There’s not much left that can be written about the AE86.
Arguably, it’s one of the most cult cars to have ever come out of Japan. I doubt there’s a Speedhunters reader who hasn’t been exposed to one or isn’t familiar with ‘Dorikin’, Takumi or that Ueo video. It’s rare that you hear or read any negative commentary on the AE86, which is most unusual in modern car culture.
By most accounts, they’re a very good car. A lot of this is down to its simplicity; front-engined, rear-wheel drive and lightweight with a manual transmission. AE86s are reliable, too, and when driven in the appropriate manner, there’s not much out there that can match them in terms of excitement within the same price bracket.
The world is currently on its head at its moment, particularly in relation to car events (although there’s still the chance that the Irish ’86 Fest will go ahead in September). However, for 86 Day 2020, I figured that a more intimate approach was more appropriate, while abiding by all social distancing guidelines, of course.
I wanted to get insight from an owner, but I also wanted to re-examine the AE86’s place in the world and in particular how it fairs against the car it inspired – the Toyota 86 (ZN6), or as we know it here in Europe, GT86.
As AE86 values go up, and (GT)86 values go down, I think this is a really appropriate time to compare the two.
Michael J. Moynihan, or just Mikey to this friends, is a person I became familiar with through his driving style long before I ever met the man himself. His white Levin was one of several cars I would wait trackside for each lap, as it encapsulated that violent driving style which has become synonymous with the AE86. As it happens, Mikey doesn’t live all that far away from me, so he was the perfect person to answer all of the questions I had.
Naturally, Mikey is a diehard Toyota guy, but not to the point where it’s obnoxious or that he can’t appreciate other marques or approaches. He does know what he likes, though, and is committed to the humble Toyota 4A-GE.
“I think the first [AE86] thing I saw that had a serious impact on me was, and it’s a cliche I know, that clip of Ueo pinned against the pit wall at Ti Circuit Okayama, and then chucking it aggressively and at full speed, into the first corner,” Mikey told me. “That video and driving style still for me sum up what driving an AE86 should be – borderline manic.”
I caught up with Mikey as he was buttoning up his black 20-valve Levin notchback track car. But it was his white 16-valve Levin hatch road car which he’d take to the mountains, where I had arranged for another die-hard Toyota owner to meet us.
It’s a wonderful thing to drive behind an AE86 on the road. They were a common sight on Irish roads not all that long ago, now you would be lucky to see one once a year out in the wild. As an aside, the size difference between the AE86 and even a modern ‘compact’ car is amusing, as a Hyundai i20 dwarfed Mikey as it overtook us both on the motorway.
The relatively short drive into the mountains which overlook Dublin brought us to a viewing point where Ciarán Nolan and his recently acquired GT86 were waiting. Ciarán, a suspension development engineer, has only ever owned Toyotas, asides from one S2000-shaped blip a few years ago. Ever since the new 86’s debut in 2012, Ciarán knew that he would one day own one, although he does regret not buying an AE86 when they were much more affordable a number of years ago.
I specifically asked Ciarán along as he really understands the appeal of the AE86 where it isn’t all about horsepower. It does help that his car is white as well, and pretty much a modern equivalent of the Levin.
When Toyota, Scion and Subaru respectively released the 86/GT86, FR-S and BRZ onto the public roads, so many bemoaned the lack of power – myself included. We’ve been spoiled in recent years with performance cars which can deliver such impressive power figures, and for this to be so lacklustre in acceleration was a disappointment.
However, as time moved on, it has become more evident that I (and others) were completely missing the point of the car. The AE86 was never a powerhouse, so why would the new 86 be?
Despite the age difference, these are two cars that very much follow the same principles; they’re all about balance and momentum. And it’s really remarkable how alike they are when you delve deeper into them.
By modern standards, the new car is quite lightweight. Autocar in the UK weighed a GT86 at 1,235kg (2,722lb), which of course is heavier than the original AE86, but that car existed in a time with much less safety regulations. In the new 86’s defence, weight was kept as low possible so as not to negatively impact on the driving experience. For comparison, it’s lighter than a 2.0-litre MX-5 Roadster of the same era.
While the engine layouts are different – inline-four versus flat-four – standard examples of both the original and new cars have similar power-to-weight ratios of around 150hp per tonne.
