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.
CC Analysis: An Objective View Of The Corolla AE86, by Geraldo Solis