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Reader Question: Can I retrofit new electronics to an older Toyota 86?

The idea of retrofitting a new car’s system to an older model comes up from time to time, and on this occasion it’s the Toyota 86.

WE RECENTLY tested, and track-tested the new Toyota 86 and found that the electronic driving aids were much improved. That led Reader CG to write:

QUESTION: Hi, I am a fan and like Robert’s long term reports on his Toyota 86.

I own a MY13 86 GT purchased new in August 2013. It’s stock standard apart from Yokohama AD08R tyres in 205/55 and camber bolts. I love my car, and have been looking into maybe getting an E85 tune and or UEL headers to give it a smoother torque delivery and a little more poke.

I recently read Robert’s review on the MY17 86 and am interested in the ‘track’ setting on the VSC. Do you have any idea if the software for the track setting could be retro fitted to a Gen 1 86? I will mostly drive on the street with my car in ‘sport’ and find it quite unsubtle when it does intervene. Reading his review I’m assuming that the hardware is the same and just the software has been fettled with.

If you could please bring this email to his attention as I would love a reply if he knows or if he can ask any contacts he may have in the 86/BRZ world.

Much appreciated CG

ANSWER: Hello CG. Thanks for the note. Generally speaking, it is almost never feasible to retrofit new electronics into older cars, even if they appear to be nominally the same hardware. The entire system would need replacing; software, hardware, sensors and the like. Not only that, the engine and drivetrain would be very slightly different in the new car, so the revised electronics are calibrated to suit and very sensitive. Car companies acutally use slightly different settings depending on whether a car has 20″ or 18″ rims for example, and certainly between auto and manual, diesel and petrol, 2WD and 4WD.

So even if you paid for the shift of new electronics into an older car then they wouldn’t work as effectively as the car is slightly different, and the cost to recalibrate would be huge.

However, we asked Toyota about the 86 in particular and they said:

“The updated ECU [ controller of VSC, A-TRC etc ] is matched to the revised intake and exhaust of the recent facelift and not designed as a plug and play solution for pre-facelift models.”

So the most cost-effective, and sure way to get the benefit of the new electronics is to sell your MY13 and buy an MY17.

If you’re finding that VSC Sport intervenes when street driving then I’d suggest you need to find a track and drive fast there instead. However, there are things you can do about VSC Sport aside from recalibrate it, or switch it off. First one would be to check your driving style for smoothness and to ensure you’re doing things like only applying power when unwinding steering lock. You have very grippy tyres with the AD08Rs so that’s good too. Then get your car wheel-aligned for performance, taking advantage of your camber bolts.

As for your mods – some readers may wondering what a header is. That’s just the bits of pipe that route the exhaust gases from each of the engine cylinders to the main exhaust. Each cylinder has its own pipe.

EL headers are Equal Length headers so each exhaust emission of the engine arrives at different times into the main exhaust as each cylinder produces its power and exhaust at a different time – that’s the four stroke cycle.

A UEL header has Unequal Length pipes so all the exhaust emissions from each cylinder arrive at the same time at the same place, leading to a ‘burble’ where you hear in effect the exhaust rapidly on then off as opposed to the more continous noise of equal length headers. The pros and cons of each are for another time, but in general UEL delivers a bit more mid-range torque whereas EL is better for top-end power. The 86 already has slightly unequal-length headers.

Again for other readers – E85 is a fuel with an 85% ethanol and 15% petrol. It offers signifciantly more power than petrol, but greatly increased fuel consumption and you need your engine modified to use it.

Remember for any mod like headers or E85 you’ll need a tune to maximise your investment, and by that I mean a professional tune, not a mate with a laptop in one hand and phone with a forum thread in the other. There are many good shops specialising in 86 modifications; you don’t say which state you’re from so no specific recommendations can be given.

However, if you intend to track your car spend money first on safety gear, then training, then brakes, and finally only then on more power.


  • Doug Mullett

    Interestingly, in the mid 80s, I fitted an HJ 253 V8 and a Torana 202 with the electronic distributors which were standard with later models. Benefits were: no points, so no change with wear and no pitting; far better tolerance of water in the engine bay (didn’t stall when going through floodways).
    The HJ also got an alternator upgrade, so was able to run a lot of electrical equipment with no problems.

Robert Pepper

Robert Pepper

Robert Pepper is the editor of PM4x4, an offroad driver trainer and photographer interested in anything with wings, sails or wheels. He is the author of four books on offroading, and owns a modified Ford Ranger PX which he uses for offroad touring. His other car is a Toyota 86 which exists purely to drive in circles on racetracks. Visit his website: