By on May 11, 2010

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 coming FT-86 coupe and a possibly even cheaper and lighter RWD car, it’s time to take a look at its 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 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 real 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.

Get the latest TTAC e-Newsletter!

50 Comments on “Curbside Classic: The Legendary 1985 Toyota Corolla AE86 GT-S...”

  • avatar

    That was the main car in the anime Initial D.
    It could beat a couple of Mazda RX-7, Nissan GTR, and Lancer EVO :-P

    • 0 avatar

      2 RX-7, FC and FD
      1 GT-R, R32
      2 EVO V or VI don’t remember
      2 Civic
      1 S2000 (by default, the driver puked)
      1 MX-5/Miata
      1 Cappuccino
      1 Levin, turbo and then supercharged.

    • 0 avatar
      Kevin Kluttz

      The V-6 Camaro Berlinetta was my favorite surprise. And it never caught up!!! I never saw it again. Damn, I loved, LOVED that little beast of a car. It just begged to be flogged. I did. It ALWAYS came back for more. Couldn’t take the wheel-hop but once, though. Limited slip and light weight and that Panhard rod. Only did that once. No dead-stop wheelspin after that. Anyone?

    • 0 avatar

      that isnt an ae86, its an ae88, the us never got the real ae86, if u want proof, look on the model plate in the engine bay, it does say ae86 on it, but it also says ae88.

      • 0 avatar
        Booker Thompson

        That Mr.Regular episode was proven wrong multiple times over. They are both ae86s. Japanese cars don’t even have vin numbers. Only a chassis code/model ID. And ae86 is in the chassis code/model ID of BOTH the usdm and jdm ae86. Watch Progression D’s response to Mr.Regular here:

  • avatar

    This was the first DOHC 4-valve engine I ever experienced, and it was a real eye-opener, back in 1985. But I was on a “Buy American” kick at the time (cured by the GM product I did buy), so I didn’t buy one.

    I took a friend shopping for a car, but he just didn’t get it. He kept shifting at around 3,500 RPM, and said he didn’t see what I was talking about.

    I think the redline was around 7,600, unheard of at that time, and you had to shift near it to get the potential out of this engine.

    112 horsepower was the correct figure for at least the first couple of model years. They might have bumped it up a few after that, but certainly not to 124. A closely related engine made 116 in the MR-2 IIRC.

    • 0 avatar
      Kevin Kluttz

      115 in 1987 (Red Top?), and the 5-valve version made 130. Yes, there was a 5-valve version. I cannot remember the car they installed it in. Maybe a bad-ass MR2. And it was in the early 90’s, if I remember the time correctly. But the 5-valve version is vivid in my Toyota memory. I saw a 1985 MR2 massacre a 1987 or so Fiero with a V-6. Funniest thing I’ve ever seen. Roasted him.

      Toyota will NEVER, EVER lose my respect or loyalty, even though I’m a Honda guy now. The AE86 and the MR2 are the main reasons. Thank you for letting me say that.

      Love TrueDelta, Michael!!! Please keep up the good (and I’m sure HARD) work!! And thank you!

    • 0 avatar
      Kevin Kluttz

      It came ALIVE at 4800 when the T-VIS let loose. It really started breathing. The later models redlined at 7700, and the 5-valve must have been 8000. Or more. I never saw the dash of one of those.

    • 0 avatar
      Kevin Kluttz

      I just went to wikipedia…The Red Top was from 1989 to 1991…130 hp in the US (140 in Japan).
      The 5-valve was never sold here. I guess that’s why I couldn’t remember the model. Guess I read about in C/D. The last ones in 1998 made 165hp. AT 7800 RPM. My God.

      Remember the Supercharged MR2? 145hp! And about, what, 2400 lb.?

