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This 1969 Toyota Corolla Is a V-8 Lexus IS-F in Vintage Clothes

Road & Track logo Road & Track 12/17/2019 Mack Hogan
a car parked on the side of a road: Ryan Millen stuffed a 2010 Lexus IS-F under this tiny Toyota coupe to make a magical little muscle car.© Mack Hogan Ryan Millen stuffed a 2010 Lexus IS-F under this tiny Toyota coupe to make a magical little muscle car.

You're driving a Lexus IS-F. Forget the fender mirrors, ignore the thin pillars, don't look behind you. Fail to follow these rules, and you might just convince yourself that you're in a 1969 Corolla. Lulled into that false sense of security, you might be surprised when 416 horses make themselves available.

Because, again, you're driving a 2010 IS-F. It's just not like any other IS-F you've seen before. After it was totaled in a rear-end impact that destroyed most of the bodywork, Millen Adventures gave this Lexus a new life—by converting it into the world's first IS-F-powered KE11-generation Toyota Corolla.

a car parked in a parking lot: This '69 Toyota Corolla Has a Lexus IS-F's Heart© Mack Hogan This '69 Toyota Corolla Has a Lexus IS-F's Heart

The project was commissioned by Javier Quirós, who runs the Costa Rican distributor for Toyota and Lexus. Quirós raced an old Corolla with an American V-8 swap decades ago, a car he used as a marketing toy. Now, unable to recover the swapped Corolla he sold years ago, he wanted a new version. This time with Japanese V-8 power.

To make it happen, he turned to Ryan Millen. The son of racer Rod Millen, brother of racer Rhys Millen, and nephew of racer and tuner Steve Millen, Ryan is an accomplished rally racer and builder with deep ties to Toyota, having prepped and raced everything from Baja 1000-conquering FJ Cruisers to street-legal rally-prepped RAV4s. The two met when Akio Toyoda, president of Toyota Motor Corporation, invited them both to Vegas in order to drive Millen's rally car and Quirós' trophy truck.

a car parked on the side of a road: This '69 Toyota Corolla Has a Lexus IS-F's Heart© Mack Hogan This '69 Toyota Corolla Has a Lexus IS-F's Heart

They bonded over racing and their affinity for Toyota, eventually running the Baja 1000 and Mint 400 together. So when Quirós needed a talented builder to make his insane Corolla idea a reality, Millen was the natural choice. The two worked closely together on the project, which evolved heavily over time.

The finished product is, in many ways, clearly a Lexus. The car uses the IS-F's heated power seats, reupholstered in Alcantara. It has the donor car's infotainment and climate control systems. It even includes the modern car's push-button start. The steering wheel controls for the radio still work, and the instrument panel is from 2010, not 1969.

a car engine: This '69 Toyota Corolla Has a Lexus IS-F's Heart© Mack Hogan This '69 Toyota Corolla Has a Lexus IS-F's Heart

That's not what Quirós originally had in mind. He started out wanting an IS-F powertrain in something that looked and felt like a Corolla, inside and out. But after a lot of research into it, Millen and Quirós realized that trying to get the Lexus V-8's computers to play nicely without the rest of the car attached was a fool's errand. With enough time and development money, they could overcome the modern engine's electronic neuroticism, but they decided it would be a lot easier to just keep everything connected the way it was from the factory—draping the vintage Toyota body over the modern Lexus platform and drivetrain.

a car parked in a parking lot: This '69 Toyota Corolla Has a Lexus IS-F's Heart© Mack Hogan This '69 Toyota Corolla Has a Lexus IS-F's Heart

The result still took a ton of work. Millen cut 14 inches out of the Lexus's wheelbase to fit under the tidy 1969 Corolla's bodywork. Even then, he had to add three inches to the Corolla's body between the dash and the front axle.

