When I saw this faded red coupé sitting forlorn on a parking lot the other day, I figured I had finally found a genuine banger. The sort of thing one sees in all countries except Japan – just a tired old car, bought by a penniless student from an old granny who thought she had better give up driving before ending up in a ditch. But no. Even bangers are exceptional here.
This is a 1983-87 Corolla Levin, which means it’s the ultimate dream car for drifters. And this one may look like it’s on its last legs, but it’s definitely had a thoroughly fulfilled existence. The roll-cage and the Recaro seats weren’t put in there for no reason. The absence of any badges or branding on this one, plus the downright basic grille, probably point to an early AE85 that’s had a few vitamin supplements along the way.
This is apparently quite a common thing among Japanese AE85/AE86 enthusiasts. The cheaper AE85s being easier to track down, you’d just get one of those and fix it up to AE86 spec, or thereabouts. The basic car was pretty much identical underneath, except the suspension on the AE86 was a bit more sophisticated. Still had the same multilink coil-sprung live axle though, so the extra bits weren’t too difficult to add on if you wanted to, and it’s apparently very easy to work on. I take it whoever owns this one went down that route as well, but may have hit a few potholes along the way.
I’m a bit out of my depth when it comes to these cars, but luckily, they’re very popular in some quarters and have been on CC before, so I humbly suggest, should your thirst for knowledge on the AE85-AE86 remain unquenched by the end of the present article, to read the great pieces that Paul and Geraldo wrote about them – the links are at the end of this post. I just thought I’d share a few pics of one from the mother country, albeit with an unusual amount of borrowed bits, mismatched rims and misaligned trim. Too bad the interior was impossible to photograph – it was as if it had been hit by a typhoon.
Quick model recap for the record: the Corolla AE85/AE86 (respectively with a 1.5 or a 1.6 litre 4-cyl.) were remnants of the previous generation Corollas when they were launched in 1983. The rest of the Corolla range switched to FWD, but these bad boys were held up for a few years to give Toyota’s fan-base a cheap and sporty RWD coupé to have fun with. In the US, these were known as the GT-S (below).
On the JDM, they came as the Levin (above) and Sprinter Trueno – the difference being the nose, which was like the GT-S on the Trueno. You could get the 2-door notchback or the 3-door hatchback (Liftback, in Toyotanese) in a dozen different levels of trim, from the base GL to the aptly named Apex.
I’m glad I found the 2-door coupé and not a Liftback, because the latter’s styling is even less interesting. At least the 2-door has these quirky oversized taillamps and a less generic shape. But as far as esthetics are concerned, this is not (as you can probably tell) what I would consider a pretty car. It’s quite interesting for its performance and its historic role in the whole “Tokyo Drift” thing, though. Pity it had to look so bland.
Curbside Classic: 1985 Toyota Corolla GT-S – The Legendary AE86, by PN
CC Analysis: An Objective View Of The Corolla AE86, by Geraldo Solis
Car Show Classics: Toyota Australia – Marking The End Of An Era, Part 3, by JohnH875
Over here this version would have been the SR-5 with something like 74hp. Looked very similar to the GT-S but with only half a can of beans.
By the late 90’s to about mid 2000’s most of them very one their third or so owner who modified them to look more or less like this one and then, poof, pretty much all gone. Nowadays you sometimes see a GT-S, usually pretty beat, but no SR-5’s. Quite the find over there I would imagine. I think they are pretty attractive in that 80’s Toyota way along with the concurrent Celica, Supra, MR2 and Cressida but with a little more curve in the straightedge than the rest of the line.
Yep! Lots of Toyotas, especially the ’80’s Indestructables, have a quiet handsomeness that us enthusiast types don’t see. Josephine public did, and does.
We got the 2nd-to-last-photo one from ’84 or so, and even then I thought it was in the upper ranks of their muted handsome thing. I still do, and can’t agree that the 2-door here looks more interesting (as a design, not this example, which is eccentrically intriguing all in its own fashion).
The survivors here all have had the damp squib 78bhp jobbie binned and the screamer twin cam inserted.
It was always disappointing that Aussie AE85/6s came only with the carbie four and rear drum brakes.