    • 0 avatar

      as the owner of 3 aw11 mr2’s one ’86 and two ’88’s…

      the ’85-’86 mr2’s came with the blue top 16v 4age making 112hp at the crank.
      the ’87-’89 mr2’s came with the red top 16v 4age making 115hp at the crank.

      the 20valve 4age was never sold in the usa, but is a very common imported engine
      the 20valve version (5 valves per cylinder) came in either gray top or black top, the gray top i believe (i may be wrong, going off old memory) made 130hp at the crank the 1.6ltr black top 20v 4age made 160hp at the crank in the early 90’s (take that civic Si!) the 20v 4age was in the ae111 corolla GT-S in japan.

      the 16v redlines at 7,600rpms. the 20v redlines at 8,000rpms
      however with no engine mods i’ve hit 8,000rpms on my 22 year old 16v 4age with out the revlimiter kicking in and no damage :)

      as far as weight, the ’85 and ’86’ mr2’s came in at around 2,200lbs. the ’87-’89’s were closer to 2,400lb’s in hard top or sun roof, but the T-top was closer to 2,600lb’s and saddly the supercharged 4agze engine only came with a T-top.

      and after owning one t-top mr2 i’ll never own another t-top mr2, hard top or sunroof only.

    • 0 avatar

      If I’m not wrong, the 20V engine came in the AE112 Levin or something like that. JDM stuff.

      Go to wikipedia (for easy/quick info) or google Toyota Corolla Sprinter Trueno or Levin

    • 0 avatar

      the japanese version, i.e. the real ae86 had 128 bhp

  • avatar
    John R

    I believe the romanization is “touge” (or Tōge, Tōuge), not to pick nits.

  • avatar

    Park this next to a 2010 Corolla and you’d never guess they were the same model!

    • 0 avatar

      You’d be pressed to make the connection between this car and the front-drive Corollas that were sold alongside it.

      My parents bought an 1987 front-drive version (E90, I think, was the chassis code), while some friends of theirs picked up an SR5 AE86. I got to drive both a few years later when I got my license and the AE86 was up for sale. The cars were night and day: the AE86 was more fun to drive, but it was also much more cramped inside; I think it cost a fair bit more, too.

      When I look back on it, that kind of model duplication must have cost Toyota a pretty penny to maintain, especially when the AE86 didn’t sell all that well versus the front-drive variant.

      Toyota was probably smart to kill this car. They already had the Celica (which competed directly with it), MR-2 and Supra and there were declining returns on keeping this around. What was sad is that the Supra, MR-2 and Celica eventually went away as well. But can you blame them when people weren’t buying any entry-level sporty cars?

    • 0 avatar
      bumpy ii

      The FWD GT-S was AE92, and had different body styling than the regular Corolla sedans (but did share that body with the first-gen Geo Prizm, minus the flip-up lights).

  • avatar

    Initial D… sorry, it was the first thing I thought.

    When is the 5th stage going to be out?

    I like cars usually like that one, original.

  • avatar
    blue adidas

    A very respectable car in its day. The Corolla name has sure taken a turn for the worse.

  • avatar

    A fun, tossable and simple little car! Which spells disaster in sales here in America. This kind of car is exactly what Americans don’t want…Even my 2004 Mitsub Ralliart seems complex in comparison, which is probably why I can’t find the heart to get rid of the 1997 Tercel parked in the garage with almost 200k on it. I must be a wierdo here in the US not wanting bloated, overweight and numb cars…:)

  • avatar

    There is a gray notchback AE86 I occasionally see around Hillsboro OR that has huge SCCA club rally stickers and a set of driving lights on it, so presumably one AE86 in the Portland area is not a drift car wannabe.

    Another minor trivia point, the AE86 drive train was used in the Rotus sportscar which was a Lotus 7 clone.

  • avatar

    Hope the FT-86 will light a damn fire under FWD honda to give us a REAL performance coupe. Or, at least one that has the elements of a real performance coupe like the AE86 did. Doubt it though…

  • avatar
    Facebook User

    If you check the official Toyota brochures in Japan, you’ll find that the 4A-GE was down-rated from 130PS at launch to 120PS later. The Japanese models use MAP for load sensing instead of the flapper-door air meter that US models got, and they had no EGR and smaller fuel injectors, there really were no significant changes. One source I found says that the lower rating was because of the switch from gross to net power. But the myth that the JDM 4A-GE makes 130hp still goes on.

