For handling and proper vehicle dynamics, rear-wheel drive, simple, and lightweight. For affordability, reliability, and ease of maintenance, Toyotas. Particularly the AE86, also known as the 1985-1987 Corolla GT-S.
I own a Toyota Corolla GT-S coupe. It’s got the right specs: 1600cc, front-engine, four-cylinder, live axle, RWD, and in addition, the Toyota is somewhat practical. My car gets used for entertaining street use as an everyday car, with the occasional autocross, rallycross, TSD rally, and some track days. I also love to drive it rally-style on gravel roads.
If you have ever heard the Toyota twincam pass 7,000 rpm or if you have ever steered a car with the throttle, you understand.
When I first became an AE86 owner, I didn’t really know much about the car. I really wanted an AW11 Toyota MR-2. Actually, I wanted the fastest, best-handling, four-cylinder rear-wheel-drive car I could afford for about $2000-2500. It was the summer of 1997, I was twenty and dreamed continually of Lotus Sevens, and I was looking for my first car. I had considered many possibilities: MR-2, Merkur XR4Ti, Alfa Romeo 105-series sedan or coupe, Isuzu Impulse….Nissan 240SX’s were all so new they cost too much then….Miatas still cost way too much then, Mazda 323 GTX AWD was intriguing, but rare, BMW 2002, Datsun 510, MG…the list went on. Then one day I was walking back to work from the public library at the end of my lunch break. At the intersection of Fourth and Monroe, I saw a silver hatchback waiting for the light. There were two student-aged guys in the car, and it had a loud exhaust singing one of the sweetest four-cylinder songs I had ever heard. Down the bottom of the door it read “GT-S Twincam 16.” My mind was racing for the rest of the day wondering whether Toyota had produced a coupe old enough to be rear-wheel-drive, but new enough to have a fuel-injected, 16-valve engine. If such a thing existed, I had never heard of it, or been aware of seeing one…and I grew up acutely aware of cars with a father who was an amateur race driver, foreign car mechanic, and seriously into small-bore import performance! My boss confirmed that he thought that the GT-S really was a 4A-GE-powered RWD coupe. I went back to the library, read a few archived magazine road tests, stored it away as an interesting tidbit of information about cars, and then went back to my search for an AW11 MR-2. As the summer drew to a close, I still hadn’t found the right car, and spotted a several-week-old ad in Auto Trader for a twincam Corolla with K&N filter, Tokico shocks, etc. I looked at the picture and assumed it was a front-wheel-drive AE92 coupe (even thought at the time I didn’t know what the body code was.) I called anyway, and it turned out to be rear-wheel-drive! I arranged a test-drive, and showed up with my girlfriend and my dad. I still have a clear picture of the car rolling up in my mind…Competition Motorsports sticker in the rear window, and that exhaust note again! I hasn’t sure what to make of the big chrome exhaust tip, but… We did a compression test, and inspected everything. The car looked good, so I took the owner out for a test drive. The clutch felt a little wierd to me, and the windshield was cracked, but the car was responsive. I opened it up a little, bit I didn’t want to scare the owner, so I was pretty subdued on the whole. We drove out of his townhouse neighborhood and up onto the freeway for a short stretch. Coming down the freeway off-ramp, he asked me if I was a racecar driver. I told him no and asked why. He said, “Well, you double-clutch rev-match when you downshift.” It was about that time I really started to notice the fine-print embroidery on his jacket…Team Continental (a local track-drivers club!) Before too long, we were talking about what type of lap times the car turned at the track, and he took me into his house and showed me Toyota performance information. He was a student leaving the country to return to Indonesia, so selling the car was tough for him, but I was happy to provide it with a home he felt good about. It turns out he was also crazy about Lotus Sevens! My dad also drove the car, and the owner urged me to go along. I did, and as soon as we were out of earshot, my dad got on it HARD. Down that narrow urban street, exhaust bouncing off buildings, cranking it into the corners with a touch of oversteer and tires starting to squeal, that car felt so amazingly fast, I knew I had to have it.
I started looking for information on the car…at this point I still knew nothing of the Japanese fascination with the AE86. I had a hard time evn finding any car enthusiasts who knew that the model existed, let alone knew anything about it. I copied all the period magazine road tests and comparison tests I could. I searched for information on the world wide web, and didn’t find much other than some Japanese sites. Believe it or not, AE86 heads, there didn’t use to be much English-language info. on the web. I found a page called “Todd Cole’s Automotive Resource” which basically said that the AW11 MR-2, the AE86 Corolla GT-S, and the RA6x Celica GT-S were good affordable rear-wheel-drive performance cars. The page had one pic, a scan of the old TRD blue and red on white car that illustrated the TRD flares and spoiler. I e-mailed Todd a picture of my car and he was impressed. He seemed impressed that anyone had actually read his page, he seemed impressed by my enthusiasm, and he said that I had “the cleanest GT-S he had ever seen.” I also found some pictures of AE86 at autocross events on Arnold Escano’s pages. And Chris’ “Red Racer” page. And that was really about all there was on the web that I could find! I have always been interested in Japanese culture, so I was very excited when I started to learn about the Japanese drift scene, and how strongly the Japanese feel about the AE86. The explosion of interest in the car since then is really unbelievable to me. Okay, we are still in the fall of 1997, and I bought a copy of the _Toyota Performance Handbook_ not too long after I started searching for info. This was also about the time Antonio of Team Cipher started to put some AE86 tidbits on his website, and he and I started corresponding. A while after that, I took up correspondance with Moto, and he started Club 4AG, which was really exciting back in the early formative days. I guess I was ahead of the curve, because now the American AE86 scene seems _huge_ to me!
