Is it a stretch to say that finding this beater Corolla AE86 GT-S on the street is the equivalent of finding an original and beat up 1970 Hemi ‘Cuda? Maybe, but they’re both legends, and while the odds of finding the GT-S are definitely better, they’re not exactly easy to come by either. I’ve had my eye out for one for quite a while, and suddenly this showed up in the neighborhood; a wish fulfilled. Now I’d be happy just to catch that non-hemi beater ‘Cuda I’ve seen driving. Anyway, with all the excitement building about the arrival of new 86-inspired coupes (Scion FR-S; Subaru BRZ), it’s time to take a look at their inspiration.
The AE86 Corolla came about almost as a fluke or afterthought, but what a charmed one. In 1983, the Corolla sedan switched over to a completely new FWD chassis. But whether for expediency, or to deliberately prolong the opportunity for fun potential, Toyota chose to keep the coupe and liftback models on the previous generation’s RWD platform, but dressed up in a new suit of sheet metal. From 1983 through 1987, the AE86 designation applied to these orphans, but the gifted child in the bunch was the GT-S version.
While the basic and SR-5 versions had a 1587 cc SOHC 4AC engine with a carburetor and 87 hp, the GT-S came with the DOHC 16 valve 4AGE engine with AFM multiport injection and T-VIS variable induction system. I’ve seen quotes of 124 hp, but the California-compliant version made 112 hp @ 6600 rpm. That may not seem like much in today’s world, but it has to be put in the context of its time.
In 1984, the Corvette mustered all of 205 hp out of 5.7 liters, and the Mustang GT managed 175 hp from its 5 liter V8. 112 eager horses from 1.6 liters was a feat at the time, thanks to the kind of advanced technology that Detroit was still dreaming about back then. And the Corolla was a featherweight, tipping the scales at around 2200 lbs. Anyway, it wasn’t raw acceleration that was the big draw here, but a delightfully balanced RWD coupe with quick steering and an ability to hang on way beyond what one might expect from its 185/60-14 tiny tires.
There really was nothing quite like it it at the time; it was the last of its kind. The GT-S was comparable to what an Alfa or BMW 1600 were in their day in the sixties. Bare bones, balanced, quick-revving, and a competent suspension, if not exactly the most sophisticated one. Front struts and a live rear axle with four links, and anti-sway bars on both ends kept things under control even on tight downhill mountain passes.
That was where the AE86 first made a name for itself, by Japan’s street racers who flew them down “touges”, tightly-curving narrow downhill roads. And it became the seminal drifter, in the hands of the Drift King himself, Keiichi Tsuchiya. He played a large role in popularizing the whole sport of drifting, and the AE86 Corolla was his mount of choice.
It wasn’t just drifting that established the AE86′s competition creds. It was a popular choice for showroom stock, Group A and N racing, rallying and circuit racing. An eminently tunable engine, and the last RWD platform of its kind, the AE86 is still sought after for a variety of competition and street uses. That’s why there aren’t hardly any left in an unmolested state as this one.
The owner of this one picked it up cheap a while back, and says it’s a barrel load of fun to drive. It’s approaching 300k miles on the clock, but these vintage Toyotas are built for the long haul as well as the long drift. What a combination, after the cantankerous European sports coupes everyone put up with for decades.
The AE86 still commands a huge and loyal following, akin to the Fox-body 5.0 Mustang. The two are almost perfect reflections of the same theme expressed on different scales and engine technology: light, simple, RWD, easily tunable to any degree desired. Elemental sports coupes, living legends: a formula for automotive immortality.
Heck of a find! I have respect for the AE86 but I’m not a fan. The FX16 or a GLH (turbo or N/A) appeals more to my tastes.
I’m betting within the next 15 minutes every commenter from one site that shall not be named that’s of driving age will be in Oregon scouring the streets for this thing..
One thing to keep in mind when comparing the GT-s to the Mustang is that the GT-s stickered at $9538 and the Mustang GT stickered at $9449. People weren’t ready to pay big money for a 4 cylinder “performance” car.
Yes, all Toyotas weren’t cheap back in the eighties. And the popular ones were often sold with dealer mark-ups. Take it or leave it; and plenty still lined up on Saturdays at the Toyota dealer with cash in hand. Different times.
The Regan era import quotas gave dealers of Japanese makes a license to gouge. I know my parents paid significantly over sticker for their Dodge Colt in 1986 in the Bay Area.
Good point. If these were a little closer to $8k they may have cut a larger chunk out of the Camaro and Stang’s market.
Even two of my favorites, the GLH Turbo and 84 Mustang GT Turbo, stickered around $9700. There weren’t too many takers on those either when compared to the 5.0.
The point of my OP was that the demo for this type of car, at the time, didn’t see the value in a non-V8 performance car for that price.
Maybe when I get back to Eugene I’ll make him an offer.
How did I miss this back during my epic 1985 new car hunt? I even drove a Cavalier! 112 ponies out of that little engine was impressive. My eventual purchase (85 VW GTI) only got 100 hp out of 1.8L. Quick – somebody get me a time machine, I have to go check this car out. Then I could have a car that did not leave me quaking with fear at the thought of my warranty expiring, then I wouldn’t sell it and buy a 66 Fury III, and . . . oh never mind.
