My name is Chaydon Ford and I have a problem.
My problem, and it’s not a bad one to have, is that for as long as I can remember I’ve been what most would consider an ’86-head’. Everyone for whom the AE86 has managed to get under the skin of will have their own story of how they became involved with Toyota’s amicable and now legendary Corolla.
In fact, mine may not be that different from others. I hope by giving you some insight, you’ll be able to either relate, or comprehend why I’ve spent nearly a third of my life so deeply vested in Toyota’s flagship econobox from the ’80s.
I’m what you would call a serial relapser. I’m currently in possession of my fifth AE86, having worked my way through each variety of body and model (Trueno, Levin, hatchback, coupe). Each car that I’ve owned and built has been unique in its own way, from a one-owner-from-new Trueno two door that was pretty much bone-stock, to an N2-kitted car from Garage Shapple in Japan, to a supercharged hatchback that was rather lively.
In fact, the N2 was in the spotlight on Speedhunters some seven years ago when Bryn shot it as the first ever #FEATURETHIS story.
The AE86 appeal first started from watching grainy rally and touring car videos involving Corollas. Then I learnt about drifting and seeing the underpowered AE86s take on cars with, at times, triple the power was awe inspiring.
I’ve always favoured lower-powered cars, with the ability to be enjoyable at speeds lower than the limits. By that point, my mind was made up and I absolutely had to own one.
Fast forward a few years and countless bloody knuckles from working on the cars, I took over what at the time was a small blog called The Corolla Brotherhood from a friend, who at the time decided to pursue his interest in music.
Along with this, I began to organise an annual meet which has grown to become the Annual Retro Toyota Gathering.
Compared to Ireland, America and Australia, there are very few cars within the UK and no real opportunity to meet and share the struggles of owning an older Toyota. This is what The Corolla Brotherhood embodies, the whole experience (both ups and downs) of owning an AE86 and other retro Toyotas.
The cars offer a great driving experience, being relatively lightweight, with a live axle and revvy four-cylinder engine with all contact points (steering wheel, seat and pedals) offering great feedback, and are relatively inexpensive to run.
However, the best part is the community. I’ve made life-long friends through owning these cars and continue to do so. I’ve even flown across the world and placed my faith in someone I’ve never met, hoping they would be there waiting to pick me up from the airport, give me a bed for the week, and not harvest my organs, all because of a shared interest in a specific model of car.
Over the years I’ve made many trips over to Ireland to put faces to names and most recently, a trip to Japan, which was quite simply the holiday of a lifetime, and something every retro Toyota owner has to do at some point or another.
See, AE86s are a universal language the world over and I was fortunate enough to meet some very welcoming owners who, without any hesitation, offered me lifts, gifts and translated. My inability to speak Japanese was poorly assisted by Google Translate outside of these times but we still managed to discuss the shared passion for these cars.
It’s a combination of the above that keeps me organising the annual event and this brings us to the 9th event this year. While numbers have steadily increased, 20-30 cars is considered a good turnout.
There is zero financial gain for organising the events, but I do it purely for the love of the cars, to keep the scene alive and give the owners a chance to meet one another and to see how the builds have progressed over the last year. I
t appeals to far more than AE86 owners too, and has become an all-encompassing gathering for anyone with anything cool and Toyota (was and sometimes other marques too!).
While I would love nothing more than to have three figure turnouts, having smaller events means we can host the gathering at places like Caffeine & Machine; a picturesque setting in the British countryside, with a great atmosphere, plenty of parking and delicious food – what more could you want?
The more compact, intimate vibe also means that you pretty much get to chat to everyone during the course of the day. There are no strangers here.
An eclectic mix of cars filled the car park throughout the day, with a constant stream of cars mixing it up with the Toyotas. And dogs. Because dogs make every car event better.
We as owners buy the cars to experience the hype, and for most of us, it lives up to that. They aren’t easy cars to live with but for those that persevere, the reward is a community which is tight knit, welcoming and always ready to lend a hand.
With next year being the 10th year, I don’t foresee much changing in how it’s run. These humble cars have taken me this far, it would be a shame to stop now.
The cars are what bring us together in the first place, but the people are what keeps us coming back.
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