It’s no secret that the rear axle assemblies that come in the AE86 are not the strongest things in the world. In this article you’ll find information about OEM AE86 rear axles, as well as a few other rear axle swaps that work well.
Essentially the AE86 came in two different trim levels, the SR5 and the GTS. Both of these came with different rear axle options. Nowadays, SR5 is the trim that Toyota uses to brand their sport models. In the AE86 days, the SR5 was a sporty trim, but wasn’t the top of the line sporty trim. So, with the AE86, referred to as the Corolla in the USA (I’m in the USA, so that’s what it’s going to get referred to on this site), there were Front Wheel Drive (FWD) models and Rear Wheel Drive (RWD) models. The SR5 and GTS were the RWD Corollas from 1984-1987.
The rear axles that you’ll find information on in here are as follows:
- AE86 SR5
- AE86 GTS
- Toyota Celica Supra
- Volvo 240/740/940 Dana 30
- Volvo 240/740/940 Volvo 1031
- Ford 8.8
- Toyota Van (1st gen, not a previa)
- Toyota Truck
- Mitsubishi Pajero (coming soon)
After the rear axles, I will also explain a few setup options and performance upgrades such as 4 links, panhard bars, solid pinion spacers vs crush sleeves, LSDs, spools, etc.
SR5 Rear Axle Assembly
The SR5 AE86 came with the mighty 4AC engine, which had a whopping 90hp when it left the factory. When comparing SR5 to GTS rear axles, the SR5 has smaller axle shafts, a smaller ring and pinion (6.4″), smaller differential, open differential, and drum brakes. The final drive is also taller for a bit better fuel economy.
Power handling capacity: 5 sick donkeys
Pretty much, if you are going to put anything other than a 4AC in your car, ditch the SR5 rear end as soon as you can. They’ve been known to blow up under 4AG power when driving hard. Now, there is a fabled TRD Limited Slip Differential (LSD) for the SR5 rear end, but I have never seen one in person and I have only heard of stories on the internet of people having them. They’re pretty much unobtanium, so for that aspect alone, you should look at doing a different rear end if you want any kind of performance gain.
GTS Rear Axle Assembly
The GTS received a 40% power upgrade from the SR5, going to an earthshattering 128hp. The rear axle received a bunch of neat things that are not available (or are unobtanium) when compared to the SR5. It has larger axle shafts, larger differential, larger ring and pinion (6.7″), shorter gearing (and several gearing options), factory LSD (as well as opens, but a lot of them are LSD) and disc brakes. The GTS rear end is a huge upgrade over the SR5 rear end.
One of the benefits to the GTS rear end is the aftermarket performance support and gearing options. There are solid pinion spacers available, upgraded/stronger axles, limited slip differentials, and honestly just about any gearing that you want.
There are also differences in zenki (early model, 1984-85) and kouki (late model, 1986-87). The zenki axle shafts are slightly smaller and taper down at the splines, and have a different manufacturing process.
Power Handling Capacity: This comes down to a bunch of variables. I’ve seen them grenade under stock power when drifting, but I’ve also seen them hold up to 300whp/300wtq if you have a specific driving type. It also comes down to if you have a solid pinion spacer and upgraded axle shafts.
The front section of a GTS driveshaft is the same as an SR5 driveshaft, the difference is the rear section. So when you are fitting a GTS rear end into an SR5, it will require either a complete GTS driveshaft, or at least the rear section (this is assuming you are using a T50 transmission).
The problem with the GTS rear axle is price. For a worn out rear end, you’re looking at $600+. These prices are only going to increase as time goes on, as they become harder to find. Good condition rear ends are going for significantly more.
Rear Axle Swaps
Ok, now we’re going to get into the more “custom” rear ends. The basics of what is going to need to happen are: weld on AE86 mounts, custom driveshaft, possible disc brake conversion, hub lug pattern conversion, and possible axle narrowing. Keep these in mind when you are considering a custom rear end in your AE86. The AE86 has a 1410mm width from hub to hub, or 55.5″.
Celica Supra Rear Axle Assembly
The MA46/47 solid rear axle is highly sought after by AE86 enthusiasts. It pretty much bolts up to the AE86 and is much stronger than the GTS rear end. It came with a T code, has a 7.5″ ring and pinion (compared to the 6.7″ of the GTS), so it can use the gearing options from most of the Toyotas that use a 7.5″ ring and pinion, such as the Altezza. It’s also the right width so for an AE86 so it doesn’t need shortening or anything. There is tons of aftermarket support for this as well. Back when AE86s competed in Formula Drift USA, with drivers like John Russakoff and Taka Aono, this was the rear axle of choice.
The MA61 P-type (body with flares) has a great clutch type LSD that bolts right into these rear axles. The MA61s have been popping up in junkyards for awhile, so this is an excellent and cheap option for an LSD rear end. There are a few rebuild kits out there for them as well.
