Vintage R&T Review: 1985 Toyota Corolla (AE86) GT-S – The Exciting TwinCam 16 – An Honest High Performance Weapon

There are several ways to start this entry, all in the form of a question. For example; what’s it like to be around when a car legend appears? Particularly one that comes from a place you didn’t expect it to? And also, remember when DOHC engines were rare and had an exotic vibe to them? When 4-valves per cylinder sounded just soooo sexy? And finally, remember when variable intake systems were the new thing? Ready to tame the exotic, and make high-revving engines docile for daily life?

All of these questions are at the center of today’s vintage car review: The legendary 1985 Corolla GT-S.

The Corolla GT-S with its 16-valve DOHC engine has become a legend in its own right. In many ways, part of a tradition of accessible and reliable cars that become the basis of a performance-minded vehicle. The model was to be the last of the RWD Corolla coupes (sedans had gone FWD), and with the new DOHC powerplant, it went out with a bang. Drifters and the like now revere the whole AE86 line, as any (non-too-abused) sample can be souped-up. But that aside, it’s the DOHC powerplant that is perched at the top of the AE86 lore.

To put it in context, in the mid-’80s Toyota fixed with high-tech what everyone was solving through turbos and superchargers. And being a hot new number, R&T devoted much text to the engine’s origins and technology:

“This is the 1985 Corolla GT-S, a conventional rear-drive Corolla outfitted with a remarkable dual overhead cam, 16-valve 1.6-liter engine, plus enough suspension, brake and interior changes to keep the engine from overpowering the car… That’s a tall order, because this is an overpowering engine.”

“At the heart of this engine is (Toyota’s) cast iron A-series block, a cylinder block mostly notable for exceptionally light weight. To handle a 60 percent increase in power the twincam engine gets a heavy-duty block with additional stiffening ridges, plus a forged steel crank with eight counterweights.” All necessary upgrades to control noise and vibration on an engine with a 7500-rpm redline.

Of course, the cylinder head was the big news on the GT-S because that’s what made the powerplant’s 7500-rpm redline possible; with the 4-valves per cylinder arrangement providing quick combustion, better breathing, low emissions, and more power.

Meanwhile, Toyota’s new Variable Induction System (T-VIS) controlled the multi-valve engine’s low-end performance. It accomplished this by playing with various electronic components to turn the beast into a tractable daily driver.

“The result of all this cleverness is an engine that puts out 112bhp at 6600 rpm and 97 lb-ft of torque at 4800 rpm… It starts instantly hot or cold, pulls smoothly from idle to redline, and gets 25-real-world mpg. So who needs a turbocharger?”

While some of those numbers don’t sound so hot nowadays, let’s keep matters in perspective; as explained in our previous Corolla GT-S post:  “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…”

While straight-line acceleration wasn’t what reviewers expected (10.5 secs. in 0-60), “… the way the engine works more than makes up for it… There are few engines around like this; it just loves to rev, and rev and rev some more.”

More praise for the GT-S appeared through the review. “The gearbox has a solid, easy-to-use feeling. Gear spacing is correct for keeping the engine in the best part of the powerband…”  Meanwhile, suspension updates were minor, with the car’s springs being 19 percent stiffer and the rear anti-roll bar gaining a 14 percent increase in diameter. The result was “a taut, businesslike ride, well controlled at all times, but not harsh. Just firm.”

And previewing its future fame in drifting, R&T reviewers noted: “For the driver who enjoys flinging out the tail of a car, the Corolla is a gem. It responds quickly and predictably.”

In the end, Toyota had installed on the Corolla GT-S “… what may be the best running 4-cylinder engine made today… The (car’s) excitement comes from an engine that raises the high-water mark of performance, and does it without sacrificing economy or driveability.”


Related CC reading:

Curbside Classic: 1985 Toyota Corolla GT-S – The Legendary EA86