When poking around each other’s Toyota, Mikey did say that while he wasn’t a fan of the boxer engine at heart of the new model, he understood that the car probably wouldn’t exist without it. We all agreed that any new and affordable rear-wheel drive sports car should be welcomed with open arms.
For these two particular cars, it’s difficult to compare them absolutely like-for-like. One is 35 years old and has been heavily modified, while the other is relatively fresh and just starting its journey. One is a weekend and track car, the other a daily driver.
There is another thing they have in common though, and that is their approximate value. As mentioned earlier, AE86 prices have been slowly rising over the last few years. Where once they were almost disposable, they’re now a coveted rarity. Fortunately, people aren’t buying them as financial investments just yet, but that does seem inevitable.
With the new 86 having been around a few years now, used examples continue to depreciate. They’re a lot more popular in other countries than they are in Ireland where a GT86 was about €44,000 (close to US$52,000) to buy new, courtesy of our vehicle registration tax for vehicles newly registered here. Still, the availability of used imports from Japan and the UK has seen values come down to meet AE86 prices for the first time.
This means that a budget of between €15,000 and €20,000 could buy you good examples of either car. It’s a lot of money for a lot of people, and with uncertain times ahead yet again, I can’t imagine that many would spend that much on a car which won’t be used every day.
This poses the question: is the new 86 now the better choice?
I have a huge soft spot for the AE86, and I understand that for all the similarities between the two, there will be owners who would never in their lives swap their cars for the modern equivalent. The new car just doesn’t have the rawness and relative simplicity of the original. It also won’t have that certain indescribable special feeling that the AE86 offers; it doesn’t have the history or the legacy.
A reputation such as the AE86’s must be earned over time.
On the other hand, the new 86 is filling a gap which is quickly being vacated by the AE86. The original was always the everyman’s sports car; they were plentiful, parts were cheap, and they were affordable. None of this is true anymore. The days of a mint €5,000 AE86 are gone forever, and I dread to think what nightmares an example that cheap would bring.
For the price of a good AE86, you could get a used new 86 now. You won’t have to deal with corrosion or rust; it’s a modern car which has proven itself to be relatively reliable and parts are freely available. It might be missing that je ne sais quoi, but I’m sure a lot of people would forego that to be able to exploit the car’s potential more often.
These are two immensely likeable cars, and while they both have to negotiate their own unique set of circumstances, they strive to offer the same involved driving experience.
I’m doing my best here to play the devil’s advocate, in order to try and really understand how these cars relate to each other in 2020. While some will bemoan Subaru’s involvement in the new 86, it doesn’t feel like a Subaru anywhere except the engine. Looking around the car, you get the feeling that Toyota were very much calling the shots.
Again, to echo Mikey’s earlier sentiments, if it came down to either a car with Subaru’s involvement or no new 86 at all, I know what side of that particular argument I’m on. The same applies to the new Supra, but that’s a discussion for another day…
There’s 30 years between these two particular cars, and they’re both different and incredibly alike at the same time. It remains to be seen if the new 86 has the longevity of the AE86, or if it will live up to the older car’s legacy, one which was forged over almost four decades.
With rumours abound that the next generation of 86 will be turbocharged, I think that new car will be a step further away in spirit from the original, and in turn allow the current model to move closer to it. Time will tell.
As always, we’re curious to read what you think about both of these cars. Has the new 86 grown on you, or were you smitten from day one? If you realistically had to choose one or the other, to live with every day in your current circumstances, which would it be? Is it a head or heart decision?
Honestly, I’m still not sure what my answer would be and that’s pretty telling.
"Missing the point of the new 86" - This is, what all of the Germans think aboutthe ZN6 chassis. "Every GTI is way faster" - Well, sorry pal, you don´t understand the car. This was the point in your article, I loved the most, Paddy!
Anyways, I went to a dealership in 2012 to see the new GT86 live and I drove one 2 times: one was bone stock and one had coils and wider wheels. Holy shit, this car drives sooooo phenomenal, even out of the box.
Also, I love the look of the car, the seat position, everything about it. It still has the AE86 flavor, but in modern times. I´m a Toyota guy as long as I can think, own a Supra for 10 years now and I need to have an GT86 some day. That´s for sure.
