badge. There were various grades for the EP71 and judging by the equipment of this car I'd place it at either XL or DX however the DX had Fender Mounted Mirrors so unless someone installed door mounted Mirros on a DX the car was probably an XL. The A/C worked, there was some minor rust issues, and the suspension apparently needed a bit of attention, The interior while not pristine was acceptable and just like that I had my beater car which was a little bit older than me.

So how was the ride? – The car is quite light and for a car without power steering it’s extremely maneuverable. The driving position is low and quite nice. There was a  few rattling bits here and there expectedly, and the breaks were rather weak. The 35-year-old 2E was quite tired by now and to be honest when you must keep coaxing it to keep going like asking an asthma patient to keep breathing well it’s not that enjoyable. At the same time the car developed a very specific issue : The car would start without fail every morning – BUT once you drive somewhere and switch off the engine it would not start for an hour. Keep it for an hour  then it starts again and runs well for the whole day. Basically, the second start will not happen sooner than one hour after the first start of the day. I had to arrange my timetables accordingly! By December I was running out of patience with the 2E and at the same time I’d been yearning to put in a 4EFTE as it seemed quite straightforward. However, Recon 4EFTE’s from Japan were now going for  250,000 and having spent more than intended already on the car I was already on a very tight budget.

Ok that was too long for the first part – I’ll get back with another post on the mechanical mods done on the car to date. Ciao!

Here's a few pics of the car from last year: 






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