By on May 23, 2014


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.

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24 Comments on “Crapwagon Outtake: Feels Like The First Time...”

  • avatar

    There’s no substitute for low mass. When it comes to a driver’s car, light is right.

  • avatar

    I love the simplicity and sportiness of it’s interior. Very cool.

  • avatar

    I’ve always loved the design of the Corolla twin cam coupe so much more that the hatchback. Such a great looking little car.

  • avatar

    I never understood why these gets so much love, light small engine Chevettes are always hated (even if RWD and stick, and brown).

    If “Last Car Standing” taught me anything, its that these Ae86s have weak front suspensions.

    These are like CRX’s, Suzuki Samurais, and Nissan S cars where they’re great once you’ve dumped a bit into mods, but in stock I don’t get the appeal. To me they’re just a dime a dozen product tossed out of Toyota with only the smallest of enthusiasm in the engineering and styling.

    • 0 avatar

      Comparing a Chevette to an AE86 is like comparing poop to chocolate.

      • 0 avatar

        The Corolla was def the superior of the two but I wouldn’t go that far. More like a plain soda cracker to a graham cracker.

      • 0 avatar

        What about the AE85? The AE86 with most of its merits tossed out?

        They weigh about what a Chevette does, come with tiny engines, and put out similar power figures.

        • 0 avatar
          bumpy ii

          I think every surviving AE85 has a 4A-GE or more in it by now, so it’s something of a moot point. Back in the day it was more of a content-delete version of the 86, rather than a crappile like the Chevette.

    • 0 avatar

      Back in the day these cars didn’t get much love stateside. They were cute, but way down on power compared to something like the Mustang 5.0. Even my Shadow – yeah, wrong wheel drive I know – had way more power than these.

      Initial D put this car on the map, but people forget that the reason the author chose that car is that it was just a basic bean can (maybe a little zippier than most, sure) and you had this amazing genius kid who didn’t even like cars doing incredible things in it. That’s where the drama comes from, he wins because of his driving talent not because he went out and got the fastest thing ever.

      • 0 avatar

        Initial D didn’t really put this car on the map (maybe in the states), Keiichi Tsuchiya did.

        He’s also the editorial supervisor for Initial D.

      • 0 avatar

        “Even my Shadow – yeah, wrong wheel drive I know – had way more power than these.”

        Put some trays on that thing and you’ll have a blast without ruining your rear tires.

      • 0 avatar

        I thought the story was that the author of Initial D actually owned an AE86 and a GC8. The story is good in that to create a legend it needs to be a myth doing the impossible. The real car came out when Toyota’s slogan was Fun To Drive.

  • avatar

    I sure do love these, but they’re not priced much better here either. I have a neighbor who bought a project last year for $2500 to set up for autocross and never got it going and sold it off. I wish he’d have told me before he sold it, but I already have my hands/calendar/wallet full with this RX-7.

    And yeah, I’m driving “that” FC, except it’s an S4 (10AE) instead of an S5. The “Initial D tax” isn’t that bad because rotaries scare people away!

    Driving newer cars is weird — they’re not as engaging.

    • 0 avatar

      “Driving newer cars is weird — they’re not as engaging.”

      I won’t argue with that, with fake engine sounds and minimum road feel unless if you opt for spine-snapping suspension set ups.

  • avatar

    I saw a full restored Corolla GT-S yesterday. Car was gorgeous with a wonderful exhaust note.

    These were tremendously good cars – shame what the Corolla has withered to – admittedly the new S trim model is very attractive on the outside.

  • avatar

    I bought a 2004 Celica GTS with 2,000 miles on it in 2005. The Supra wheels were stock with the GTS package, which also included independent rear suspension and rear disc brakes. I called it the “sheep in wolf’s clothing” because it looked like a sports coupe but the 22RE engine was so underpowered. Manual transmission had to be rebuilt at 105,000 miles – and I had changed the fluid every 30,000 miles – sold the car with about 125,000 miles on it, last I heard it was still running with over 300,000 miles. I had put Castrol GTX and new filter in it every 3,000 miles, and done my own manual valve adjustments – a first for me. It had rust problems – Toyota still hadn’t gotten the hang of rust-proofing, and I live in Florida, not the rust belt. The tires were too wide for such a lightweight car, we get standing water on the roads all times in monsoon like Florida thunderstorms, that car used to terrify me aquaplaning.

  • avatar

    One of my wife’s friends drove an AE86 hatch in high school (albeit a slushboxed one, I believe). She mostly takes my word for it that these are something sort of special (instead of the first car-grade beater she sees them as), but I imagine there’s no way I could get away with buying one at the prices they’re trading for, even now.

    I had a couple friends try and teach me to drive stick back then – one in an ’86 Fiero, and one in an EG Civic (the fuel economy special VX, IIRC). Things went way, way better in the Honda, although I’m not sure how much was because it was a nicer car to drive (being a shining example of simplicity and lightness and classic Honda Goodness), and how much was because the Fiero’s owner fixed it up with his dad, and was a little protective of it.

  • avatar

    I used to have an ’86 GT-S coupe in good shape. I got it from a friend in exchange for an engine swap on his Mazda hatchback, which another friend of mine did for the princely sum of $50 and a latte. The car even even came with the late-style JDM plastic bumpers. I eventually sold it for a ’91 240SX because the engine had some unidentified issue and I wanted AC.

    I later found out from the next owner that the engine simply had a stuck valve and he replaced the engine with a used $300 one. He sold it for a Miata, and the we saw of it was on Cragislist, half-covered in Bondo with a cheap fiberglass body kit hanging off the front. I should have thrown the car under a tarp at my parents’ house, held onto it until I graduated, then fix the problems and started doing motorsportsy things to it once I could afford to.

    What happened to the car after I sold it, and what I realized I could have done with the car myself, are the reasons why this is the only car that I’ve regretted selling.

  • avatar

    The first car I ever bought, in ’85, was a ’77 Corolla with the 1200c engine. Picked it up for $450 (around $900 inflation-adjusted), with 91k, drove it 70k before I sold it. It wasn’t nearly as responsive as Derek’s, but I could beat the thing and it never complained. I thought of getting “redlinin” for a personalized license plate, because that’s how I drove it. I also used to shift without using the clutch. I don’t miss it, but I did enjoy the hell out of it.

  • avatar

    That would be my car and yes I miss it very much. Had more rust problems than I was willing to deal with and I needed a car a.s.a.p. so it had to go sadly.

    My GT-Four is a hell of a good time though and I still have my 1986 Corolla SR5 hatchback in my garage that I’ll restore one day so no worries about that.

  • avatar

    I would have named it Snot, and proceeded to beat that right out of it!

  • avatar

    I owned an ’84 GT-S hatchback and loved it. When my brother destroyed it after driving it from Boston to the West Coast it felt as if I had lost a part of me, particularly when I received the insurance check. No car since has felt the same.

  • avatar

    The Corolla GT-S is a useful Drift car. It has formidable acceleration and is capable of reaching an average top speed for a Tier 2 Tuner.

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