I think, while S-Chassis prices are rising and rising and they are not really affordable for drifting and such stuff anymore, that the GT86 will get a 2nd spring and become th "new S-Chassis" in a couple of years.
Last but not least: the pictures of those 2 cars in white with the typical Irish landscape (and weather obviously) are just awesome! The detail pictures for comparing the cars are so cool, too!
Ever since I saw the GT86 back in 2012 in Malasyia, I always said that my first car will be a 2012 GT86. It's my only dreamcar that I could actually afford one day (The other ones being an R35, R32GTR, F40 and the NSX). I bought one that was driven nearly 120000km's a month ago and I absolutely love it. Despite the short gears, little bit of scratches and bumps here and there, im in love. I really cant wait to start my own project car for the first time!
It is true that people dont get the point of it. Its not a fast car by any means but it handles like a dream in tight turns and I can go relatively fast if I want to. I can only imagine the same thing about the predecessor. I think the GT86 will eventually rise in value. Only time will tell.
Thanks for the article. Made by smile throughout
The GT86 need to go through "Takumi Test": Driven really fast through mountain pass, without spilling soy milk in the cup.
Why is it that almost everywhere outside America, it's prohibitively expensive to own a car?
Its like all of mankind is united by a common creed:
"Keep those wretched commoners away from motoring."
I know what you mean. Thesports car taxes and import taxes are STUPIDLY high. Especially in places like Indonesia.
I had the many occasions to drive a bone stock "Levin" AE86 and I've had a GT86 as a daily driver for a few years.
I have to say that both are genuinely great, fun and enjoyable cars, but to really appreciate them, you somehow need to get rid of all the myths, legends and beliefs that revolves around them. In the case of the AE86, I think that like every "JDM icon" the legend is way exagerated in regard of the reality of the car. Of course there's Initial D, of course there's Tsuchiya's build on BesMo videos, and many other prepared cars, but you don't have that when you're behind the wheel. You only have yourself and the car. And damn what a sweet car it is. The stock AE86 feels rough (by modern standards), mecanical, you feel like you really drive a machine. I loved how light and nimble it feels, how sharp and essential the steering and handling is. The overall simplicity of the car spoke for itself. I often wonder if the car was engineered from the clean sheet to be fun (like the GT86 was) or if it only happened to naturally be like this. Of course back in the days there were cars that were even better in some aspects, but not so much that better in all specificities, and most importantly, not at the AE86's price. I can only think of the NA Miata that came a few year later, but you could not bring 2 more people in the backseat. And being more modern, it was also more refined in terms of handling and ride quality.
I would say the same about the GT86. There were big expectations about it when it came out, thanks to Toyota's famous clumsy way of managing new models teasing (hello Supra A90). Just like the AE86 myth is distorting it's reality, the GT86's internet spread beliefs about it lacking power, etc, needs to be put away for a second to really enjoy the car, especially in an automotive era where any car is now only about HP and torque figures. The GT86 is not about figures (even though Toyota was very keen on putting 200's and 86's all over the car's spec sheet), it's about the experience. Man and machine, nothing more. I've had and driven a fair amount of sportcars through the years, but honestly I've never had one in that price bracket that was so right just out the showroom. In most cars there's always a little something that you need to adjust to "get it right", on the GT86, you can basically leave it as it is and really enjoy the crap out of it. The only thing I did on mine was to put real tires, as the original primacy were really dangerous, especially on wet. It doesn't lack power, but the only thing that should have been improved by Toyota and Subaru is the torque dip, that causes that impression of lack of power. With a header and a reprog, the dip is gone and the engine feels totally different, even with almost no change in HP and torque figures. I think that people who think that it lacks power simply miss the point of the car, and I say that as somebody who enjoyed his GT86 as much as his 430hp Corvette. The GT86 does everything good, it's really liveable as a daily driver and only car, while being probably one of the best handling and best road touching car on the market, not only in it's price bracket but also above. I think it will remain as a classic, just like the Nissan S were, except much less were produced and sold (especially in Europe), so we can expect the prices to rise quite a bit in the future, which is a shame because every young or not rich enthousiast should be able to put his hands on one.
You are so right about everything, but what stood out to me was your oh-so-true comment about JDM legends. I can't deny that I am an avid fan of a couple of them, but I have to agree that they ARE a little over-celebrated.
