By on February 10, 2016

1988 Toyota Corolla FX16 GT-S

It was the summer of 1990, and my mom was getting tired of her old Sentra. With barely 70 horsepower, it was lethargic on any grade. To be fair, we live in Ohio, so steep hills are not frequently encountered, but the car was not meeting her needs. I encouraged her to start shopping, and we ended up at a Toyota dealer.

While I drooled over the Celica and Corolla GT-S, mom found a light blue Corolla sedan that she fell in love with. Save for an AM/FM-cassette, it was stripped — we even had to buy an aftermarket clock! — but it had more power and room than the old Nissan. Good thing, too, as that was the summer I went from five-foot-five to six-foot-two-inches tall.

She’s on Corolla number five or six now. It may not inspire enthusiasts, but the Corolla inspires loyalty.

I rather wish mom had chosen something with a 4A-GE twin-cam, like today’s 1988 Toyota Corolla FX16 GTS, and kept it until I could drive. Roughly 120 hp in a lightweight, good handling, front-drive package would have been a riot — and murder on my license.

The nearly-legendary Toyota 4A-GE engine, as used in the MR2, the iconic AE86 Corolla, and the Formula Atlantic race series, loves to wind out to redline, and is a joy to drive. Interestingly, this FX16 hatch was built in the NUMMI plant in California, now home to Tesla.

It’s a shame that this dealer hasn’t posted more photos, or even a price. Most of these are long gone in the north, having relented to the road salt. I’d guess this should sell for around $3,000 in perfect condition, which is the only way I’d imagine a Toyota dealer would keep a car this old on the lot.

Creepy automotive-Oedipal note: when my wife and I first met, she was driving another NUMMI built, Corolla-based product: a 1987 Chevy Nova, which was basically a five-door hatch version of this GTS. We kept that thing running until shortly before we got married, only selling it to fund new tires for the Miata.

Sadly, while scavenging for Miata parts a few years later, I found her rust-ravaged Nova in a junkyard. I’ve a feeling, however, that there will always be a Corolla of some sort in our family.

Chris Tonn is a broke classic car enthusiast that writes about old cars, since he can’t afford to buy them. Commiserate with him on Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram.

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48 Comments on “Digestible Collectible: 1988 Toyota Corolla FX16 GTS...”

  • avatar

    I owned the GenI MR2, which as noted shared the same engine as this car. The MR2 was a blast to drive, but I always assumed this was a more practical, but likely just as fun, version of the that MR2. Most people had no idea what this car was or what was under the hood.

    I could never get much more excited than that as my mom drove a Corolla at the time and that just wouldn’t do :)

    • 0 avatar

      Had one of these in blue with silver trim while stationed in northern Japan. Loved this car and would have brought it back if not for the changes in law regarding right hand drive vehicles. This was a close to owning a CRX as I ever got and miss that car whenever a twisty bit of road comes my way. Love the light, tossable cars of the late ’80’s!

  • avatar

    Love, love, love the FX16. Tested a number of them and in the back of my mind always kind of wish I would have pulled the trigger on one back in the day. Just so hard to find an equivalent car today, as most folks don’t want little hatches (or ones without a ton of tech). I wish that the new (and soon to be rebadged) iM channeled a bit more of the FX16 than it does. With a bit more mojo under the hood, I’d be dearly tempted to get one with a manual trans. Sadly, what I really need is to find a fun(ish) replacement next year for my ’04 Lancer Sportback. Not too many decent small(er) wagons with manuals out there anymore.
    Ah, for the days when Toyota actually had a decent selection of enthusiast cars. Of course, they sell more of their toaster Camry and Corollas than ever before, so what do I know about running an automotive company.

  • avatar

    Obviously it’s very charming and rare, and I like things with white wheels. But the interior is a letdown, and not as wacky or fun as I had imagined. This one seems well-equipped with power windows and sunroof.

    It’s not listed on their site at all, either.

    I bet they’re asking $5,000.

  • avatar

    Definitely very fun and well built cars, but boy an EF Civic Si hatchback of the same model year is SO much better looking!

  • avatar

    I bought my first car in 1986. Was deciding between this and the Integra, which was just being launched. I wound up with the ‘teg, and have been a Honda buyer for 30 years now.

  • avatar

    Can carguru’s specs be correct? Even with all that beautiful greenhouse this car was only 50-ish inches tall? 10″ shorter than the Fit? Looks are deceiving.

  • avatar

    I have a friend that raced one of these this past weekend in a LeMons race. His team was running 7th when I last checked on Sunday.

