An 86 AEdiction
The Toyota AE86 holds a special place in my heart and in my lifetime. It is common in the sub-community of hachi roku owners to express their addict-like tendencies towards this sculpted piece of retro Aichi steel. When you type in AE86 you see so many different cars, builds from around the world along with those time capsules where everything was preserved; you sometimes also see some of the most decrepit examples for sale well above the price any sane person would pay. The Toyota Corolla GTS/SR5 as it is known here in the United States, has launched itself into a new realm of collectability that has also pushed the price of purchasing a clean example well above the cost of a brand new 2021 Toyota Corolla. In Japan, the Sprinter Trueno and Levin variants have faired the same, prices are up, collectors have become more stingy; and for those who care... others do too, and they want to keep them alive.
This editorial could very well be about the four right-hand drive panda AE86's pictured; all of these Tampa based cars are owned for different reasons and serve different purposes. When thinking about why anyone would want a 30+ year old Toyota with parts that have become increasingly difficult to find, one answer would be nostalgia. Those who grew up in the 70's and 80's could remember when these cars were new, pop-up lights, a dual overhead cam motor, sleek styling, and rear wheel drive. Imagine having a parent purchase this car and going on a drive..."oh what a feeling!", the negative image of imported Japanese cars had worn off during the time of Toyota's golden era; everything in the lineup back then sold well and was built to last. Another era of nostalgia exists right after with those who grew up in the 90's, these vehicles were now on the used car market, they were cheap and plentiful as most saw them as reliable transportation while, others transformed them into something more.
Before drifting came of age, before it made its way to the U.S. through imported copies of the Option series on VHS; people used these cars to autocross, road race, drag race, and anything else you could think of. Somewhere on a racingjunk.com ad is a car built in that era that did more than most others thought it could. Overseas of course the competitiveness of the AE86 was no secret since Nobuaki Katayama finished engineering the final touches of a future cult classic. In Japan the Trueno and Levin enjoyed much success in road racing, this spread out to Europe as well where that same enthusiasm was shared along with rally racing. That time before the internet and social media generated local legends which have come to light recently with eager automotive journalists helping share the stories of these forgotten machines.
It's hard to say the AE86 was ever forgotten, it existed in a time where the Celica, Supra, Cressida, MR2, and many other models that never made it stateside; all of them outperforming the 2-door in some metric. However, people held on to them for many years which means that they sold in abundance, we could try to guess figures and go through Wikipedia to find exact sales numbers, but the AE86 has never exactly been a rare car. The rare aspect used in marketing that car you don't want to bother working on is in completeness; an original GTS model with a complete interior is like finding a hard drive with bitcoin in a landfill. What came after the 90's and from it was drifting, and to be honest less usage of that old car your sister drove to College. The hachi roku was a cheap and easy car to modify to make it drift worthy, in Japan the right set of tires and LSD made for an underpowered sliding machine when in the hands of the right pilot. The early 2000's brought drifting to the United States, not just Keichi Tsuchiya skidding through a corner as he won races in JTCC during the mid 80's; modern day subjectively scored drifting.
Of course, drifting started in the mountain roads of Japan but became a sport similar to how NASCAR came from bootlegging and drag racing came from...well the many stoplight races we still witness today. Drifting made the AE86 chassis a little more scarce in a sense, the lightweight chassis paired with a high revving motor meant that if you had the guts to attack an apex you might make it out the other side in glorious plumes of smoke, Katsuhiro Ueo did this to win the D1 Grand Prix in 2002. Sliding cars is inherently dangerous and even professionals sometimes have accidents, this has created something called the "drift tax." Most lightweight rear-drive Japanese cars from the 80's through early 90's have suffered from the drift tax, the inflation on costs for parts and full vehicles due to the disposable usage of certain platforms in the search for skid racing greatness! Although online communities speak of dwindling numbers of AE86s due to drifting, it is to be had with a grain of salt as this overly hyped myth usually pertains to unmolested examples that probably shouldn't be abused.
So maybe that's why people like these old Corollas, drifting, it's fun, and so is racing although around a corner a solid rear axles doesn't seem to be the first choice for many but let's not get into why I'm building my own AE86. Growing up my brother had a beautiful red AE86 he purchased for just $500, he was involved in street racing and it sparked my interest in this particular model because that lightly modified engine would sing up to the rev limit, and keep pulling like it was possessed. Off the street and on the track I also witnessed some prominent drag racers from Puerto Rico use part of the chassis and the likeness of the "twincam" to lay down ridiculous quarter mile times. Being a child and witnessing Felo Racing's 3TC powered monster tear down the strip in 8 seconds inspired myself and many others to one day buy their own "old little Toyota." Although not the ideal car to use for drag racing, with enough modification any vehicle can be made to go fast, a quick search of one of these cars for sale may bring you to an example with an engine too large to fit safely within the confines of the stock firewall, and the transmission tunnel is usually cut out as well...this is part of the perplexing enthusiastic nature behind the hachi roku.
The reason so many other people love the AE86 is because of this kid named Takumi Fujiwara who drives a hand me down hatchback from his dad Bunta, to deliver tofu late at night through the mountains of Japan. The manga and subsequent anime for Initial D has spawned a following so large for the AE86 that it could potentially be the main reason why the new 86 is entering it's 2nd generation. After finding out that the car I owned had it's own anime I just had to buy the DVDs and binge watch it; to be fair it is highly entertaining and justifies the amount of replicas people have built throughout the years of the ultimate hero car. In my own opinion the reason why the story of Initial D and the hero car resonate with so many readers/viewers, is because of the underdog nature of the ハチロク. Takumi is just a kid, he's driving an old car against high powered machines that are pretty much unobtainable from the viewpoint of yesterday's AE86 buyers; yet he finds a way to win, through skill and experience... it's inspiring, just check out the live action filmed choreographed by Keichi Tsuchiya himself.
Yes, people have purchased, and are purchasing Corolla GTS/SR5s because of Initial D; not to mention the various video games like Gran Turismo and Forza which have given people the ability to virtually experience #86Life. Media has played a major part and once you have that connection it's hard not to replay sequences of Bridesmaid when Wiig she's driving her red 1987 Corolla SR5 coupe. Perhaps this is part of the reason for the soaring prices, Bring A Trailer has seen prices go up as high as $40k for a pristine example with very low miles. Sometimes when something costs more we are automatically programmed into thinking we want it as well, without having ever driven an AE86 people are lusting for an experience that has been romanticized but not properly explained.
The reason why people suffer from this AEdiction is because of the reward of driving an AE86. Driving a slow car fast will usually result in becoming a better driver and having a better experience behind the wheel, a forgiving rear drive coupe is the perfect foil for that. Memories are born within the confines of the metal in, and around the many AE86s that still exist today, it is hard to part with yesterday as so many owners have stuck around with this platform because it is what they know best. The simplicity in cars has gone extinct and the AE86 provides a chance to turn back time, to use hand tools to fix your most common problems, to read the manuals you saved up for so many years, there's a connection and dedication involved with being the owner of a hachi roku. While the internet can be a bad place, it is not so much so for the automotive community, and for the AE86 community it has spawned many friendships through places like Club4AG, a marketplace to find parts, forums to share technical knowledge, and even until today a place to gather in person. Everyone's experience with the AE86 is different, the tone of my own ups and downs as a community member may be felt through my words but I tend to think they are a shared with the sentiment that we all have a stake in this very important car. Passion continues to drive the development of this old chassis, people gather every August 6th to celebrate 86 ownership, this car is without a doubt an underdog that wins.