This 400-HP Beater Toyota Corolla With a 3S-GTE Engine Swap Is the Ultimate Sleeper

Never has 400 horsepower looked so completely forgettable.

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Much ado is made of the vaunted sleeper, cars that pack a surprise punch under their stock-ish skins. There are the wild ones: an 80's Mercedes sedan with modern AMG running gear. A Hellcat-powered Plymouth Prowler. An Acura Integra with a mid-mounted 8.2-liter V-8. But nothing we've seen before truly exemplifies the spirit of secret performance like this 3S-GTE-swapped, 408-horsepower Toyota Corolla whose beater body hides every trace of the upgrades within.

Posted on Facebook earlier this week, the short photo gallery that brought this particular sleeper to our attention is frustratingly short on details or context. Best we can tell, the Corolla was converted by a shop called KS Racing in Thailand—that name might ring a bell to those in the drift community, as it's an online seller of engine mounts for weird 1JZ and 2JZ-GTE swaps. Pictures being worth a thousand words, though, we have plenty of information at hand.

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The car started out as an E100 Toyota Corolla, sold around the world in huge numbers in the 1990s, and ended up looking the exact same way. Oftentimes, sleeper builds are forced to make some concessions to reality: a bulging hood, maybe, or bigger wheels for better brakes. Or the entire car gets refreshed inside and out to match the new engine, which stands out in its own way. Neither are the case here, with absolutely no hint that anything's changed.

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From the oxidized beige paint to the black plastic bumpers to the grotey, dusty interior, everything you see screams worn-out base model. It's still got those 14-inch steel wheels, the rusty muffler, the rubber-booted four-speed shifter. Even the new exhaust has been routed to keep the old one in place. There's no tach since the car didn't come with one. Thankfully, shifting by ear will be a lot easier with the new turbocharged four-cylinder under the hood.

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The 3S-GTE was another one of Toyota's mighty mills born from its over-engineered era in the late Eighties, powering the Toyota Celica, MR2, and later a Japan-only wagon called the Caldina. It's a common choice for engine swaps in the JDM community, especially the fourth-generation ST215 version seen here that put out around 260 horsepower stock. Less common is the decision to slap it in an old Corolla and make a determined effort to leave everything else as crappy as possible.

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It almost looks like photoshop, yet that shot of the vibrant purple and yellow engine bay is the real deal. It's not the most efficient plumbing work, though in a build this unique it's hard to fault the mind at work. No word on any transmission upgrades; we imagine something's been done, because a dyno sheet shows the car laying down 408 horsepower and 357 pound-feet of torque. It's got to be an absolute handful on the stock tires and suspension, not to mention the dinky brakes.

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Even if this Corolla is nigh-impossible to drive, it's still a sleeper distilled to the purest idea of the form—and one that has us dreaming of other magnificent beaters to transmogrify.

The newest Corolla benefits from a six-speed manual with active rev matching.
The Drive