Being a fan of Japanese cars in the United States has never been the easiest of things. First off, there’s the obvious fact that many of the great JDM machines were never imported here. Then there are cars like the Nissan 240SX, which for whatever reason arrived in the US with a much weaker spec than other places in the world.
Other Japanese cars were imported in a more similar specification to those sold in the motherland, but there are always the little differences which have fanatics scouring classified sites for parts to convert their cars to the JDM look.
The Toyota AE86 is one of those cars. While we Americans were fortunate the get the 4A-GE-powered AE86 on our shores, our Corolla GT-S looked different from the Levins and Truenos sold in Japan.
Now, someone who doesn’t know much about these cars might think a JDM Trueno and an American Corolla were one and the same, but enthusiasts can easily spot the differences. For example, the JDM cars have lightweight bumpers which cling tightly to their body lines, and it’s that look which most people picture when they think of the AE86.
The USDM cars meanwhile came equipped with much larger front and rear bumpers designed to conform with America’s stricter crash rules. Not only were the US bumpers heavier than their JDM counterparts, their large size gave the car a slightly ungainly look.
It’s not surprising then, that one of the first things AE86 owners in the US do is swap out their stock bumpers for the JDM equivalents. A quick browse through eBay will show the high prices people are willing to pay for good condition JDM bumpers.
But the grass is always greener on the other side, and in Japan you’ll find a small but dedicated group of AE86 owners and builders who have committed themselves to the US version of the Hachiroku.Yellow Dream
One of these people is Yusuke Sakurai of Car Peace in Gunma Prefecture. His bright yellow AE86 has been shaking things up since its debut this spring. With 86 Day now upon us, we thought it was the perfect time to take a closer look at his jaw-dropping machine.
Not only have you seen Sakurai-san’s AE86 on Speedhunters a couple of times in recent months, it was actually a car we looked at way back in 2011 when it wore a red and black scheme.
Now you’d be forgiven for not recognizing this given the differences between the two versions. In the four years since we first saw it, Sakurai-san has completely rebuilt the Toyota and the finished car is easily one of the most impressive AE86 street builds I’ve ever seen.
Sakurai-san is certainly no newcomer to practicing American 86 style in Japan. His car isn’t a JDM Trueno that he converted to the US look – it’s a genuine US-market Corolla GTS that he imported to Japan many years ago – well before the USDM styling boom took hold.
When it comes to the exterior, the yellow Corolla looks a lot like your typical AE86. For the most part Sakurai has relied on restored USDM factory parts to give the car a very OEM look, but like a lot of great builds, it’s only when you get close that you begin to notice the differences.
Like the handcrafted wide steel fenders, which would look factory if you didn’t have another AE86 alongside to compare them to.
And the widened fenders are important as they are needed to fit the ultra-wide 15-inch RAYS Volk Racing TE37Vs that sit at each corner. In addition to the TEs, Sakurai also has a set of 15-inch BBS RSs that he swaps on the car depending on his mood. The aggressive ride height is achieved through a set of custom full-top coilovers with Eibach springs.Beauty In The Bay
For as impressive as the car looks from the outside, the exterior is nothing compared to what you find when Sakurai-san lifts the AE86’s hood. That’s when you see the car’s incredible engine bay – which might be the prettiest 86 engine compartment on the face of the earth. The motor itself is 16-valve 4A-GE, but that’s just the beginning.
First off, there’s all the parts you don’t see – like a fully-built bottom end with oversized ‘4.5A-GE’ pistons, and a ported cylinder head with TRD camshafts.
Then there’s all the parts you can see. Starting on the induction side, Sakurai has gone the carb route with a set of motorcycle-sourced Keihin FCR41s on a custom manifold. The titanium velocity stacks add that perfect aesthetic touch to what’s already a quite beautiful setup.
On the other side of the motor you’ll find a custom-built exhaust manifold which shows off the craftsmanship Sakurai and the Car Peace crew are capable of. It’s pure mechanical art, and when Sakurai fires up the car it all sounds just as good as it looks.
The cockpit of the Corolla is clean and simple. Unlike a lot of the 86s you find in Japan, there’s no roll bar or stripped-out panels – instead, the super-clean factory interior will surely have many 86 owners foaming at the mouth.
There are some aftermarket bits, including the deep-cone Nardi steering wheel and a pair of Bride full buckets. Sakurai has also added a set of FetKaro floor mats for a subtle custom vibe.
Another cool touch is the Bride gradation fabric which has been upholstered into the factory rear seat.
There are plenty of impressive AE86 builds in Japan, but the praise that the rebuilt Car Peace AE86 has attracted at events like Wekfest Japan and Offset Kings Fuji Speedway show that this car is indeed on another level when it comes to cleanliness and attention to detail.
In the seven-plus years that Speedhunters has been around, the AE86 has easily been one of the most commonly featured cars on the site, but Sakurai-san’s build manages to stand out in every way. It’s not just a USDM Corolla living in Japan, it’s one of most well executed AE86 builds of any type, anywhere on earth.
Long live the Hachiroku.