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Tofu, Eurobeat, and Drifting: How the Toyota AE86 Corolla Inspired the 86

While the current-gen 86/BRZ is bowing out, Toyota’s most affordable rear-wheel-drive sports car will return soon. And before it does, it’s worth looking back at where it came from—which, to some, maybe a surprising place. The modern 86 shares fairly little with the Toyota Corolla. But once upon a time, those separate nameplates were part of the same one: the Toyota AE86 Corolla. And if you’re a fan of drifting, Fast and Furious, and anime, it’s a name you need to know.

What is the Toyota AE86 Corolla?

A black-and-white 1986 JDM Toyota AE86 Sprinter Trueno GT-Apex in a parking garage
1986 JDM Toyota AE86 Sprinter Trueno GT-Apex | Bring a Trailer

As ‘ND’ and ‘NB’ are for the Mazda Miata, ‘AE86’ refers to the car’s generation code, Petrolicious explains. But it’s known by a few different names around the world. In the US, Toyota sold it as the Corolla Sport GT-S, Autoblog reports. In Japan, it’s officially known as the Corolla Levin, the Sprinter Trueno, or simply ‘Hachi-Roku’ (Japanese for ‘8-6’).

At first glance, the Toyota AE86 Corolla doesn’t seem that special. But when the Toyota AE86 launched in 1985, the Corolla wasn’t quite like it is today, Automobile reports. True, the 5th-gen Corolla was available as a sedan and a hatchback, as it is today. And like today, you could get a front-wheel-drive 5th-gen Corolla.

However, at the time, Toyota offered the Corolla with two different platforms. And unlike the modern Corolla, and hot hatches like the Volkswagen GTI, the Toyota AE86 is a RWD car.

The rear 3/4 view of a black-and-white 1986 JDM Toyota AE86 Sprinter Trueno on a parking garage roof
1986 JDM Toyota AE86 Sprinter Trueno GT-Apex rear 3/4 | Bring a Trailer

And under its hatchback body it’s a fairly sophisticated sports car, Road & Track reports. It has ventilated 4-wheel disc brakes, independent front suspension, and an optional limited-slip differential.

The Toyota AE86 Corolla Levin/Sport GT-S/Sprinter Trueno is also the only model to receive the 1.6-liter four-cylinder 4A-GE engine. It’s linked to a 5-speed manual, revs to 7600 RPM, and makes 112 hp. It’s not a lot, but the car only weighs about 2140 pounds, Top Gear reports. And the engine is fairly easy to tune.

However, the people who would make the Toyota AE86 into a legend weren’t interested in straight-line speed.

From the togue and the track to Initial D and Formula D: what made the Toyota AE86 an icon

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There’s one name consistently linked to the Toyota AE86: Keiichi Tsuchiya. He’s raced in NASCAR, GT, and even won Le Mans twice, DriveTribe reports. He’s also the reason why the R32 Skyline GT-R was nicknamed ‘Godzilla.’ But it’s his exploits behind the wheel of the AE86 that earned him the nickname ‘Drift King.’

By the late 80s, the Toyota AE86 Corolla was mostly just another used cheap, reliable used car. That was great news for a budding racing driver like Tsuchiya. However, he soon found out that the hatchback’s lightweight design, excellent weight distribution, great steering, and ability to be steered with the throttle made for a potent combination. And the relative lack of power, combined with no electronic aides, meant it was a great training car. To quote Tsuchiya himself, “[t]he 86 helps you become a better driver.”

At the time, Tsuchiya also raced on the streets; specifically, on the Japanese mountainside roads known as touge. He and several other racers used these roads to practice their skills, which included getting the cars to slide around corners. Eventually, Japanese publications picked up on Tsuchiya’s activities and filmed him sliding down the touge in his Toyota AE86. Modern drifting was born.

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But Tsuchiya’s AE86 wasn’t done quite yet. A few years later, the racer served as a consultant to manga artist Suichi Shigeno on the latter’s seminal work Initial D. The main character, Takumi Fujiwara, is partially based on Tsuchiya, and also drifts an AE86 Sprinter Trueno as he goes about delivering tofu. And when the Initial D anime launched, it featured a Sprinter sliding to the sounds of Eurobeat.

Getting one today

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As a result of its pop-culture status, the Toyota AE86 Corolla/Sprinter has become a desirable vehicle. Toyota UK even created a real-life homage to Takumi’s AE86 several years ago, R&T reports. And because it’s still used as a drift car today, finding a clean, stock example can be tricky.

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Several years ago, it was possible to find good-condition models for less than $10k, Bring a Trailer reports. But now that’s risen to roughly $20,000. You could almost buy a new 86 for that much. Though it probably wouldn’t carry quite as much tofu.

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