  • avatar

    Wasn’t there a 5-valve per cylinder head for the 4A-GE engine?

    • 0 avatar
      bumpy ii

      The 20v head came in with the AE101 IIRC, two generations after this one. There are some folks who managed to mate it to the RWD 4A, but it requires a fair amount of custom work.

    • 0 avatar

      Plenty of good AE86 GTS bodies have had holes cut in the firewall because people were too lazy to mount the motor 3 inches forward for this swap.

    • 0 avatar

      At some point there should be a distributor relocation kit to solve this

    • 0 avatar

      There are, but they’re expensive custom japanese pieces. That and the heater block protrudes as well. The alternative is to create a MegaSpark controller or some kind of EMS, or strategically drill some holes and run the 16V RWD 4AG’s water pump. Drift kiddies are too lazy and cheap to do any of that so they just cut holes instead.

  • avatar

    Back in the 80s in the greasy confines of the bone yard, that minute sub-culture of those heroic figures laboring to wrench usable parts off conveyances destined for crushing and shredding and being shipped in bulk to, at that time, Japan (with China a common destination today) all Toyotas and Hondas bore the label “keeper car” since those models were typically either kept around longer or a larger percentage of usable parts were removed and stored for a later sale.

    Another reason for the “keeper car” label was that the buying public was more apt to buy a “junker” requiring major repair such as a new engine or tranny if the entire car was more desirable and considered worthy of the expense involved with repair.

    A required consideration is applicable to Eugene, Beaver State… the lack of metal-eating rust upon the roads of the ‘Frisco Bay area.

    20-year-old and more cars still in decent or better condition are not unusual.

    In the rust belt older cars required tender loving care and kept off the roads, etc. during certain times of the year to keep their youthful appearance and pleasing lines.

  • avatar

    My first new car was a 1987 Corolla FX-16. It was FWD and a hatchback but it did have the same 4A-GE engine as this one, though detuned to 108hp, and the car only weighed 2350 lbs. That car was a blast and I could approach 40 mpg on road trips. It was a great stealth car for a guy in his 20’s, visually similar to the Tercel hatchback but much faster and more fun to drive. There was also an FX-16 GT-S version which I didn’t spring for. I was too cheap for that and preferred not to stand out as much to the local constabulary (it had aggressive-looking stickers and bodywork and a more aggressive suspension, here’s a picture of it: so I bought the “basic” FX-16. Still had the zingy engine though!

    I wouldn’t mind seeing a CC on the FX-16 models someday. Or for any of several late 80s hot hatches. Those where the days, there were a lot of hot hatches to choose from. I don’t remember what all of them were, but I do remember that C&D did a comparo of them in the spring of 1987 (when I was buying mine) and there were about eight in there (I remember the GTI, I think there was an Escort version, one from Renault, etc).

    • 0 avatar

      I 2nd the motion on a future CC as another former Corolla FX-16 owner. (All 2 of us.) The FX-16 had a rev happy engine and could run all day and take a ton of abuse. I had mine for 7 years, graduated college and traded it in for a 92 Acura Integra GSR. Both are long gone but I would love to get my hands on a old FX-16 just as a fun car. I totally agree on the stealthiness of this car as it would run well over 100 mph and then some.

      This car was very zippy and quick – think of the movie The Italian Job the orginal movie not the remake and you have an idea. So much fun.

      I had a former Captain in the Army Reserves who was also an FLA Hwy Patrol Officer who had a white colored FX-16 and I had a black one.
      In 1990, we were recalled to active duty to go to war in Gulf 1 or Desert Storm to us that were there. On the drive to my unit, I will never forget racing along I-75 to get to my unit doing 90-95 miles an hour to report my 1st day. It was still dark outside and I noticed the exact same type of headlights coming at me and coming at me fast. It was my commander passing me doing roughly 110 Mph !! I figured what the heck, if he was doing 110 so would I so we went in tandom for about 50 miles almost all the way to our unit. Of course my Captain led the way and wondered the whole time who the heck is behind me? Once we arrived at our unit and parked he walked over and we got a quick laugh out of it and then we were off to business.