More noticeably, the Corolla had to get 11 inches wider. That required fabricating a new roof, hood and trunk, while also stitching together bits of two original Corolla grilles to make one wide enough for the rebodied car. Plus, the fenders are flared to fit wider Toyo Proxes R1R tires.

a car parked on the side of a road: This '69 Toyota Corolla Has a Lexus IS-F's Heart© Mack Hogan This '69 Toyota Corolla Has a Lexus IS-F's Heart

The net result of all that stretching is that every body panel is significantly changed, except the doors. In fact, the doors are the largest stock Corolla bits on the car. But obviously, not every Lexus item survived the transition.

The modern car's roof and pillars are gone, as are the airbags. Quirós wanted this machine to live as a Toyota, so the steering wheel ditches the Lexus branding. Rear seats are missing in action, the dashboard had to be customized, and some modern conveniences like power door locks and mirrors were eliminated. The IS-F's 19-inch wheels wouldn't fit under the Corolla. That's not a sacrifice in and of itself, but it means that the brakes have been downgraded to IS 250 spec.

a close up of a car: This '69 Toyota Corolla Has a Lexus IS-F's Heart© Mack Hogan This '69 Toyota Corolla Has a Lexus IS-F's Heart

At least there's less weight to move around. This super-Corolla weighs around 3400 pounds, about 400 less than a standard IS-F. Combined with the shortened wheelbase, it's more nimble and light on its feet than any Lexus sport sedan. The car's Borla exhaust improves on the IS-F's already stellar exhaust note as it flies up toward its 6600 rpm redline, while a limited-slip differential keeps the car planted.

The adjustable Tein coil-overs feel too soft for the power, but Millen says he's working on stiffening the car up. Braking performance is adequate for the street, but we wouldn't want to track anything with stock IS 250 stoppers.

Steering is precise and well-weighted, but it lacks that old-school feel. As with every modern Lexus, there's just not a lot of information telegraphed to your fingertips. The gearbox, always a pain point with this generation IS-F, feels even more dimwitted and slow a decade later.

a car parked in a parking lot: This '69 Toyota Corolla Has a Lexus IS-F's Heart© Mack Hogan This '69 Toyota Corolla Has a Lexus IS-F's Heart

The Corolla-F still has teething issues to overcome. The emissions equipment is still all here, but relocating components and getting the car's computers to recognize everything has been a challenge; for now, the Lexus dash shows a check-engine light. We also had a traction control fault, which Millen said came from some early-morning tinkering he was doing. Finally, six months into his search, Millen still hasn't been able to find original turn signal bulbs for this year Corolla.

But it's hard to care. The Corolla-F is so ridiculous in its operation, so unexpected, that it's impossible not to love it. It's not a caricature—massive flares and crazy wings would betray its speed and ruin the vibe. If you don't look closely, it's easy to see this as nothing more than a classic Toyota with aftermarket wheels and tires.

a car parked in a parking lot: This '69 Toyota Corolla Has a Lexus IS-F's Heart© Mack Hogan This '69 Toyota Corolla Has a Lexus IS-F's Heart

Something about that is just so much cooler than any modern sports sedan. Maybe it's knowing that it's hiding a powerful secret. Maybe it's knowing that Akio Toyoda personally influenced the color choice. Maybe it's just old-school cool. But even people who know nothing about it stop to stare.

It's one thing to get a thumbs up from a fellow driver at a stop light while you're in a classic car; it's another thing altogether to get classic-car props, then dart away from the light with modern car speed and a 5.0-liter V-8 exhaust note.

It's not a perfect car, but a V-8 super sedan with coil-overs and limited-slip, disguised as a 1969 Corolla, is the exact kind of gearhead pipe dream build that we live for. Behind the wheel of the Corolla-F, you are driving something truly special. And as you look in your fender mirrors and reminder yourself, yet again, that this is a 416-hp Lexus, it's damned near impossible to stop yourself from laughing.

a plane sitting on the side of a road: This '69 Toyota Corolla Has a Lexus IS-F's Heart© Mack Hogan This '69 Toyota Corolla Has a Lexus IS-F's Heart
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