A true cult classic, the AE86 is undoubtedly a JDM icon. Famous for the most part due to one thing… drifting! For years the AE86 was a favourite amongst drifters across Japan due to the car being cheap, lightweight and available in a rear wheel drive format. However, it was the ‘Initial D’ manga which was later made into an anime series that helped popularise both drifting and the AE86 globally. The AE86 Corolla also proved its abilities within motorsport on multiple occasions, winning the Group A Rally in 1985 and back-to-back titles in the British Saloon Car Championship in 1986 and 1987.
With very few ever being sold in the UK and prices only going up in recent years the AE86 is becoming an increasingly rare sight, Which is why we are incredibly grateful to be able to share with you Harry’s experience of owning an AE86 Corolla!
So the car is a 1985 Toyota Corolla AE86 (pre-facelift or ‘zenki’ as most people call it). I purchased it mid 2019 after seeing it in the paddock at Players Classic after a good friend and fellow Corolla owner said he knew the owner and that it may be for sale. Funnily enough at the time I actually wasn’t even looking for an AE86, I was looking into importing a Spec R Silvia S15 from Japan but everything coming up in the auctions was out of my price range once landed. I’ve always loved the older Japanese cars; Cressidas, Soarers, R30 Skylines to name a few, the kind of ones you see millimetres off the floor on tiny, wide, period correct wheels. But I wanted something more usable, something that could be driven hard (which the 86 fits perfectly in my opinion), but due to various circumstances at the time I was unable to have a second car and daily driving a Japanese car from the 80’s was about as appealing as contracting herpes, hence wanting an S15, something a bit more modern and a bit more comfortable. Anyway, I saw the car at Players, got in touch with the owner and a couple of months later (and plenty of arm twisting) I was the proud owner of the 86. I actually managed to get a garage to keep the car in shortly after buying it so there was no need to daily drive it, thank god!
For me, it’s difficult to narrow down any one specific thing I love about the car. It’s punchy, got bags of character and, well, it’s just got something about it that you can’t quite put your finger on; if you know what I mean? I think if I had to narrow it down to one thing though, the thing I like most is the driving experience. It’s a sensory overload, the smell when you get in the car, the feel of the period Tom’s wheel, the exhaust note, seeing the digital dash light all the way up over 7000rpm and the mystery rattles and squeaks coming from the interior, it’s unlike anything else.
At the moment it’s fairly stock, but they don’t need much to be a fantastic car to drive. It’s got a HKS intake, decat and a HKS Sports backbox. Lowered on some Dmac coilovers at the front and chopped springs at the back with GAB adjustable shocks and adjustable panhard bar. It sits on Rays Volk TE37 wheels but I’ve got some mismatched, more period correct wheels to go on soon. The car was originally painted Red over Black but early this year the rear arches and sills started to go, so I have had them replaced and decided to do a full respray but all one colour (still using the OEM red though). Inside there is a period correct Tom’s steering wheel along with Bride Zeta 2 and Tom’s Harness. I’ve got a half cage to go in over winter too and a Goodline front bumper on the way from Japan. The end goal for me is for the car to look as if it has just been pulled from a 90’s/00’s Option video, somewhere in between a track car and a street car.
The problem with these cars now is the value of them is sky high, especially for a clean one. They’re a car that I think a lot of people want to own but for the money you can get something far more powerful, comfortable, reliable, the list goes on haha. You’ve really got to want one and know what they’re about to pay the prices. That said, I’d definitely recommend one if it’s what you want, but know what to look out for if you’re thinking of purchasing. As with any old car now, rust is a killer, you’d really struggle to find a car with no welding done that is still mint, don’t get me wrong, they’re out there but the prices reflect that. Basically, expect there to be rust somewhere, or for it to have been welded at some point. Also, they’re pretty much all modified in one way or another and it was probably done back when they weren’t worth much either, so the quality of the work is, let’s say, questionable a lot of the time. But apart from that I mean, the 4age is pretty damn reliable if it hasn’t been messed with a lot, and the vast majority of parts you can still get, whether it be aftermarket or still available from Toyota.
The great thing with these cars is the community of other owners, there’s so few of them about but all the owners are so sound, we’ve got a group chat with pretty much most of the UK owners and everyone is more than happy to help. Encompassing this is The Corolla Brotherhood, with annual meets, the last two being at Caffeine and Machine as a central(ish) location for most UK owners to bring their cars to, I’ve met some great people through owning this car and gained a load of knowledge!
The car gets used a hell of a lot over summer (obviously not so much this year), although I must say the roads were extremely quiet over lockdown. I Live in Cornwall and regularly take trips down the coast to Newquay and similar places, or up towards Dartmoor there are some fantastic driving roads too. It sees the occasional long road trip like to Caffeine and Machine as previously mentioned and also Retro Rides at Shelsley Walsh last year. Next Summer I’ll hopefully be up at Re:Fuel a lot more too, Corona Permitting! I’d love to take it to Scotland to do the NC500 but honestly the drive there would probably kill me so maybe I’ll save that one for a different car!
Model: AE86 Corolla
Engine: 4age 1600cc
BHP: Not very much
Top Speed: 200km/h
0-62mph time: 8.5s
Additional Mods: Rays TE37, Dmac Coilovers, Gab adjustable shocks, HKS intake, Decat, HKS Sports backbox, Tom’s steering wheel and horn button, Bride Zeta 2 drivers seat, Tom’s harness, TRD short shifter, TRD style wing.