Digestible Collectible: 1988 Toyota Corolla FX16 GTS

Chris Tonn
by Chris Tonn

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.

Chris Tonn
Chris Tonn

Some enthusiasts say they were born with gasoline in their veins. Chris Tonn, on the other hand, had rust flakes in his eyes nearly since birth. Living in salty Ohio and being hopelessly addicted to vintage British and Japanese steel will do that to you. His work has appeared in eBay Motors, Hagerty, The Truth About Cars, Reader's Digest, AutoGuide, Family Handyman, and Jalopnik. He is a member of the Midwest Automotive Media Association, and he's currently looking for the safety glasses he just set down somewhere.

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  • Jaloppe Jaloppe on Feb 21, 2016

    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... http://fx16gts.blogspot.com/

  • Cimarron typeR Cimarron typeR on Feb 22, 2016

    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.

  • Corey Lewis The short truck is terrible. The tire blocks all rear visibility while making the tiny bed very tricky to access. And the wheels on it look like they're from 2002. Other than that, I really like the idea of the Grenadier and it seems like a good effort. I wouldn't buy one because of the tractor recirculating ball steering, which makes it terrible in everyday use.
  • Bjohnson10 Coast to Coast by the Jesus and Mary Chain. It's only about someone on a cross-country motorcycle trip while high on heroin.
  • Funky D A few from my road trip playlist: Eddie Rabbitt - Drivin' My Life AwayAmerica - Ventura Highway---Herb Alpert - Route 101Jerry Reed - East Bown and DownEddie Money - Shakin'Lindey Buckingham - Holiday RoadWar - Low RiderTears for Fears - Everybody Wants to Rule the World (Not a driving song per se, but if you've seen the video, you'll get it)Wang Chung - Wait (Gotta see the end credits of "To Live and Die in LA", for this one)
  • Ronin Or can sedans be saved from themselves? Modern sedans have very low entry and seating, and unnecessarily downward sloping rear roofs. This may have been a sleek design center 25 years ago, but it's nice to have an alternative to SUVs for the olds (ie, anyone over 30).
  • Bd2 The Hyundai Sonota is the best sedan on the market right now.