      Can anyone else notice the style of their own car’s headlights coming at them?

      • 0 avatar
        Kevin Kluttz

        And then there were three….I had a 1987 FX16 GT-S in 1987. 110 hp was the figure, and I don’t know why it lost 2 HP in the transition from rear to front drive. And mine was an automatic, bad decision at the time. But I didn’t see another one anywhere else, so I fell for the auto. It did ok. And it was white, just like your picture.

  • avatar

    Message to Mr. Toyoda-
    Please make cars like this again. I will be the first in line to buy one. Get rid of the bloatmobiles.

  • avatar

    Here in socal those things are more expensive than BMW’s of the same vintage. The whole drift craze has blown up the prices.

  • avatar
    Kevin Kluttz

    Oh, my God. That’s MY fucking car from 1985!!! Identical. I posted a ramble on the drifting video, if anyone’s interested for any reason. Best car EVER. At any price, but especially at $12000!!!! Last rear-wheel-drive car I ever had, but what a way to go! Anyone else?
    And it did have power steering. Every GT-S did. Maybe not all the base and SR-5s, but yes with the GT-S. God, what a wonderful car. I wish I had just put a new clutch and timing belt on it and driven it another 6 or 7 years instead of just two and a half. Duh. I let a legend go. It was a lease, however, and I traded into another 4A-GE, so it wasn’t a total loss.
    Uh-oh, and also it did have a Panhard rod. I believe it was a 2-lind with a panhard rod. It was a very”sophisticated” live, very alive, axle!!!
    If you check these things, you may be surprised this old stranger is right!!
    Very great piece on a mighty mite of a car!!!
    You need to find a 1986 Celica GT-S. It was a jewel, too.

  • avatar

    GREAT car, and a great basis for a racing car. Back in the mid-90s, I took a high-performance driving/race driving school at Seattle International Raceway, and these were the “school cars” at the time. Not a lot of power, but with the interiors stripped, the right tires and roll cages, they performed remarkably well on the track.

    At the end of the class, posessing a freshly-minted SCCA Novice licence, I competed in an SCCA race and finished as first loser, after leading for a few laps… stuff, and a fun car to drive!

  • avatar

    The “Initial D” tax on a good AE86 is quite high. Just the other day, I found some yahoo on Craigslist trying to sell an SR-5 $3000. I was lucky enough to pick up a blue ’87 GTS Coupe for $50. It’s the only car I regret selling.

    A friend of mine well versed in suspension tuning, reckons Toyota designed the car to make the most out of very crappy tires. He got his best auto-x times by basically hamfisting it through the cones. It seems to explain why a lot of fairly track-oriented, and hamfisted drivers find it fun to drive, while most drift kiddies who, pick these up after watching 4 seasons of Initial D, get rid of them fairly quickly.

  • avatar

    Toyota didn’t seem all that thrilled with front wheel drive. The first American Toyota with it came in 1980, years after the competition – the Tercel. The Tercel might have been FWD, but it’s engine was longitudinally mounted, intruding into the interior, not giving it’s owners the full benefits of other FWD cars in this class and price range. The 1980 Tercel was half-hearted.

    Their main brand was the Corolla. The Camry was a stretched version originally in Japan and when it was it’s own brand in the US, it arrived with FWD. However, the Camry and the Tercel remained as Toyota’s FWD brands while the RWD Corolla, Celica, and Supra remained RWD.

    When the new FWD Corolla arrived, it had to compete with a refreshed older RWD Corolla line. The FWD Corolla was a boxy four door, while the rest of the Corolla line up was RWD. So, Toyota dealerships had to explain why there were two different kinds of Corollas to customers. Those shopping for FWD were limited to the four door Corolla only. A lot of customers walked out. It wasn’t until the following year that Toyota released a two door FWD Corolla, the FX-16. Then the five door FWD Corolla came out – also known as the Chevrolet Nova, built in California.

    So we see Toyota doing a very slow roll-out with FWD, with competing models with the same brand names with RWD.

