January 30, 2024 5 min read

Early 2023, after 3 years of not being able to visit - we returned to Japan for Tokyo Auto Salon! We spent 2 weeks around Tokyo seeing what the car scene had to offer inside and outside of TAS. One a rainy Tuesday night, we ventured to Daikoku PA - JDM heaven. Based underneath the Wangan loop is a Parking Area where Japan's finest cars congregate weekly to show their rides off.

On this particular visit, we spotted this tidy example of a Panda AE86. To our delight, the owner (Lisa) was already a fan of our merch! She introduced herself to our team and we continued on in discussions about the car and our trip. As with most people we meet in Japan, we stayed in touch with Lisa after we left and arranged a full feature shoot on the car.

The Build.

Although we do love crazy builds that barely resemble the original car, we do also have a strong passion for OEM styled builds and Lisa's 86 fits perfectly into what we love.

A car that may appear stock at first glance, but don't let its unassuming appearance fool you as Lisa's journey with her AE86 has been a rollercoaster ride of engine swaps, each adding a unique chapter to the car's story. Just four months after acquiring the vehicle, fate dealt a harsh blow as the engine failed and a rod decided to leave the block, leaving Lisa with no choice but to embark on the first engine swap. She turned to Genki Motors and opted for a Levin Corolla rental engine, which served her well for a few months until the eagerly anticipated new engine finally arrived.

But the twists and turns didn't end there. The second swap, which took place around the end of June 2022, introduced another stock 4AGE 16-valve engine, one that had been sitting in the seller's garage for quite some time. She knew it was a gamble, but much to her delight the engine roared to life with no issues, as if a miracle had taken place. Since that fateful moment, the AE86 has been running smoothly for the most part, becoming a testament to Lisa's determination and resilience.

Despite the challenges faced along the way, Lisa's passion for her AE86 has only grown stronger. The car's legacy has become a tapestry of stories, a testament to the bond that develops between a driver and their car!

The next steps for Lisa involved some touches to the interior, subtle yet important!. The original wooden Nardi wheel, while a classic touch, has now given way to the sleek and sporty Nardi ND steering wheel with its striking 36 black leather, complemented by black stitching and a distinctive blue signature etched onto it.

In her pursuit of perfection, Lisa decided to part ways with the TRD quick shift, reverting to the original factory shifter. While the TRD quick shift offered quicker gear changes, Lisa discovered that the factory shifter provided a smoother and more comfortable feel, allowing her to rediscover the nostalgic joy of driving the iconic AE86.

The interior transformation didn't end there; Lisa also set her sights on adding rear panels, rendering the interior complete. 

Not content with just the cosmetic updates, Lisa also tackled functionality issues. As per any old JDM car, headlight, horn and stereo wires had been tinkered with over time. These were meticulously rewired to ensure they functioned flawlessly. Although small changes, they are essential elements for both safety and driving  experience.

The exterior follows suit with the interior modifications, subtle but effective. Lisa begun by swapping out the white side mirrors for sleek black ones. Additionally, she decided it was time to bid farewell to the slightly damaged zenki bumper and welcomed a brand new replacement, restoring the car's front end to its former glory!

While Lisa decided to keep the suspension and driveline stock for now, she will see what the future holds for modifications in this area.

As we all know too well, AC in pre 90 cars is rare to be in working order, but with the brutal Japanese summer heat in mind, one of her next priorities is getting the air conditioner fixed, ensuring a comfortable and enjoyable driving experience during those hot mountain runs.

Looking ahead, Lisa dreams of upgrading her engine with a coveted 4AGE blacktop 20-valve and is in search for the elusive fog lights to complete the zenki front bumper's look. Finding usable AE86 part proves to be more difficult as the days go by.

Finally, no stone is left unturned as Lisa takes on the challenge of fixing up the AE86's worst enemy, some small hidden rust patches.

We asked Lisa what her inspiration and drive was behind building the car. 

“Initial D of course. I've been in love with the series since I was a kid in the 90s.
I was the tomboy that loved my tomicas and hot wheels with the desire to race. To
drive away from the challenging childhood and upbringing she faced a. To someday
alongside my panda find and build a loving family with my soulmate and friends.
Importantly never forget the passion when behind the wheel while blasting eurobeat
to get through life's obstacles"

Lisa would love to thank the following people for the assistance and support:

Owner of Genki Motors Tommy Jensen.

My husband Katsuya and I together from day
one of owning my Trueno did so much from engine swaps, general maintenance,
shattered window shield replacement, and being towed far across Japan. I can’t
imagine building without our Genki Panda team and I look forward to many more
adventures together.

 Inomata san of RD Alliance  - my long-time follower, friend, and the first person to officially welcome me to Japan’s
AE86 meetings.

Gworks for featuring me in their February 2022 magazine on page 123. Thank you so
much for being my first magazine feature in Japan.

Sakurai Naoya, my trueno best friend constructed for me a new front grill from scratch when mine
fell off and got damaged from being run over. Also made and installed my Fujiwara
tofu shop decal.

Best friends and family for helping with my first build back in California. Jonathon
Smith, Corey James, Andrew Hwang, Yuri Ranum, Lluvia Escutia, and Owner of Black
Beat Motor Stephen Man.

Lim Wai Hong also known as Hayashi 86, May West Owner of Drift Bunny,
Jon Feasby owner of SaitoWorks, and Alexander Smith also known as Nori Yaro for
encouraging me towards my goals and for all the moral support and advice.

Also thank you to everyone at Hardtuned for the wonderful opportunity to have me
be part of my dream collaboration. 
To all my other friends and family in Japan, America, and around the globe, thank you
all for your love and support. I appreciate and love you all! I’ll keep trying my best to
make my dreams come true.

Leave a comment

Comments will be approved before showing up.