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1980 Toyota Corolla ke55 Hardtop

The Car

A few years ago I was lucky enough to get my hands on a 1980 Toyota Corolla ke55 Hardtop. The 2-door coupe was one of the last round-headlight models assembled and is a car I had been hunting for some time. While the body was a little rough, mechanically the car presented well and most importantly there was next to no rust in the body or chassis which is rare among older corollas like this. Fast forward 2 years and I have been happily daily-driving the little coupe around. The engine slowly has been starting to tire and surface rust continues to accumulate, however the car has been a shining example of classic Toyota reliability. With 320-something thousand kilometers on the engine though, I’m aware it won’t last forever and for the past few months I have been planning to rebuild and freshen up the old ke55. 

The vision for my coupe is not an immaculate show car, but rather a daily-driver I can use reliably for the next 20+ years. Additionally I want to undertake as much of the build myself as possible. While saving a considerable amount of money by doing bodywork and paint myself, it will also help to train and develop my skills working on cars. This will almost definitely lead to some far-from-perfect results, but that will hardly bother me for this build, and the satisfaction of doing most of the work myself should far outweigh a few little paint runs here and there. 

The Plan

Phase 1 – Engine and Drivetrain:

-Completely rebuilt 4K-C engine, with either new OEM or cleaned internals (machined if necessary)

-New twin-carb setup, mild camshaft upgrade and extractors

-Charcoal canister delete, battery relocation, new radiator w/ thermo fan and other minor modifications

-5-Speed K50 transmission swap 

Phase 2 – Wheels and Suspension:

-New shock absorbers all around

-2.5” drop from compressed coil springs in the front

-2.5” drop from reset leaf springs in the rear

-15×7” lightweight wheels on 205/50r15 rubber

Phase 3 – Body and Paint:

-Rust proofing and removal

-Removal of all flat spots and straightening of complete body

-Removal of exterior trims

-ke30 all chrome bumpers

-Full respray in Gulf Blue

Over the next few months, the ke55 build will be chronicled on FitMyCar. The process will likely be long and testing at times, but that’s all part of restoring a classic ride. Feel free to come along for the journey and follow the steps I’ll take to bring the Corolla back to its former glory. I’ll try my best to answer any questions asked in our social media posts! 

Nick Williams

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