To swap one in, sometimes it requires new lower link mounts, or special swap link kits, and a custom driveshaft (all of the axles from this point on require a custom driveshaft). Both of these are readily available from aftermarket companies. However, I’ve talked to a few people who stated that the stock AE86 links bolted up without an issue. I can’t speak from experience myself.
The problem with the MA4X rear axle is the same as the GTS, price. I’ve been watching the prices on them steadily increasing for the past several years, and now they are selling for over $1000 when in good condition.
I have a few buddies that are turbo brick enthusiasts, and as such I was turned onto the option of a Volvo rear end for my car when I did the BEAMS swap. These rear ends are readily available in junkyards, there are a few gearing options for them, but there are a few different variations. There are actually a bunch of rally AE86s around the world that run Volvo rear axles.
I am going to try and outline the differences between the Volvo axles, however, I had a hard time deciphering all of the information from the turbo brick forums and Facebook pages to determine which differential the axle has, without removing the cover and measuring it. One thing is for certain though, the axle widths range from 1350mm to 1500mm. The wagons had a wider rear end and the sedans had a narrower rear end.
Volvo Dana 30 (1030) Axle
The Dana 30 differential is used in early Volvo 240/740 rear ends, as well as the front differential of Jeep Cherokees. This means that there are tons of gearing options. It is a 7.125″ ring gear. This is larger than the GTS ring gear, but smaller than the Celica Supra. The LSD options are fairly limited unfortunately. The axle shafts themselves are either 27 spline or 10 spline, and supposedly 1.3″ in diameter. I cannot confirm this, as I have not had my hands on a Dana 30 axle. These came in the 70s and early 80s Volvo 240s. These commonly came with clutch type LSDs or open. There are different carriers for different gearing.
I have heard of Volvo guys breaking axles and ring/pinion gears in the Dana 30 under stock power, which is about the same as 4AGE. This doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to me, because the ring gear and axle shafts are larger than those from a GTS rear axle. It is possible that it is the suspension design, but I am not sure.
Volvo 1031 Axle
The Volvo 1031 is essentially a Dana 30, but with a stronger ring and pinion. When I compared the ring and pinion, it was about 0.5″ larger for the 1031, so around a 7.6-7.7″ ring gear. The 1031 came with the options of an open diff, locker and occasionally an LSD. The axle shafts themselves are also larger than the Dana 30 rear axle. The rear calipers are fairly large two piston design, with a solid rotor. This is the rear axle that I run in my AE86 drift car.
It is strong enough for a BEAMS no problem, mine has held up under street and drift use for over 3 years now. There are a few things that you’ll need to do to fit it to an AE86. The first is chopping off the Volvo suspension mounts and welding on the AE86 mounts. To do this you need a jig. I built one from the SR5 rear end that was originally in my car. If you don’t know how to weld, then you’ll have to pay a fabricator to do this for you. You’ll also need to reroute some brake lines, which can be tricky because of the ports for the brake lines on the calipers point directly at the rear axle, so the lines need a immediate 90° bend. Of course, it also needs a custom driveshaft. The last bit is figuring out what you want to do about bolt pattern. The Volvo bolt pattern is 5×108, so there aren’t a whole lot of good wheel options. You can redrill to a 4 lug or 5 lug pattern of your choice, or you can get hub adapters. I opted for custom 2 piece hub adapters to go back to 4×114, since I have a bunch of wheels already in that bolt pattern. The downside to this is that it adds an additional ~70mm of total rear track width, so it is hard to fit inside of the stock fenders. I opted for fiberglass overfenders, but you could also runner a wider and higher offset wheel. One thing to keep in mind for the 1031 differential, is that the shortest gearing that is readily available for it is 4.1. For those with a BEAMS swap like me, the 4.10 is a good compromise of performance and streetability, however, since my car is a track dedicated car at this point, I wish I could get some shorter gearing for it.
Ford 8.8 Rear Axle Assembly
This axle is a common swap for various solid rear axle “race cars”. They are easily found in junkyards in thousands of V8 Fords. The best part is that they were also used in V8 Mustangs, so there is excellent performance support for them. Gearing options, LSDs, spools, solid pinion spacers, uprated axle shafts, big brake kits, etc. It is an 8.8″ ring gear, much larger than any of the previous options, giving it a strength advantage. These can hold up to some serious high horsepower.
Swapping a Ford 8.8 into an AE86 is a little bit more labor intensive than any of the previous options. When pulled from V8 SUVs, such as the Explorer, it comes with two different length axle shafts. For this rear end to be closer to the right width for an AE86, it requires pulling another short axle shaft from another vehicle, and shortening the axle tube on the rear axle housing (commonly referred to as “narrowing” an axle). It is also recommended to tig weld the axle tubes to the differential housing, as the factory welds sometimes don’t hold up to abuse.
Aside from needing to be narrowed, the rest of fitting it is the same as the Volvo rear end. Make a jig, weld on mounts, etc. With the larger size differential, you may run into clearance issues for the panhard bar, but this can usually be solved by welding an extension to the panhard bar mount on the axle.
