Grandfather to the drift scene, the Corolla AE86 gained notoriety due to its surprising lust for going sideways.
Far removed from latter day Corollas, where one former Top Gear presenter described it as ‘built without emotion or passion’ this Toyota had some bite. In 1983, us Brits could have a Corolla GT in FWD and RWD form. The AE86 is the latter – the funner, wilder, better-looking sister. Due to this, it became the darling of the modified scene. A wolf in sheep's clothing, it even said Corolla on the back. It helped power the Playstation Generation’s lust for Japanese wheels, and even featured in a Japanese ‘Manga’ comic series ‘Initial D’, where the main characters drifted AE86s through the hills of Japan.
TORQUE 105lb ft@5200rpm
MAXIMUM SPEED 122 mph
TRANSMISSION RWD, five-speed manual
WHAT TO LOOK FOR
As with many Japanese cars of the 1980s, rust and corrosion is a huge problem. Some specialists have even suggested that getting a good shell is far more important than buying a car that’s mechanically sound. Rust can be found on the hood, front door, sun roof, windshield and the bootlid. Finding spare parts can also be a headache, so it’s often easier to get it welded. Luckily, as these cars are popular with the drift fraternity there’s plenty of specialists used to welding various parts of these cars.
Clutches on Corollas can be a problem. Many have been modified or upgraded, which is a sensible thing to do. Standard items can become very spongy or hard to shift. If this is the case, try bleeding the system and take a look at the release and master cylinders. If it’s slipping inspect the release fork, as it can bind.
Suspension was originally hard on the cars, look at its history to see if its been replaced at any point. If it wanders along the road like a lost drunkard it’s most likely a problem with the wheel alignment, or the steering linkage might be loose. Bottoming out over bumps is another common complaint, if it keeps happening try replacing the springs.
Like the rest of the car, the brakes are generally reliable. Standard cars were fitted with discs at the front and drums on the rear, although many may have discs all round now. Replacing shoes, calipers or pads depending upon the problem will fix the majority of the ailments around the system. Aftermarket items are easy to obtain in the UK, but if you’re after original parts, it’s worth while looking in Ireland or Japan.
The AE86GT was a rear wheel drive drive 2-door coupe with a 122bhp twin cam engine. It’s thank to this formula that it was such a star of the drifting and modifying scene. This means that rev-happy engine may have had a hard life. Unlike with most Corollas, you won’t find any shagged ones from a mini-cab or a cherished used one from an octogenarian. You’ll find one from an enthusiast who has enjoyed it. These engines are generally bulletproof, but watch out for modifications and made-up service history.
Japanese cars have a charm of their own, and no matter how some traditionalists feel, they're becoming more and more important to the classic car scene. The Corolla AE86 is a car for people in the know. To the regular man on the street, it’s just an old car, probably worth a couple of hundred quid. To the enthusiast, it’s a car for people with great taste who want something historically important, memorable and that is fun to drive. The fact it’s a Corolla makes it perversely more attractive – the AE86 has a revvy twin cam engine and sideways action abilities, mixed with solid build quality and reliable mechanicals.