The Toyota Corolla AE86 is a classic drift car suited to rally and drifting motorsports due to these attributes: Rear wheel drive limited slip differential configuration, low vehicle weight, good balance, a 5-speed manual gearbox, ventilated disc brakes, MacPherson strut style independent suspension in front and a four-link live axle with coil springs for the rear, stabilizer bars (sway bars) at both ends, and a relatively powerful and easy to tune 4-cylinder engine.
In Japan, these qualities made the AE86 popular with Japanese street racers named “Hashiriya,” who raced the AE86 in mountain passes, named “touges,” where the tight corners suited the AE86. Many car enthusiasts refer to the AE86 by its Japanese name “Hachi-Roku,” which translated literally means “eight-six.”
Japanese racing legend Keiichi “Drift King” Tsuchiya helped popularize the sport of drifting while driving the AE86. The AE86 continues to have a large fan base because the classic relatively inexpensive drift car is capable of competing against much newer, more expensive, and powerful sports cars like the Nissan Skyline and Silvia in D1 Grand Prix and Formula D drifting events.
There were two versions of the AE86 and two body styles. The versions are commonly known by their Japanese names “Zenki” (early model) and “Kouki” (later model). The Zenki was produced from 1983 until 1985 and the Kouki was produced from 1986 to 1987. The chassis remained the same throughout production with the only changes being aesthetic and minor strengthening of the transmission. The two body styles available are the coupe and hatchback. The coupe is generally thought of as being the stronger of the two and is slightly lighter and therefore is usually chosen for racing purposes.
In Japan and Europe, the AE86 was available with a fuel-injected 4-cylinder twin-cam 1587cc 4A-GEU engine which was also used in the first-generation Toyota MR2 (AW11). The 4A-GEU engine had a power output of 130 PS (97 kW) and 103 ft·lbf (140 Nm) of torque standard from the Toyota factory.
In North America, a modified 4A-GEC engine was used to comply with California emissions regulations. Power was rated at 112 bhp (84 kW), and 100 ft·lbf (136 Nm) of torque.
The 4A-GE engines were equipped with T-VIS or Toyota Variable Induction System that improves the low-end torque of high-performance, small displacement four-stroke engines by changing the geometry of the intake manifold according to the engine rotation speed.
Models equipped with the 4A-GE engine received a 6.7″ rear differential, while other models equipped with the 4A-C engine received a smaller, weaker, 6.38″ rear differential. The AE86 SR5 (4A-C equipped) had an optional automatic transmission, though the GT-S model (4A-GE engine) only came with a standard 5-speed manual gearbox.
In Japan, the DOHC 4A-GEU AE86 was offered in GT-APEX or GTV trims as the Corolla Levin or Sprinter Trueno, with SOHC 3A-U AE85 version sold in a variety of trims including SR and GT.
In North America, the top-spec DOHC 4A-GEC AE86 was sold as the Corolla GT-S and the lower-spec SOHC 4A-C AE86 was sold as the Corolla SR5, both versions sold with pop-up headlights only. Lower-spec American AE86 SR5 models used a smaller 4A-C SOHC engine, did not have optional LSD, and had rear drum brakes instead of disks.
Euro spec models were sold as the Corolla GT with DOHC engines and fixed Levin-style headlights. The Middle East received the same basic model as the North American market, with pop-up headlights and the regulated 5 mph (8 km/h) bumpers.
Toyota Corolla Levin GT APEX AE86 - Fixed Headlights
Toyota Corolla Trueno AE86 - Pop-up Headlights
Both the Levin and Trueno AE86 variants were offered with either a 2-door coupe or 3-door liftback, or hatchback, body style. Both the Levin and Trueno were generally identical, apart from fixed, rectangular headlights on the Levin and pop-up headlights on the Trueno. Minor bodywork changes were made in 1986 which resulted in different tail lights for both Levin and Trueno models, along with the coupe and hatchback styles.
The AE86 is frequently seen in Japanese manga and anime including Initial D, éX-Driver, Tenjou Tenge, Over Rev, Azumanga Daioh, Dear Boys, School Rumble, Capeta, Transformers: Energon, Jigoku Shojo, Jigoku Shoujo Futakomori, and [adult swim] hit FLCL. Manga appearances include Beck and Shuichi Shigeno’s earlier work Tunnel Nuketara Sky Blue.
Racing video games like: Namco’s The Fast and the Furious (PS2), Microsoft’s Forza Motorsport franchise, Electronic Arts’s Need for Speed franchise, and Sega’s Initial D Arcade Stage all feature the AE86 as a playable car.
More than 20 years after its production, the Toyota Corolla AE86 continues to play a roll in drifting and street racing. In modern day drifting, the AE86 is a classic under dog that continues to compete among drifting’s elite race cars. It is pretty impressive to see an AE86 hang with a Skyline during tsuiso battle.