We’re taking a look back at the model that started Toyota’s fascination with the number 86, the Toyota AE86.
Toyota has a strange fascination with the number 86. Not only did Toyota name their modern sports coupe after the number, but 86 can also be found within the engineering of some of their historic performance engines. The 2JZ-GTE used in the Mk.IV Supra, 3S-GTE used in the MR2 Turbo and Celica GT-Four, and the 4U-GSE found in the Toyota 86 and Subaru BRZ all feature an 86mm bore diameter and stroke length at each cylinder. Coincidence? Perhaps. But it is still leans into Toyota’s association with the number.
The auto manufacturer didn’t decide that 86 was their favorite number without reason. Instead, it all points to the fifth-generation Toyota Corolla of the 1980s. This generation featured the chassis code AE86 where “A” stood for the engine family, “E” stood for the Corolla model, “8” stood for the generation, and “6” stood for the model variant. This model became so popularized in Japan that locals would call these Corollas “Hachiroku” which translates to Eight-Six. So, let’s check out this sweet JDM compact known as the Toyota AE86.
A true Toyota AE86 came in two forms, the Toyota Corolla Levin or Toyota Sprinter Trueno. Both models were sold in Japan at different stores but were virtually the same AE86 with differences at the front end. The Toyota Sprinter Trueno featured pop-up headlights integrated into the hood and a revised front fascia sporting the “Trueno” badge. On the opposite side, the Corolla Levin utilized a more basic front fascia design with fixed headlights with a standard grille between them featuring the “Levin” badge. Both models were available as either a coupe or liftback body style.
These Toyota AE86 models featured the same fuel injected 1.6L inline-4 DOHC 16-valve engine, otherwise known as the 4A-GE, coupled with Toyota’s Variable Induction System to make 128 horsepower and 110 lb-ft of torque. That power was translated to the rear wheels exclusively for this generation of the Corolla, which differed from the rest of the Toyota lineup as all other models had transitioned to front wheel drive. Having the model be rear wheel drive allowed Toyota to pander the vehicle to the performance enthusiasts since RWD was preferred for circuit racing, rallying, and drifting.
A 5-speed manual transmission was also a part of the AE86 package as standard equipment, but an automatic option became available midway through the generation. AE86 models had standard disc brakes at all four corners and utilized MacPherson strut independent suspension at the front and a solid axle with coil springs at the rear. Toyota also installed anti-roll bars to the AE86 as standard equipment to keep it planted through the turns.
Now, American’s did receive the same generation of the Toyota Corolla, but the engines had been modified to conform to emissions regulations among other differences. These USDM Toyota Corolla models were left hand drive, lower trim levels used drum brakes, there were some minor design tweaks inside and out, 5 mph bumpers were added at both ends, and they didn’t feature the “AE86” at the beginnings of their VIN numbers. However, the AE86 chassis code can still be found stamped into the firewalls of these Corollas. They’re technically still Toyota AE86s, but JDM fans will tell you otherwise.
The Toyota AE86 has become synonymous with JDM car culture after being used as the hero car in the Japanese manga and anime, Initial D. Takumi Fujiwara is the main character of this story, driving his father’s panda-styled AE86 Toyota Sprinter Trueno GT-APEX liftback to deliver tofu on the winding mountain roads. The AE86 becomes a folk legend as Takumi passes some of the best drift racers with ease in what is often discredited for being just some “Hachiroku”.
Initial D went on to produce 83 episodes and four movies as an anime while the print manga ran from 1995 to 2013. The drift racing series even spun off into a popular arcade cabinet by Sega known as Initial D Arcade Stage. Throughout that time, the AE86 has been the focus of the stories with some rivals even showing up with their own AE86 trying to best Takumi’s. Fans worldwide ate up the story and loved the Toyota AE86 so much that they wanted their own, leading to exorbitant prices on the models being chalked up to having a “Takumi Tax”. Even the AE85 Toyota Corolla Levin that is bought accidentally by the character Itsuki has some following.
The Toyota AE86 was discontinued after 1987, but the JDM icon’s legacy continues. Since this was the last Corolla to feature rear-wheel-drive, it became a favorite among club racers and drifters even after Toyota had moved on from the model. Toyota AE86s can still be found carving the curves of Suzuka Circuit or getting sideways down the Hakone Turnpike Pass in Japan.
Toyota has even produced brand new replacement parts for the model as early as 2021 so that fans can keep their nearly 40-year-old Corollas up and running. Not only that, but the company brought the AE86 Toyota Sprinter Trueno and Toyota Corolla Levin back to life in the form of carbon neutral concept cars. The Sprinter Trueno was converted into a hydrogen powered vehicle while the Corolla Levin was converted into a battery electric vehicle. Toyota brought these AE86 concepts to life to prove that cars can still be exciting while also being better for the environment.
Toyota went on to honor the AE86 by naming a modern sports coupe after it, the Toyota 86. This joint development with Subaru brought back the excitement of a rear-wheel-drive Toyota sports car into modern day. The Toyota GR86 developed with the help of Gazoo Racing has only furthered the performance capabilities of the sports car since 2021. It has continued to make the 86 name proud by being an ideal racing and drifting choice like the model it’s named after. Toyota is further honoring the AE86 legacy for 2024 by offering a Trueno Edition of the GR86 with the panda paint scheme to celebrate potentially the last non-electrified version of the model.