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by Jay Traugott
The Toyota AE86 was quite different from the common Corolla. So different, in fact, that it became a sports car legend.
Yes, we've all been hearing so much about the new triumphant triplets that are the Toyota GT-86, Scion FR-S and Subaru BRZ. And yes, they are truly great sports cars, considering they're nearly exactly the same with the exception of badging and a few other minor details. More importantly, however, they share a common ancestor. The Toyota AE86 first came to market in 1983 and was powered by a fuel-injected four-cylinder 1.6-liter engine that produced a total of 130 horsepower and 110 pound-feet of torque.
However, this output was lowered for North America due to emissions regulations, coming in at 112 hp and 96lb-ft (in GT-S spec). Also like its present day relatives, the AE86 was rear-wheel-drive. A five-speed manual was standard and a four-speed slushbox became an option later on. Now, considering that the Toyota Corolla has been the longtime car of choice for those who've pretty much given up on everything that's good in life, the AE86 was and still is a bit of an anomaly. While the standard Corolla was fine for getting owners from Point A to Point B, the AE86 was capable of being a solid daily driver as well as a track-loving, drift-friendly vehicle.
It proudly showcased the pleasures of driving. Along with that great engine/transmission combo, Toyota added ventilated disc brakes, an independent suspension up front as well as a four-link live axle with coil springs out back and stabilizer bars at both ends. Toyota also gave US buyers three different AE86 trim levels to choose from: the DX, SR5 and GT-S. Both the DS and SR5 were available when the car first launched, but power was rated at just 87 hp and 85lb-ft. Beginning for the 1985 model year, however, Toyota released the GT-S which produced the aforementioned 112 hp and 96lb-ft. In Japan, trim levels were the GT, GT-APEX and GTV.
Sold as both a coupe and three-door hatch (the latter was more common), Toyota also had two variants that were differentiated from their front light designs; the Levin had fixed headlights while the Trueno had pop-up units. The AE86 also had a nice career in motorsports, taking part in Group A and Group N racing events as well as rallying. Because of its rear-wheel-drive setup, relatively powerful engine and lightweight (around 2,300 lbs.), the AE86 was further cemented into history because it was a favorite of Japanese drifting king Keiichi Tsuchiya. He helped to bring the sport of drifting to a worldwide audience and the AE86 was a huge part of that.
The owner of this 1986 AE86 Trueno hatchback has done several modifications consisting of new racing seats and new tires and wheels. Perhaps the most significant modification was the complete engine rebuild with new components. For a car that's more than 25 years old, this AE86 is in fantastic condition thanks to its owner's sheer love of the thing. Now that Toyota has once again returned to the affordable sports coupe segment, the legacy of the AE86 will hopefully become known to a generation of enthusiasts who were too young (or not even born yet) to experience it the first time around.