It’s rumored Pininfarinna was consulted with the styling of this geberation, and I’m inclined to believe it, even if both parties have not outright admitted it.
Now that you mention it I see some 400i traits in the side profile. Perhaps that’s why I prefer the notchback
And the CC effect strikes, with me getting passed while stopped in traffic this afternoon by what looked like an ’84 SR-5 in dark gray with a fart can on the back making rorty noises!
Wow…and here I thought a car like this would fail the shaken* for having faded paint and a fuel filler door of a different colour than the rest of the car!
I’m surprised to see a car like this in Japan too. Someone must really like it to keep paying the increased fees to keep an older car like this on the road.
The faded paint and the fuel filler door might squeak by, but the moisture in the driver side marker lamp will be a problem.
How can you be so dismissive about a Levin ? The notch-back is interesting, the liftback is classic !
( BTW a hatchback is a liftback that has been truncated just aft of the rear wheels)
Any genuine AE86 you find in Ireland will be pretty sharp looking, and very expensive.
Liftback/hatchback is really about as clear as fastback/sportsroof or sunroof/moonroof. Marketing gobbledygook
I’ve always considered liftback to mean a sleeker hatchback, like that Nova or the Geo Prizm hatchback, whereas a hatchback comes to a more abrupt, Kammback-like end. Incidentally, we don’t use “kammback” in Australia and Matt’s right, it’s all just marketing nonsense really.
I always considered sunroof to mean a metal roof panel that opens and moonroof to be a glass one. I’m sure there’s exceptions but I believe it to be true for the majority.
I prefer the looks of the liftback but i’m pretty sure the notch is lighter and more desirable to the hotrodders and racerboys.
I never quite grasped the submodel naming system of the various bodystyles and front end treatments, even their biggest fans seem to blankety refer to them by AE86, I’m not sure they even know. To me, this car with the notchback body and the exposed headlights looks best overall, the pop up nose Liftback looks like a stubby Supra in its more upright proportions. I don’t care about drift culture or anime cartoons so I’ve never really been an avid fan of these myself. My biggest exposure was the Gran Turismo 3 video game back in the day, which ironically is the worst game in the world to drift in since you actually want to win a race.
Whenever you see two (or more) Toyotas that look basically identical except for minor trim differences, it’s generally just because they were sold through different dealer networks.
Aaron at AteUpWithMotor did a very good piece on these and the differences between versions if you’re interested. Note that there are multiple pages that go into significant detail even though the comments seem to appear below page 1 so the format’s a bit different than here.
Compared to contemporaries in the USA market, I find this car’s styling has aged well. Put it next o a dowdy Ford Tempo, for one.
Levin, a town cluttering up HWY 1 as you head north from Wellington New Zealand, last town with a fuel price war going on heading south but not really famous for anything untill this car appeared, they are quite prized if you can find an intact one but rare in that condition.
From memory, we only got the hatchback here and, though I typically prefer the hatchback style (see: pretty much every generation of Celica that offered both), the notch appeals to me more. Perhaps it’s because I’ve never seen one in the metal, but also because it looks so handsome.
This was immortalized in Grand Theft Auto IV and V as the “Futo” by their Toyota equivalent, Karin.
Whoa! Been here for 4 years, and it took me until today to experience CC Effect. Found this gem in Guimarães today. Finding an AE86 is as hard as finding a Supra here, and it’s even harder to find an original, survivor one that’s not a trailer queen. Here in its fully stock, faded red glory
I actually like the styling of the notchback, but what strikes me the most is just how transformative the hidden-headlamp front fascia that we got on our U.S. SR-5 models were on these cars. Great find and post as per your usual!
At the time my wife was at me to get a new car, “something reliable like a Corolla”, but I equated Corolla with “boring little sedan with wonky legs”. As I enjoyed corners to the point of making her carsick once, a Corolla wasn’t happening. I should have thought about one of these (we only got the liftback, at a prodigious price hike over the sedans, IIRC), but the suspension and engine of Australian ones were probably no better than the sedans.
CC-in-scale only has the liftback, but in duplicate. In retrospect it’s what I might have liked, but was unable to buy new.