Toyota Van Rear Axle
The first generation Toyota Van came with a solid rear axle. There are some different options that were available, and the information on these was a bit hard to find. So, bear with me, as I don’t have all of the information, just what I was able to gather from old forum posts and various Facebook posts.
There were 2 different size differential optioned in these Vans, a 6.7″ or 7.1″ (not sure which) and the desireable 7.5″ F code (same as the Celica Supra from above). They also came with link suspension or leaf springs, and the link suspension mounts are close but not quite the same as AE86 or MA4X, so they will require new mounts to be welded on. They also came with rear drum brakes, so this is something that you may want to convert to disc brake, depending on your application (I wouldn’t run drum brakes on a drift car, especially if you have a hydraulic hand brake, they tend to blow out wheel cylinders).
Thanks to Keith Fritzinger, he was able to get some great weight measurements, as well as some excellent information as to how he converted to rear disc, as well as provided the pictures. He used it on an RA64 Celica, which has the same suspension as the MA4X Celica Supra.
The 7.5″ Toyota Van axle broke down like this:
14.4 lbs – axle w/ bearing, one side
15.7 lbs – rotor + caliper + adapter, one side (custom disc conversion)
26.5 lbs – Van drum + backing plate + brakes, one side (not being used, also much bigger than the stock drums)
45.8 lbs – axle housing with all brackets, no fluid
51.6 lbs – center section + gears + LSD
157.6 lbs – axle assembled without fluid
19.6 lbs – new one piece driveshaft, 2.625 OD & .095″ tube thickness
For the rear disc conversion, Keith used an 84-87 rear Nissan Maxima calipers (park brake lever on caliper) and S13 240SX rear rotors (4 lug). The brake caliper bracket he custom made.
He chose the Maxima rear caliper as it has a larger piston (34mm vs 38mm), and the parking brake cable is pointed in a better direction compared to the S13 caliper. Pads are the same between them, so performance brake pads for an S13 work with the Maxima caliper.
The 240SX rotor center bore is 66mm (Celica=60mm) but it fits so perfectly over the wheel studs that centering isn’t an issue + the rotor barely fits over the axle flange (had to use a flap disc sander to knock off the rust and maybe 1/32″ of metal from the flange to get it to fit). They are solid rotors.
Toyota Truck Rear Axle
This is another swap that is similar to the Van rear axle swap, except there are disc conversion kits available. There are thousands of these in junkyard across the USA, and the Truck rear end comes with the Toyota 8″ ring and pinion. Since it’s used in a truck, there are tons of gearing options available for it, and a few lockers and LSDs. The MK3 Supra also came with an 8″ differential, however, I am not sure if the carrier bolts into the Toyota truck housing. Just like the other axles, it will require AE86 mounts, custom driveshaft, disc brake conversion, and depending on which axle you grab it might need to be shortened. However, there are a few that are close to 55″ wide, which is what you will want to be on the lookout for. The 55″ wide came in the 4WD trucks from 1979-1985, and the 56″ wide came in 2WD trucks from 1979-1995. The 2WD trucks are 5 lug, so I would consider these to be more favorable over the 2WD rear axles.
Performance Support and Upgrades
Alright, so I listed a bunch of options for rear axles. One of the most important things to consider is the performance support for your rear axle of choice. The first thing I want to explain is a solid pinion spacer versus a crush sleeve.
Solid Pinion Spacer vs Crush Sleeve
One of the most common ways for a rear differential to wear is pinion depth/backlash. Essentially the pinion gear is set to contact the ring gear at a specific depth for the best strength, correct amount of play (called backlash), and the least amount of noise. From the factory, this is done with bearing shims and a crush sleeve. Essentially the pinion nut is torqued until the sleeve is crushed to get the right contact patch. The problem with this is that over time, the force of the ring gear and pinion gear continues to crush the sleeve, to the point where the contact patch, contact path, and backlash are no longer ideal. In extreme situations, this can result in breaking the ring and pinion gears.
This type of wear occurs more quickly under heavy use, such as drifting and drag racing. So… I would highly recommend considering a Solid Pinion Spacer rear end.
Depending on your use, you may want a rear axle that supports a big brake kit or vented rotors. Vented rotors are a huge performance boost as it quickly cools down your rotors to prevent brake fade and other heat related braking problems. Not all of these axles have big brake kit support, so this is something to consider.
Dual caliper brackets are also something to consider if you’re a drifter like me. Sure, you can get by with an inline hydro (it’s actually what I still use), but a proper dual caliper setup allows you to modulate the brake pedal and hand brake at the same time without causing weird feedback issues.
Each axle is going to have different gearing options. For a J160 with a BEAMS the sweet spot for streetability and track use seems to be a 4.1, but a 4.3 is more useable on track. Some rear axles have very minimal gearing options. For example, the Volvo 1031. It’s strong, but the shortest gearing you can get in the USA is a 4.1. To get anything shorter, you’re looking at special ordering something from a Volvo rally shop in Europe, and it’ll run you $700+. Make sure to research the rear axle that you are considering installing to see if it is going to fit your needs.