Mae Rim, Thailand - Despite a very low profile, B&T Performance Retro is certainly one of the North of Thailand’s most exacting restorers of classic cars. The tiny output that comes from this workshop is to as high a standard as you will find anywhere in Thailand, cars that are restored with a passion that’s fused with knowledge and understanding of where they fit into the world of car culture.
You can’t easily visit though and you can’t take your project car there to be restored.
The workshops are tucked away in the countryside of Mae Rim, around 20km north of the city of Chiang Mai and well off the beaten track. It’s split into four zones, an airy ‘gallery’, an engine build room, a car build area and a warehouse for reclaimed parts and a few tatty looking cars that will become future builds. It’s a well joined up eco-system and project cars only need to leave the site for the fabrication and painting processes.
Such is the standard too that when a pair of its cars made the long trip to Malaysia for Retro Havoc last year they walked off with a combined six awards, more than half the trophies on offer.
Then to the cars themselves – and they’re a mix of European and Japanese classics. The former group consists of British, German and Italian legends such as Jaguar’s E-Type, Porsche’s 964 and Alfa Romeo’s Spider – but it’s the line-up of “JDM” retro machines really stand out – and we’re going to focus on them. Striking, exactingly restored and immaculate, they nod to history and slot together as a cohesive “collection” in the truest sense of the word.
It was hard to miss the first-generation Nissan Skyline GT-R coupé, better known to the faithful as the KPGC10, while there’s a Datsun Sunny B310 Coupé in primer and bare white composite wheel arches awaiting a trip to the body shop as well as a white Bluebird 1600 SSS sedan just back from the paint shop and in the earliest stage of reassembly. There’s also a race prepared Toyota Starlet KP61 in TRD factory livery.
These beautiful legendary machines aren’t tucked away in the garage avoiding any signs of dust, dirt, rain or elements that could intrude into their perfection. Rather they are destined to take to the racetrack, to be enjoyed dynamically where they are most at home.
And at home on the track they certainly are as these cars aren’t rebuilt to original standards, they’re modified for performance, where their brand brothers and sisters can offer components that can improve the package, then that opportunity has been firmly grasped. Heads have been polished and ported, engine capacity has been adjusted while suspension, brakes and steering are upgraded and improved.
As well as hours of mechanical work, hours of thinking have gone in. That’s created individual “icons” with individual stories to tell. The cars have been carefully chosen to be restored and upgraded due to their place in automotive culture, their contributions to the history of the Japanese racing and performance tuning scene while at the same time they have symbolic links with the early days of Thai street racing.
And not just the odd one is taken to the track, immediately after 9tro visited the workshops, five cars were loaded onto a full-size car transporter to make the 850 km journey from Mae Rim to Bira International Circuit to take part in the “Gentleman Track Day” a rather laid-back event at Pattaya’s historic circuit that’s organised sporadically by Thai car enthusiasts and collectors.
It's time to look under the skin of this track bound quintet, each one with a story to tell, and understand what makes them special.
Toyota Corolla KE25
This 1973 Toyota KE25 came originally with 3KB 1200cc pushrod type engine from the factory. B&T Performance Retro performed an engine swap with a 7K 1800cc engine from forklift/van.
It’s also had a TRD engine upright conversion with twin Weber inlet manifolds, adapter, TRD exhaust header, upright bell housing, 003 camshaft, full head upgrades, forged pistons, H beam rods, chromoly pushrods, polished rocker arms, twin Weber 45s, MSD6AL CDI & coil, TRD clutch, chromoly lightweight flywheel, T50 Celica gearbox, TE27 rear end with AE86 diff and TRD LSD. The front suspension features AE86 BC sport fully adjustable shocks and springs while there is a steering rack & pinion conversion and a TE27 roll bar. Meanwhile, the rear suspension has TRD leaf springs and shocks.
In terms of brakes the fronts are Wilwood mini four pots with vented slotted discs while at the rear there are now TE27 drum brakes.
Wheels are Watanabe 14-inch x 7-inch at the front shod with 195/45/14-inch Toyo Proxes R tyres while at the rear they’re size 14-inch x 8-inch with 225/40/14-inch tyres. It makes 138hp at the rear wheels.
Toyota Corolla TE25
This is a 1973 Toyota Corolla TE 25 which originally was fitted with a with 1T 1400cc engine and twin down draft carbs. T series engines start from 1400-1600, 1T 1400cc, 2T 1600cc, 3T 1800cc and 2Tg 1600cc.
The 1T-3T is a pushrod engine with HEMI head. The 2TG is a twin overhead camshaft using a 2T block. The 2T and 3T block have similar dimensions and only the bore and strokes are different. People use the 3T block with 2TG head to get to 2000cc by over boring the block to 89mm from the standard 87mm as is the case here. This engine is often referred to as the 3TG.
