Like many millennials and Gen-Z youth, Randy Wimenta has spent many a long hour riding around in a Toyota Corolla. Few commuter cars have seen the same level of success as the Toyota Corolla. From impressive sales figures to a devout aftermarket following, the past few decades have been loaded with Corolla love. But whereas many auto enthusiasts merely see the performance potential packed inside the iconic AE86, Randy leans more toward the 4×4 side of the combustion chamber.
Flashback to just a few years ago, when the KC HiLites Marketing Activation Manager decided that he was sick of daily driving his jacked-up Jeep Wrangler. The only issue was that he didn’t know what to replace his brutish beater with, for Randy is the type of guy who prefers to drive memorable automobiles.
It was around this time that a friend recommended a 1989 Toyota Corolla GT-S. A retro, four-banger, with unassuming commuter car characteristics, and proven Toyota reliability. Sure enough, the rusty old Corolla proved to be precisely what Randy needed, and for the better part of the next two years, he had a blast zipping around Los Angeles in the throwback liftback.
However, things took an unexpected turn when a cat by the name of Stevo posted up an image of his “pandemic mobile” on Instagram. The gnarly AE86 getaway rig immediately gave Randy a spark of inspiration. He was going to turn his little Toyota Corolla GT-S into a formidable all-wheel-drive off-road worthy salute to “The Ironman” Ivan Stewart, and then he was going to drive the piss out of the thing.
But first, he had to figure out how to source an all-wheel-drive Corolla drivetrain.
Toyota Corolla All-Trac Conversion Is Go!
After showing the rendering to his co-worker Alberto, the two KC HiLites employees set to source a donor vehicle. What they found was a 1989 Toyota Corolla All-Trac station wagon located in Washington. It was an ideal platform since it had a similar wheelbase and parts to Randy’s ‘89 GT-S. Randy made a call to his cousin Will. After a couple of calls, Alberto, Will, and Randy made a plan to pursue the build.
Randy went and made an offer to the seller of the All-Trac. Following a nearly two-week negotiation process with the stubborn seller, the AWD Corolla family beater was procured and moved down to KC HiLites’ L.A. office.
Originally, Alberto, Will, and Randy thought the AWD conversion could be done within a month, and for good reason. The proportions and positioning of the wagon’s AWD setup made it the plausible donor for the GT-S Corolla. The transmission/transfer case/driveshaft/axles, the whole kit, and caboodle looked like it all could be shoehorned in, with the stock muffler channel serving as the ideal locale for the center driveline.
Unfortunately, the pandemic’s impact on the supply chains we rely upon turned the conversion into a long drawn-out process. After six months of sourcing parts, the group had sorted out some of the critical details. A proper tire and wheel combo, along with a very trick one-off Bilstein suspension and Eibach spring setup was getting this project sitting and looking great.
Fondly referred to as the “AWDROLA” (pronounced “Odd-Rolla”), Randy’s retro Yota made its debut in 2022 at the Off-Road Expo. It was an unexpected star attraction at the KC HiLites booth. This was followed shortly thereafter by an appearance at SEMA 2022, where the vehicle garnered a ton of attention.
“This is truly a labor of love and I’m grateful that I have friends, co-workers, and my employer KC supporting me on this build.” – Randy Wimenta
Inspiration From A Different Era
Although a notable tag on an Instagram post in 2020 may have started the Celica All-Trac-inspired build that is Randy Wimenta’s 1989 Toyota Corolla GT-S, there’s a far deeper backstory here that must be told. For as true fans of desert racing, Randy and the rest of the KC HiLites team revere Ivan “Ironman” Stewart as a demi-god in the automotive arena.
Being that this Corolla build is from an era when Stewart was considered to be in his prime (was there ever a time when he wasn’t?), the retro Precision Preparation Inc. Motorsports (PPIM) Toyota livery seemed only appropriate. Last we checked Motorsports Hall of Fame inductees appreciated these kinds of gestures, so why not, right?