    So, this car was seen at the time as a throw-back. This Corolla didn’t have the modern look and feel of it’s FWD counterparts. It’s interior was cramped in comparison, and at the time, was simply new sheet metal on an old car. As to handling, yeah – this Corolla had wonderful handling, but that is due to it’s older design.

    During this era, Toyota didn’t seem as enthused as it’s competition regarding FWD.

  • avatar

    It took Honda longer to phase out their sporty coupes than Toyota. I do admire the Supra, but still.

    The SW20 MR2 did have a couple of appearances in INITIAL D as well, but the real stars of the show were the Nissans.

  • avatar

    Toyata Corollas are great cars. I think people will never forget the corolla no matter what.

    Mark Harris

  • avatar
    Jim K

    Great memories Paul. My best friend in high school had one a few years out. It is amazing we didn’t die in that car the way he drove it.

    How about a CC on the original Acura Integra……my first new car out of college in 1989! Same era for me and brings back the same memories!

    • 0 avatar

      Me as well, in 1987. I cross-shopped the Corolla GTS and found it distinctly lacking against the nifty new Acura (and the much more expensive Scirocco), not to mention cramped and poorly appointed in comparison. Honda’s very comparable DOHC 1.6 made identical power but in a more refined manner. Living in a snowy, mountainous place where RWD loses its charm much of the year sealed the deal in favor of FWD, and I’ve never regretted getting the Integra. I’ve been amused at the recent nostalgic hype for the “AE86,” which was certainly never known as such when it was sold new.

  • avatar

    Thanks for the article. Great car… I’ve had one since 92’…. Only one mistake: The lesser versions could be had with manual steering, but not the GT-S (to use all factory parts, have to swap the engine cradle, steering column, rack, steering arms etc.. quite a lot… Can do it other ways too tho). I’ve also had the 20v motor, which never came in these, but is a much better motor (basically same block, just much better head and intake)

  • avatar

    One of the last semi interesting Toyota models(along with the MR2)- paint peel, shredding seats and all. Too bad the current Carolla is such a bore and outdated looking.

  • avatar

    The engine was quite revolutionary in its day, especially in the states where nobody wasn’t familiar with high revving engines. Factory info says the redline is 7600rpm, but I’ve driven quite few and they bounce off the limiter around 8000rpm. But engine just wants to keep going even higher. I thik this was the first truly mass-produced engine in the world that used 4 valve head.

  • avatar

    Great write up.

    I’d like to point out the AE86 began Toyota’s current fate, that is, they got too big to be specialized. This car, along-side the Supra, were perfect examples of adding more and more, until they were pratically unaffordable by the young, single, alpha-male market they initially targeted.

  • avatar
    Philip Riegert

    I currently own a 1987 Corolla GT-S. Done up the suspension, added a TRD LSD, T3 quickshifter, manual steering swap, some decetn 15×7 wheels with a nice offset. What a car. There isn’t a single time I drive it that I don’t enjoy it. Toyota will never build a car like that again.

    • 0 avatar

      I own a 1986 Corolla GT-S. I bought it new in Feb. 86. I could never let it go. I had some body work to the car, shocks, struts, clutch, header, and it looks pretty good. I am having trouble finding a drivers side door panel in black/grey. Any recommendations.

  • avatar

    I picked up a 1983 ae86 hatch sr5 for 750 bucks is that a pretty good deal?

Read all comments

Back to TopLeave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.

Recent Comments

  • EBFlex: It’s up $10.00 from last year….so I guess Xiden can control the price of burgers, brats, hot...
  • EBFlex: “You are arguing for the continued use of vehicles that for the most part are decades old in...
  • DenverMike: I agree only because of their current state of, can’t do anything right. And damn Nissan was class...
  • Lou_BC: @sgeffe – I too doubt it’s towing ability. I test drove a Silverado TrailBoss crew long box up a...
  • 28-Cars-Later: Cheers, Lou!

New Car Research

Get a Free Dealer Quote

Who We Are

  • Adam Tonge
  • Bozi Tatarevic
  • Corey Lewis
  • Jo Borras
  • Mark Baruth
  • Ronnie Schreiber