So, the engine under the bonnet of this striking orange coloured TE25 is now a 3TG with the 2TG Head and 89mm 3T block with Kameari pistons, valves and springs as well as a titanium retainer. It has a pair of 304/288 TRD camshafts and inlet manifold fitted with twin 45 Webers. It also has a high flow oil pump, coated bearings, Fujitsubo header with local systems, Toda lightweight flywheel with an ACT 300hp rated clutch kit. There’s also a Kaaz 4.1 quiet type LSD and diff.
All-in-all it makes 178hp at the rear wheels on a Dynojet rolling road. This car rides on 14 x 8 TOSCO style replica 14-inch x 9-inch wheels with 225/40/14-inch tyres all round.
Toyota KP51 Starlet
Production versions were originally launched with the 3KB 1200cc pushrod type engine from factory. This 1973 Toyota KP51 Starlet in beautiful “body in white” has had the engine was swapped for a 7K engine, from the same pushrod “K” family. That comes from a forklift/van of 1800cc capacity.
It’s had a TRD engine upright conversion with twin Weber inlet manifold, adapter, TRD exhaust header, upright bell housing, 003 camshaft, full head upgrade, forged pistons, H beam rods, chromoly pushrods, polished rocker arms, twin Weber 45s, MSD6AL CDI and coil, TRD clutch, chromoly lightweight flywheel, T50 Celica gearbox, TE27 rear end with AE86 diff and TRD LSD.
The front suspension features AE86 BC sport fully adjustable shocks and spring as well as steering rack & pinion conversion and TE27 roll bar. The rear suspension, meanwhile, has TRD leaf springs and TRD shocks. The front brakes are upgraded to Wilwood micro four pots with vented and slotted discs while there is a TE27 rear end with TE27 drum brakes and diff with TRD LSD.
Wheels are Hayashi 14-inch x 7-inch size at the front with 195/45/14-inch Toyo Proxes R tyres while at the rear they’re of size 14-inch x 9-inch with 225/40/14-inch tyres. This car has been dyno’d and produces 138 hp at the rear wheels.
Toyota KE30 2-door sedan
This car came with the 3K engine in 1290cc size and with a single carb. A ‘hot’ version of the KE35, similar in chassis configuration but with slightly sportier Levin looks and fitted with a twin overhead camshaft head and twin side draft Solex carburettor 1600cc engine that churned of 115hp was available in the Japanese market. B&T Performance Retro swapped most of the KE35 Levin parts to this car except the engine which is a 3T block with 2Tg head and an 87mm bore giving 1887cc.
The head was flowed by a well-known expert in Thailand in the area of machining/head-porting since the early 1980s, a pair of hot HKS camshafts were fitted as well as a 4:2:1 header and free flow mufflers. In terms of suspension BC sport fully adjustable front struts have been fitted while there are antiroll bars at the front and rear. At the back there are BC adjustable rear shocks and stiffer leaf springs.
The car has been upgraded to Wilwood micro front 4 caliper brakes and discs from Techno Toy and there is a TA22 rear end with an AE86 diff and TRD LSD, as well as standard drum brakes with updated shoes. The car rides on Hayashi wheels at the front size 7-inch x 14-inch with 195/45/14-inch Toyo R tyres while at the rear they’re size 8-inch x 14-inch with 225/40/14-inch tyres. Inside there is an OML classic driver seat, Levin dash and instruments.
One novelty is the bespoke metallic dark brown colour which actually is a unique formula that was originally mixed in 1981 by the then owner of this car. Finally, on the dyno, this car makes 160 horsepower at the rear wheels.
Datsun Sunny Coupe KB110 GX5
This is a small Japanese sport coupe car available on worldwide markets. This example from 1973 was originally equipped with a 1293cc big port pushrod engine code number A12GX with a hotter cam and twin SU carburettors, close ratio dogleg gearbox and a very sporty dashboard.
The body style is of a period-correct Tomei. Now this Sunny Coupe is fitted with an A15 engine, big valves and an improved ported head, twin Webers with NOS Tomei inlet manifold, Tomei 4:2:1 header and free-flow mufflers. It also has a hot regrind camshaft, oversized pistons, NISMO clutch and flywheel, A15 5-speed H-pattern gearbox, MSD6AL and coil.
At the front there are BC adjustable struts and micro Wilwood 4-pots calipers plus cross drilled vented discs while at the other end the car it has a TE25 rear axle with TRD LSD as well as drum brakes and shortened shocks. There are also custom made front and rear anti roll bars while the car runs on Hayashi 7x14-inch and 9x14-inch wheels at the front and rear respectively shod with 195/45/14-inch and 225/40/14-inch tyres. On the dyno it makes 136 hp at the rear wheels.
All these five cars have had their cooling systems upgraded and now feature tailor made aluminium fan housings fitted with new twin fans sourced from Honda’s contemporary Civic model. As these cars are used more on the road than on the track, air conditioning is also a very necessary addition in this climate. They also feature remote oil coolers to ensure that oil temperature can be kept in range when being driven hard on the track.