I think I’ve stumbled upon the perfect recipe for a great car meet. Keep it small, keep it informal, make sure the sun is out and there’s good music. Oh and, crucially, supply lots of pizza – this part is important.
There’s literally no way to better the formula set by this year’s Annual Retro Toyota Gathering.
As you’d expect, the Annual Retro Toyota Gathering coincides with 86 Day (8/6) around the world. Although strictly speaking, going by the UK’s dating conventions it should be on June 8, we make a concession to fit in with everyone else. You’re welcome.
The 7th annual gathering, organised by the Corolla Brotherhood, took place at the Birmingham headquarters of Driftworks.
As a location it’s ideal – the small industrial estate in the city is fairly central, geographically; it’s quiet, away from houses, isn’t overlooked, and there’s sufficient room for activities.
The closed-in industrial avenues give the event a cosy vibe too. In terms of scale, certainly compared to Japan’s 86 day celebrations at Fuji Speedway, the gathering here is much smaller.
Still, in a country that struggles to get people out of their houses and to congregate en mass, this year’s turnout was really good.
I think it’s better for it too. I’ve been friends with several members of the Corolla Brotherhood for a few years now, and one trait that I’ve noticed throughout all of the gatherings, meets and events is how tight knit the community is.
Chaydon (seen here hugging a Watanabe – don’t ask) looks after the admin side of the Corolla Brotherhood. We’ve also featured one of his old cars on the site before.
Everyone knows everybody else, either virtually via the medium of social media or, more often, face-to-face. New people come and go, but the stalwarts of AE86 fandom remain the same.
These regular meet ups offer the chance for the patrons to look around cars that they’ve undoubtedly seen countless times before, but with the benefit of taking in all of the new upgrades and details that have been added since the last gathering.
Part of the struggle in owning an older, rarer and highly sought after chassis is that finding parts – the right parts – to complete your vision is becoming increasingly tricky as the years tick by. Curiously, this doesn’t appear to be the case when it comes to the Corolla Brotherhood.
There’s a kind of internal marketplace within the subculture that prioritises in trading with other members. Parts, wheels and even cars can change hands several times whilst never leaving the collective ownership of the group.
The lending of parts isn’t uncommon too. Need a set of wheels to get you by while yours are being refurbished? No issue. Fancy trying out a different ratio diff? You can probably borrow one with ease. Parts were even swapped around from one car to the next on the day itself. I guess part of the charm of a group of you owning an old car is the struggle in working out how you’re all going to get home.
Listening to friends within AE86 circles talk amongst each other you soon start to wonder how they keep track of who’s got what bits from who else’s car.
It’s this ‘family’ nature of niche followings, such as those enjoyed by the Corolla Brotherhood, that piques my interest in car culture. Certainly when you compare smaller meets like this to some of the bigger, more generic car shows (several of which coincided with this year’s 86 Day), I find it’s the smaller, more intimate gatherings that appeal most.A Cult Star
Of course, the cornerstone all of this is the iconic Toyota AE86, a car that transcended its status as a mode of transport and become a cult icon.
Ron raised the very same question as I intended to, and offered the explanation that most correlates with my reasoning as to why these small hatchbacks and coupes have become so popular.
I too think it’s as close to a pure driving experience as you can get. A seat, a steering wheel, that high-revving naturally aspirated 4A-GE motor and a solid rear axle driven by a manual gearbox.
Back when the Hachiroku was new to market, performance aspects aside, it wouldn’t have been drastically different from other, similarly-priced hatchbacks of the time in terms of refinement and comfort.
However now more than ever, in 2017 and the age of all cars being bigger, heavier, quieter and more comfortable, the AE86 is a true driver’s car, through and through. It’s not a car that you’d own for any other reason than to enjoy the art of driving.
There haven’t been many cars since that can touch it for this raw driving experience. The Mazda MX-5? Maybe. The Honda S2000 comes close by all accounts. The new 86 remains fairly faithful to the recipe, or so I’m told by classic AE86 fans who’ve driven one.
