I feel fortunate enough that the first manual transmission car I ever drove was a 1986 Toyota Corolla GT-S. Yes, that Corolla. Although I am barely in my twenties, I learned how to drive a stickshift at a time when you could still pick up a ratty AE86 for a few hundred bucks.
My friend’s car, which cost him $200, was in surprisingly good condition, given the price. Just a bit of surface rust on the rear wheel well, although the red paint was horribly faded. The fact that it was a coupe, and not the highly sought-after hatchback, meant that it wasn’t subject to the “Initial D” tax. Some Celica Supra rims, a Canadian Tire fart can and a cone filter helped add a bit of polish to the car.
This example, set up for SCCA racing, reminded me of how much fun I had at the wheel of the red GT-S. I loved the free-revving engine, the light, accurate steering and the impossibly light weight. Every minute input to the throttle, brakes and steering seemed to have a proportionate 1:1 response to how the car behaved. It was my first introduction into the mechanical purity of Japanese cars of a specific era. Small wonder that as soon as I could afford a car, I ended up with a Miata. By then, the AE86 had all but disappeared from Canadian roads. The survivors had been hoarded by other local Toyota fanatics, many of them Filipino immigrants who have prospered in their adopted country and sought to recreate the dream cars of their youth. I’ve yet to convince any of them to hand over the keys to their own examples. Except Rob – he moved on to something very different (but still a Toyota), and having driven it, I can confirm he made the right choice.