The Toyota Corolla AE86 Restomod in 1980 became the highlight of the Tokyo Auto Salon

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  • Seeking to preserve its legacy for a greener future, Toyota just unveiled two updated 1980s classic hatchbacks at this year’s Tokyo Auto Salon, one powered by hydrogen, the other powered by a pure EV battery.
  • The Corolla Levin and Sprinter Trueno are Japanese market variants of the sporty yet economical Corolla GT-S sold in the US
  • These cars were light but low-power, and were commonly known by their chassis code, AE86. While simple and relatively low-tech, this rear-wheel drive machine became a pop culture icon in the 1990s thanks to the popular anime series. D initials

If asked to list Toyota’s most important heritage vehicles, you might list the mighty twin-turbo Mk IV Supra, the unkillable Hilux pickup truck, the drifting Toyota Century (Japan’s sole production V-12), or perhaps the 2000GT. millions of dollars. However, the most famous Toyota of all time was an underpowered hatchback with pop-up headlights and a speed warning bell that flashed if you exceeded 64 mph. At this year’s Tokyo Auto Salon, Toyota moved to preserve the small car’s legacy, building a pair of high-cost restomods: one powered by liquid hydrogen, the other by a battery and electric motor.

Out of context, Toyota’s effort looks like GM engineers popping in and saying, “Good news, folks, we’ve saved the Chevette for generations to come!” However, the Corolla Levin and (more importantly) Sprinter Trueno shown off this week are so much more than sporty commuters. In North America, these cars were sold as the Corolla GT-S, and they had a small but enthusiastic following. In Japan, they are known by their chassis code — AE86 or hachiroku, The Japanese for eight-six—and they’re rock stars.

The hero worship did not come immediately. The fifth-generation Corolla arrived in 1983 rear-wheel drive, not because it was a pleasing choice, but as a successor from the 1970s, when the front-wheel-drive Civic was the exception to the rule. For the 1984 model year, Toyota included the 1.6-liter twin-cam engine shared with the first-generation MR2 and fitted with a five-speed manual gearbox. In Japan, the car was sold as the Corolla Levin (with fixed headlights) or Sprinter Trueno (pop-up headlights, same as the US Corolla GT-S).

The AE86 was built for the popular racing and rally cars, for the same reasons the first and second generation Ford Escorts were popular in Europe. An 86 is cheap, easy to put back together after a shunt, and handling is lively. One of the engineers during development was Nobukai Katayama, who came from a Toyota Motorsport background, so the 86 was raised to transcend its humble roots.

Forgive Us As We Move Into Manga Discussion

Even so, we are talking about a car with nearly 128 horsepower on high-octane JDM fuel. Where AE86 really came into its own was in the manga, the ubiquitous serialized graphic novels in Japan.

Created by Shuichi Shigeno, D initials tells the story of a skilled driver who naturally gets into an illegal street race course around the fictional Mount Akina. Shigeno based the manga on his first car—the Sprinter Trueno, which he still owns after more than 25 years—and weaves the story of disaffected youth in post-bubble economy Japan, cold nights and hot turbochargers, drifting battles in narrow mountains. road. Basically, think Japan American graffitibut with Skyline and RX-7.

The hero of this story, Takumi Fujiwara, fights his way to the top of the heap despite riding the underdog Sprinter Trueno. The car, painted in black and white “panda” and bearing the name of the Fujiwara tofu shop, is now easily the most famous car in Japanese culture. Unfortunately, the explosion in popularity in drift culture and the Initial D’s increasing popularity overseas meant that many AE86s were written off. It makes survivors valuable.

Furthermore, the fame of hachiroku it was enough for Toyota to name its Subaru collaboration after him—hence, the GR86—and try to ensure that the AE86 would remain operational long after the last fuel pump had shut down.

Now Back to the Corolla

For this reason, the two Corollas have been equipped with alternative powertrains. The Corolla Levin has been equipped with an electric motor from a Tundra hybrid, with a lithium-ion battery sourced from the Prius. Power is around 50 horsepower, but torque abounds at over 180 pound-feet. The standard five-speed couldn’t handle the revs, so Toyota swapped the six-speed from the GR86. Engineers were quick to point out that donuts were definitely on the menu.

The Sprinter Trueno retains the 4A-GE twin-cam engine but is converted with Mirai parts to run on liquid hydrogen. Toyota already ran the current Corolla converted to hydrogen power in last year’s Fuji Super TEC 24-hour endurance race. In this case, the 4A-GE’s ancient engine management suffers from a drop in power compared to stock, but the car still goes, drives, and drifts.

The best part about both engines is that the weight penalty is minimal. EVs swapping conventional ICE-powered cars often dull character, but Toyota’s proof of concept is still under 2,200 pounds. With both also manual transmissions, there may still be hope for a lightweight sports car.

For AE86 fans, these two machines are proof that Toyota really cares about the enthusiasts in the audience. We knew that the company would sell more examples of the Corolla Cross than any of their AE86s ever did. Even so, the brave hachiroku is an important part of the Toyota story. Long may it reign.

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