In fact, amusingly, speak to almost any AE86 owner about their car and they’ll be all too quick to tell you how terrible they are to live with. Either it’s a very clever ploy to retain AE86 ownership to a select few, or this statement confirms what I’ve said before – that Hachiroku ownership is a lifestyle.
This infectiously charismatic car seems to ensnare people into falling for it. If you get past driving one, and still like it, and then survive building and owning one, you’ll be an AE86-head for life.
I’m fascinated by the nuances that differentiate one example from another at gatherings like this. In AE86 ownership, it’s not about whose car is the most extreme, or highly modified, but rather weighted towards the exclusivity of the parts used.
To an outsider, you find yourself searching for explanations as to why you should be equally excited about this particular pair of cam covers, or exhaust manifold, or why that front bumper has drawn a crowd. More often than not the reasons involve the words ‘super rare’, ‘Japan’ and ‘legendary AE86 tuner’.
There’s a strong focus on rare OEM options, or parts that have a heritage or history to them.
You’d think that this would inspired cookie-cutter builds, and on the surface it may appear that way, but there’s definitely more than one way to skin a Hachiroku.All Are Welcome
What’s your favourite AE86 variation? I’d say for me it’s either a booted Levin or a Trueno hatchback.
White over black remains a strong look, and there were a handful of pandas in attendance confirming this.
Making comparisons between Ron’s coverage in Japan and what I was seeing here in the UK, it’s clear that there’s a universal style when it comes to the AE86.
Don’t get me wrong, there are some differences around the world. Take Ireland for example; the AE86 community on the Emerald Isle is very much divided into the Cibie spotlight/Minilites twin-cam camp, and those building under a more JDM influence. Here in the UK, AE86 owners seem to look almost exclusively east for inspiration.
The Retro Toyota Gathering, as the name suggests, is open to more than just AE86s too. The Hachiroku’s older brother, the KE70, was also present in several guises. This very ‘80s model was a time machine, complete with driving gloves, aviators and Bowie cassette tapes. I found the cool guy.
These two made the journey over from Ireland just for the meet, and then headed straight back for an event at Mondello Park the following day. One attendee drove almost nine hours from Scotland to be there. How’s that for commitment?
I actually quite liked what I presumed was a jacked-up ride height on this particular example, until I found out it was stock. Obviously I’m used to seeing KE70s slammed into the weeds.
This Cresta GX71 wagon rolled in later in the day. Lowered over SSR Longchamp XR4s and sporting an aggressive chin spoiler, I love the boxy nature of these old cars. It’s almost like it was designed on an Etch A Sketch.
Driftworks rolled out one of their latest projects too – a retro turbo Mazda-powered Hilux truck. It’s a little way off being finished yet, but with around 250bhp, this thing will be a hoot to drive once done. I’d imagine burnouts will happen. A revisit is definitely needed once it’s complete.
The rest of the Driftworks fleet were on display as well. You know you’re working in the right place when your staff car park contains an LSX-powered AE86, a duo of S15s, a 911 GT3 and a rear-wheel drive converted LP640, amongst others.
Back to the Toyota theme momentarily, this Mk3 Supra follows a simple but clean recipe – black paint, lowered suspension and a set of deep polished Work VS-KF wheels. It only had around 22k miles on the clock too.
There are so many cars I want, but I’ve so little driveway space…
Parked next to it was this immaculate Celica GTV. I’ve eaten using dirtier cutlery than this car’s condition.
You’ll be reassured to hear that the non-Toyotas weren’t turned away either. From a clean R32 Skyline GT-R to a genuine E30 M3, an unusual pair of Escort Cosworths (more to come on these), an RX-7, an Evo and a handful of Nissans, there was plenty present to amuse all interests.
But the day was really all about the AE86. It’s a car that I’d never contemplate owning myself, but I can totally appreciate why so many people are drawn to them.
With the pizza supplies dwindling, the air was soon filled with the angry rasp of 4A-GEs leaving a usually quiet industrial estate in Birmingham.
I hope you’ve enjoyed our coverage of 86 Day 2017. Both Ron and I both have a couple of final spotlights to bring you from this year’s festivities from two sides of the planet.Cutting Room Floor