What are the wheels on the black levin coupe and where can I find them?
it's the same story with any fun tiny car, i've owned most of the popular ones. they're great on the backroads, and the rest of the time you're struggling to accelerate away from potential death from speeding (insert any modern car here) on the freeway.
this car could easily have enough horsepower to get out of it's own way while also being balanced, but toyota decided it needed two cars to sell poorly, both the 4 banger supra and the new 86.
As an AE86 owner I can say I was impressed Toyota managed to make a new car that gives the same sort of feel as the old one. I think the main reason most people missed what it was supposed to be is because they never experienced the AE86 in a relatively stock form. The complaining over Toyota’s new sports cars needs to stop, I’m glad they’re making an effort to keep producing something for us to play with instead of just regular sedans and crossovers.
You can tell the market's bottoming out with people picking up miata's, then the FT86 comes along as a breath of fresh air. For a universal chassis it's bringing in a new generation of car enthusiast combined with the boxer motor providing a broad platform to house engine swaps. I picked the S14A up about 2 years ago for the love of the car but also the aftermarket support, the FT86 is even more so a box of lego waiting for some imagination.
What is that GT86 shift knob? LOVE it.
I'd say it's the stock one.
yeah that's the standard one
wait, is 86 day August 6th, or June 8th?
OK, first of all, I absolutely LOVED this article, and would love it if you did a similar comparison with the MK4 vs. MK5 Supras. About the GT86, then, I can't help but think that it could use a little more power. 250-300hp would work wonders, andI would think you could still enjoy the handling. Though honestly I don't anything to say about handling, because I'm still too young to get my learners license.
I have owned both, and enjoyed both very much. A modified street-friendly AE86 and a near stock 86. Mostly these comparisons are using modified AE86 and stock 86. Never apples for apples.
To shortly summarise:
With the AE86 you get a very raw driving experience. You feel every input mechanically, you feel exactly what your tyres are doing, what your steering is doing, what your seat is doing. It is simultaneously rewarding and exhausting. It’s risk to drive it, a risk to leave it unattended, it’s not replaceable, it’s a sometimes car that as a daily - honestly isn’t very good.
The 86 has great driving dynamics that still allow you to be as involved as the AE86. It lacks the personality - and is “just another 86” on the road. A few driver aids that can be turned off - but aren’t intrusive. Creature comforts. It’s balanced and a whole heap of fun. You can get out of either of these cars with a smile on your face, loving the drive you’ve just had.
8/10 times I would choose to drive the 86 rather than the AE86. That’s because it’s a comfortable driver that gives you the opportunity for every drive to be turned up a notch. And if it gets stolen or written off? Insurance will cover a replacement and I could have my pick tomorrow.
I had a GT86 as my daily for about 2 years an absolutely loved it. Like you say the momentum is a big thing and really I never felt it was that under powered.
The thing I think a lot of people missed aside from the N/A RWD aspect of it was it felt a bit more special. you sit nice and low, controls are nicely weighted, it was lovely to look at etc. Sure diesel execs would leave me for dead pulling away from a junction but who cares in all honesty. it was enjoyable to own and drive every day. Sure you can gets lots of nicer feeling and looking coupes and sports cars but bar the MX5 most are vastly more expensive.
I've had faster cars before and since but none of them felt as fun to own.
on a side note I bought mine new and kept it immaculate. Friend who is a car dealer send me pictures when it appeared at his garage about 2 owners later. every wheel was curbed and bent, scratchs on every panel. cracked headlight, interior had little rips every where, all the outside panels covered in little dings from people opening their doors in to it. Felt quiet sad to be honest.
Impressive material! Absolutely loving these shots. Both cars in white on winding mountain roads where they belong. I only wish that the AE86 had been the Trueno variant as that has an even more similar nose silhouette to the GT86. But I guess that's just my personal preference. Again: solid work!
I like the potential of these cars but one thing the new ones are missing and that's power. Even it's old rivals like the Civic are going to turbo power nowadays. Also, I think 250hp would be great for the new cars and they would have sold a lot more of them. But at least Toyota went to Subaru for the powertrain. But I wish Toyota would start developing their own engines again for their sports cars.