  • avatar

    Another flashback to when Toyota made fun, sporty cars. I guess with Scion gone maybe Toyota can use the GT86/Celica… sorry FRS to get their groove back. Did these ever come with AWD or turbos like the Celica? Or am I just remembering a rally modified version in a video game?

  • avatar

    WTF is with dealers who list cars for sale and put no price up? I see this all over the place.

    FWIW if anyone works/runs/advises dealership when I see a car for sale with no price, I see this as a technique to torture me if I just want to inquire. I ain’t coming in to hear about the price. Equally see this as a shady way of setting the price at whim based upon the stupidity of the person sitting in front of them.

    • 0 avatar

      “Make an offer!”

      Some BS

    • 0 avatar

      Am waiting for a reply to my inquiry from the dealership. They sent me a short video of the car, but didn’t address the “how much?” question. I’m sure they think they are sitting on a rare and valuable collector’s car, so they’d prefer I make the two hour drive down from here to look at it in person. Sadly, as I’m in the middle of adopting my 9-year old niece from a very nasty situation, I am much too broke to likely consider a toy. GoFundMe, maybe???

    • 0 avatar


      I’m in total agreement with you. Please put the price up so I have a rough idea of where the negotiations will start and how delusional you are as a dealer. I’m not calling you just to find out a price either.

    • 0 avatar

      I see this at antique shows and such too, I’m always tempted to offer $5, if they arent making the price than I will!

  • avatar

    This car should’ve sold as good or better than the CRX si, as they were about the same car. They felt exactly the same driving them, but the FX16 was lost in the Corolla cluster of models, none looking like the others.

  • avatar

    Dealership just responded with asking price…$5995 plus doc fees. Think I’m going to pass…

  • avatar

    I remember the book on these when they came out was that they were Toyota’s GTI knockoff, but the handling was kind of squirrelly by comparison. Also, as the author noted, like all small Japanese cars of that era they rusted to powder. Good motor, though.

  • avatar
    Felis Concolor

    After easily dusting a fellow driving his buddy’s MR2 while I was rocking my beloved GLH Turbo, I became a close friend for cruise nights and other island gatherings. About 6 months after the drubbing he had experienced at my hands, I was approached by said friend seeking advice as to which new hot hatchback he should purchase for himself.

    Knowing that few would thank me for putting them into the occasionally rocky love-hate relationship which characterized Turbo Mopar ownership, I nixed his suggestion to order another turbocharged Omni and instead pointed him to the forthcoming FX-16 GT. He ended up getting the 1st one delivered to the state (it’s good to have friends at Servco Pacific) and was still thanking me about it 2 years later.

  • avatar

    Owned a black FX16 with an automatic transmission for a few years. It was great fun to drive. One amazing thing about the automatic is if you are going around 35mpg and hit the gas peddle really hard the transmission would downshift two gears and start you at 6000 rpm and then to 7500 rpm before it upshifts to the next gear. And it sounded great. Crazy car.

  • avatar

    Mother had one of these. It was her first new car and, her first Toyota. Her’s was a white 2 door manual. Supposidly, one day it caught on fire while she was on the highway (mid to late 90s?). She drove it through rush hour traffic over 40 miles [for around 2 hours] with smoke pouring out of the the hood due to the fear of being left broken down on the most busiest highway in the state. It died in the driveway after she shut it off and, it was towed to the junkyard. 2 weeks later. She then got a new 4Runner.

    For Toyota quality, to this day I can’t belive it drove for so long while on fire! Few cars today would be able to survive such a ordeal.

  • avatar

    This exact Fx16GTS was my car for a few years and I did a complete respray of a very original car. It had 153,000 miles on it but the entire car was in excellent original condition. I sold this and my 1979 Corona LE Liftback to a dealer in Louisiana that was opening a brand new Toyota store and wanted vintage, mint Toyotas to put on his showroom floor a few years back. I sold the FX for $6000 back then. Had every option that year with a 5 speed. Super fun car. This was the story…

  • avatar
    cimarron typeR

    My older brother had a silver fx16.It was very stealthy.No aero or monochromatic paint. 14in steeliness. It would run circles around my mk1 gti(also silver). His regular fx16 did include some of the best seats of the era.They were straight from the mr2. We couldn’t believe how easily it spun to redline,which seemed astronomical at the time. A friend of ours had an identical white fx16gts to the photo.His had a lot more miles but held identically as well to ours with only 35k or so on the clock.
    It was fun to surprise v6 mustang owners with it. I wish we had kept both of those silver hatches.

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