And you’d still have it now!
The 1.8L GTI motor was much torquier than this little buzz-bomb though.
And didn’t the European GTI have 110 bhp?
Yes, and that was with the 1588 cc engine. Never could figure out why they didn’t try to bring that over sooner.
By 1987, the GTI could be had with a 1.8 16V putting out 123hp! and better torque than the Toyota
That’s true, I’ve owned both the original mark I rabbit gti and the 16v golf gti. The 16v was faster and more refined but not nearly as much fun. The rabbit was so precise and “on”; the later 16v golf felt pudgy and bloated in comparison. Plus the golf ate clutches and that 16v motor never felt that smooth.
I missed the boat on this model Corolla. I bought a new ’89 Corolla SR5 in late ’88 with a 90 hp 4a-f1.6 engine, the last model year for the carburetor. A fellow USMC Lieutenant drove a ’90 with EFI and at least 10 more horses. My SR5 was a reliable and fun car but was FWD so it handled differently. I kept it almost a mere 6 years until I got caught up in the SUV craze in ’94 and got a Mazda Navajo (Ford Explorer). Now I wish I still had my ’89 Corolla. My ’06 Corolla is boring and soulless compared with my ’89.
I think the title needs a correction to read AE-86 for the engine name. Great find!!
Great find and stock VERY RARE most here have been riced to death and still manage to command huge money.
Great engine! I stuck one in a Lotus Seven clone with dual Webers.
That is indeed a nice find in stock shape. Those wheels are rather ugly though.
I love those wheels. So 80’s.
The wheels were fitted to Tarago vans here
It’s too bad Toyota never made a 2nd generation of the AE-86. I guess they couldn’t justify it with the rest of the Corolla line going front-drive, and they had the Supra and Celica in the US lineup at that time as well.
The Celica went fwd at the same time though
A solid rear axle?? I can’t believe the fanboys ever gave it a second look. That they’d bother with such an antique suspension piece.
Hey, don’t you say a bad word against TOYOTA live axles. They’re much better than your average live axles. If Toyota had put leaf springs and an X Frame under it, it would have been heavenly. It is only on some other makes that things like `live axles’, `only 112 hp’, `RWD’ become deadly sins. Not on all other makes though.
112 horsepower in a 2200 pound car with an engine that happily revs to 7,500 rpms, with a slick 5-speed manual gearbox.
Keep it in perspective.
Great find. I am a long-time Celica freak. I like these cars as well though, but I have never owned one. These will definitely get a slow-down, gawk, wave, thumbs-up as well… lol. You certainly don’t see these in stock condition. This one looks to be in really nice shape considering the age and mileage. Yeah, those wheels. The wheels are used on the Celica GT and Supra L-type but with different center caps. The Celica/Supra center caps have more of a pyramid shape and are thin metal over plastic, with only the four “cutouts” being subject to the faded-paint bare-plastic condition.
I love it when a car such as this remains still drivable after all these years and yet remains mostly stock. If I saw the photos right, it might even still have the stock cassette deck in it too.
I like these wheels for what they were, a design paradigm of that time, but man, the center caps do not weather well, they get kind of yellowish as the years go by, perhaps the silver paint weathers away, revealing the plastic underneath.
Even the paint is now flaking, or at least the clear coat is but still looks OK otherwise. Not a bad find for what is essentially a 25-26 YO daily driver.
The same engine went into the MkI MR2. 7500-rpm redline, no thrash and no issues into the hundreds of thousands of miles. In fact, you kept the revs above 2000. A revelation to someone who never drove anything prior with a redline greater than 5000. Not a torque monster, but who cared? And it got 29 mpg in an MR2 with routine use of that redline.
Toyota may have been at its peak with interesting cars back then. MR2, AE86, Supra, rear-drive Celica, FX16. And the 4A-GE lived on as the spec engine for Formula Atlantic. Great motor to this day.
You’ve done it now, Paul – that guy (or gal) is going to be finding “I want to buy your car notes” on their windshield for the next month and have no freaking idea why!
I also really enjoy seeing unmolested daily drivers such as this one . . . now, about that beater ‘Cuda . . .
Going to sell my ’87 Toyota Corolla GTS twin cam hatchback next week. I have owned it for 10 years and have not seen another the same. Have had many many people over the years interested in buying it both in Canada and the USA, but was not ready to sell. Health a little issue now, so now is the time.
I know this comment is about 3 years too late, but I actually HAD a 70 ‘cuda (not a Hemi, but a 383), and THEN a Corolla GT-S EXACTLY like the one featured above! Not long after I sold the ‘cuda, I received a refund check from the IRS which was a spectacular mistake in my favor, and was told by my CPA to put it in the bank to draw interest until the IRS realized their mistake, if they ever did. Instead, I went to the Toyota dealer in Culver City, CA and bought the Corolla GT-S, 5 speed manual, cassette player, wheel covers–EVERYTHING the same as the Curbside Classic above. I kept it about 10-12 years and then foolishly sold it for a song (honestly, I really didn’t know what I had.) A couple years later, I regretted selling it, for sentimental reasons, when I saw it driving down the street in Tennessee, where I had moved. I could not catch up with it, though, to make an offer to buy it back. Shucks!