Well, what else there is there to tell? I now love the AE86 almost more than life itsself, and I really appreciate how unique a car it is. I have continued to try and learn about the car, and my quest has taken me to Japan, and put me in correspondance with people all over the world. I have yet to regret buying it instead of an AW11, the AE86 has been a better car for me. I got my AW11 eventually, and promptly sold it because it seemed like to many compromises for no real gain over the Corolla.
For those of you who have kept the AE86 torch alight all these years since it was new, thank you! To those of you newer to the AE86 fold, be thankful for the amount of information and support readily available these days. And please, all, don’t forget the important position our car holds, not just as affordable performance, but as a car with cultural and historical significance. Try to continue learning more and appreciating more. Don’t let it become a trend, don’t let it become a car to trash and destroy. Just appreciate the AE86 for what it is, and keep ’em on the road! Keep in touch and enjoy the experience of hachiroku!
Modifications-Corolla GT-S coupe
-KAAZ 2-way Limited Slip Differential
-TRD suspension bushings
-2.25″ cat-back exhaust
-Supertrapp muffler (black!)
-NGK plug wires
-Tokico (non-adjustable) shocks
-Custom short-shift…a homemade copy of the TRD!
A Copy Of An E-mail I Sent Describing This ModI am considering making more of these if anyone would be interested, just e-mail me.
-185/60-14 Dunlop D60’s-not very sticky, but cheap and very tossable…:-)
-14×6 Enkeis-take a look at that polished lip!
-Repco Metal Master brake pads
-TRW Sabelt 5-point racing harness…mounted properly!
-300mm steering wheel
-Momo drilled aluminum pedals
-Momo leather shift knob
-Custom spin turn knob on the handbrake (saido bureki desu)…once again homemade and patterned after an explanation on www.club4ag.com-I can make you one of these if you want, just e-mail me.
-Hella H4 headlights-I added these courtesy of dad at Christmas…a lot better than halogen!
-Third high-mounted brake light-I stole this from a newer Corolla in the junkyard and fabbed a mount…no one would ever guess it isn’t factory, except for the age of the car…hehehe!
-Stripped trunk-jack and tools, but no spare, no carpet, no lining whatsoever
According to the local weigh station, my car is 2300 pounds with no spare, but with rear seat, and a half-tank of gas.
I thought that coming up next were an Autopower ‘Race’ Roll Bar and a 5-point harness. My hesitation was that I need to be able to fit comfortably in the car. I have the stock seat all the way back, and with the back reclined 4-6 notches, and the seat bottom angled up as far as it can go. If the diagonal and harness mount on the roll bar wouldn’t allow me to put the seat this far back I can’t drive the car comfortably. I then read on Club 4AG that the AE86 doesn’t respond well to the increased stiffness of a roll car or cage. Wierd. Anyway, I found a way to mount just the harness safely. While the added safety of the roll bar would be nice, I am not sure that the safety is worth all the other problems for me. Can anyone with one of these rollbars help me out? Measurements?…Good guesses? Anything?
The car could also use a limited-slip differential, which are available from TRD or KAAZ. For street driving, I found the open differential to be perfectly adequate, but I wanted to see if a LSD would make a difference on the track. The budget option I was hoping for is to find a used one from one of the Corolla GT-S’s that came from the factory with an optional LSD. As far as I know, I should be able to tell from the axle code on the firewall-it should read T283, not T282. Sometimes these have been swapped by a previous owner, so it is good to try and verify. You can look for the original yellow factory “LSD Oil Only” sticker, but dont’ count on it being on a 15+ year old car, even with a limited-slip. The LSD helps with drifting and putting the power down on exiting corners. Club 4AG (see links) has a whole section on LSDs, and after reading that, I decided that saving my money for an aftermarket one made a lot of sense. More effective operation, longer life, and more adjustability. So…I now have a KAAZ! It does give me a lot more control regarding the attitude of the car when entering a corner at speed.
Seeing that my motor now has over 160,000 miles on it, the car is eventually going to need a heart transplant. (Hopefully not for a while, though!) I would love to put the variable-valve-timing 20-valve Japan-only version of the 4A-GE in my car, but now we are talking big bucks. I am also concerned that I may not be able to get enough power out of it to make it worth the expense and headache. My latest understanding is that it is mapped to run on 102 octane in Japan!?!? and wouldn’t make 165 horses on our gas. Once again, if you know otherwise, please let me know! There are later versions of the 4A-GE (small port high-compression, AKA red hat) that don’t use T-VIS and are more powerful, but they are harder to find as they are only in 1991+ (???) Corolla GT-S’s and later Geo Prism GSi’s in this country. Anyway, if I did a swap, I would then have my current 16-valve to rebuild and use in my Fisher/Seven/clubman…or in my KP61 Toyota Starlet! I would then by tempted to switch the 16-valver to twin sidedraught carbs, either Weber or Mikuni, or maybe four carbs, mototcycle-style (this is popular in Japan with Keihin FCR’s.) As far as other mods to the motor go, I am not sure what I will do. Any suggestions? It is fun to dream…