For the past year, I have been thinking of ways to improve the handling of my 1987 Corolla FX16. I regularly use the car for autocross. I have been to national events and found that I need to improve by at least 2 seconds on average to compete with the fastest car in my class. When I compete in the FX16, I have to turn the steering wheel quite a ways to perform rapid maneuvers. It takes extra time to generate the rotation which can be reduced by quickening the steering.
I watched a video from the youtuber SUSHPANTS who performed a custom steering rack build using parts from a 1998 corolla and a ZZW30 MR2 to complete a steering rack with 2.5 turns lock to lock.
I did some research into doing the same conversion. However, parts for the ZZW30 MR2 steering rack are near impossible to find separate, meaning in order to do what he did, I would have to buy a rack which would cost hundreds of dollars for a used unit with unknown mileage. Instead, I looked at the factory installed Toyota steering components for other models. I found that the steering rack in the FX16 has very similar if not the same mounting as a newer corolla and has a lesser ratio of 3.1 turns lock to lock. Better yet, the 1990-1992 toyota celica has a nearly identical mounting with a 2.6 turn lock to lock.
I was able to source a 1990 Toyota Celica steering rack from my local auto parts store for less than $280 including core charge and tax. It came with new inner tie rods and high quality bellows as well as a warranty. Find it here from O'Reilly (part number 311-0157 MP3)
I started by removing the FX16 rack which was made more difficult by the larger S54 transmission I have bolted to the 3sge BEAMS engine. Once removed, I inspected the two rack and pinions side by side to inspect for the small differences.
The first difference is that the rack is about 1-2" longer in the body. The second is that the passenger side mount will have to be trimmed to fit the slightly larger body of the rack. The driver side mount is exactly the same and mounts it in the original position. The second major difference is that the rack is actually longer which puts the inner tie rod ends about 2" further outside than the factory rack. All of the ancillary lines and tie rods bolt onto it the same and it lacks the port for the air valve for steering metering.
In order to deal with the difference in length, I cut about 3/4" from the inner and outer tie rod ends on both sides to achieve the approximate same length between the outer tie rod ends. In my case this length was 49" center to center of the outer tie rod ball joint.
Once the desired length was reached, I trimmed the passenger side polyurethane mount isolator for the rack with a Dremel and a carbide bit. After the mount fit around the rack without causing the metal mount strap to bow, I installed the rack in the opposite sequence of removal.
I filled the power steering and performed a test drive.
There are few things that are more satisfying than noticing a good change after a modification. Steering input is cut in half to perform the same amount of turning. It updates the feel of the car and also adds durability to the steering since the newer Celica rack has larger bushings to withstand the miles of abuse.
Total time to complete was just about 6 hours. This is longer than the average owner would likely take due to the cramped engine compartment with the larger engine and transmission in the way.
After a weekend of autocross competition, I can comfortably say there is a big positive improvement. Much less effort is taken to steer. The car feels much newer and has a nice tight feel with lots of feedback. Overall a net positive improvement for relatively cheap cost.
Watch me Autocross my FX16 with the new rack
DISCLOSURE: I purchased all these items with my own money and the company had no prior knowledge to this promotion. All opinions are my own.
Photos taken by V Michel Buck