The year was 1983, and the ever-expanding Japanese “Bubble Era” was showing little sign of deflation, prompting Toyota to make a risky investment. The Japanese firm felt that it had reached a point where it could shoulder the financial responsibilities and engineering required to field a factory-sponsored off-road race team.
We don’t need to tout all of the details and accolades, but with Stewart’s driving, Toyota would go on to secure two SCORE “World Championships” in no-time flat. This was followed by Stewart becoming the only single-entry driver in Class 1 in 1985. With that, the “Ironman” earned his nickname and went on to secure several Baja 1000 wins for Toyota.
Then, in 1993, Stewart’s season claimed victory in the Nevada 500, the Baja 500, and the Baja 1000. All in the same season. Stand back and tally it all up, and Stewart has eighty-four career victories and ten driver’s championships to his name. These include but are not limited to seventeen Baja 500 wins, eight Mint 400 titles, four Parker 400 top podiums, three Baja 1000 victories, and four SCORE World Championships.
Chuck Dempsey Lends A Wrench To The Toyota Corolla
Shift back into the modern day, and the AWD conversion was turning a successful corner for Randy’s AWDROLA. This was due in part to continued consultation with Trophy Truck racer, trainer, and builder Chuck Dempsey, and some insight from Jon Rood. Dempsey being a desert racing badass, and Rood being a builder of off-road rally-style Celicas from the 1980s, the inspiration came at a fervid pitch.
With Bilstein and Eibach’s help, and Dempsey’s ingenuity, a one-off four-link rear transaxle setup was pieced together. The new suspension design achieved about 7-8 inches of travel up front and 11-12 inches in the back. This allowed the addition of a hub and an inverted monotube suspension configuration from a ’99 RAV4, followed by a set of 16×8-inch Raceline alloy wheels, and some BFGoodrich Tires in a KO2 LT 215/65R/16 pattern.
But those pesky supply chain snags suddenly struck once again. This time, the build would be set back almost an entire year. Everything from the car’s roll cage and subframe to the four-link suspension, and rally gear proved to be a pain to produce.
Despite their setbacks, the KC HiLites-sponsored build continued its trajectory toward completion. The AWDROLA team was able to enter its first Gambler 500 in 2022. This was accompanied by a run on the “HooptieX” course. Of course, the Gambler and Hooptie X events are ideal climates for the fun little AWDROLA.
Retro Riding Into The Future
Got undercarriage cameras for monitoring CV axles and the rearend during close encounters with rough terrain? Check. Freshly powder-coated external armor for durability and stealth? Done. Snorkel for the sake of snorkeling? Sure, why not.
Randy’s AWDROLA even recently received a custom MagnaFlow performance exhaust, complete with California certified catalytic converter and tucked piping for additional clearance.
While it may be a far cry from the vehicle(s) that inspired its inception, there’s a lot of creativity and clever craftsmanship that make Randy’s Corolla a riot on wheels. Hell, the roll cage inside ties into the roof rack above, as well as the subframe beneath. You can’t get more hardcore than that ya’ll.
It’s a low-budget, big-impact time capsule with nothing but good intentions, drum brakes, and a sense of adventure. A 4×4 build meant for trail runs and camping trips, KC HiLites promotional events, and desert clean-ups. This safari-inspired custom Corolla is absolutely destined for future appearances at Gambler Rally HooptieX races and more high-profile events. For you better believe that a retro build of this pedigree is sure to make a showing at an event that is promoted as “The calling card for cheap fun everywhere.”
1989 Toyota Corolla GT-S (AE92)AWDROLA “Odd-Rolla” Vehicle Specifications
Engine and Transmission
- 4AGE engine (fully rebuilt)
- 1989 Toyota Corolla All-Trac Wagon (AE95) 4AFE bottom end
- Custom snorkel
- Jazz Products custom fuel cell system
Custom front and Rear Bumper
- Dempsey Fabrication Custom Roll Cage and Sub-Frame
- Dempsey Fabrication Custom Roof Rack & Tire Carrier
- Imagination Works and Fast Friends Custom Decals