Having been an avid reader and sporadic contributor to Speedhunters in the past, coming onboard with the team has given me this opportunity to introduce myself and my cars. Which ties nicely into the current Japan Month theme, given my propensity for cars from the region.
I need to preface this, however: I’ve never been one to get attached to cars; I use and enjoy a car till I either find something else I want to own and experience, or an offer that’s hard to refuse is made. Don’t get me wrong, we all have regrets about selling certain cars, but for most of us, without selling a car to fund the next you simply couldn’t own all the cars past and present at once.
My adoration for Japanese cars is evidently apparent when you look at some of my ownership history. Interspersed with other cars, I have for over a third of my life owned AE86s. Seven at last count, along with two Subarus and a few Hondas.
AE86s were never sold in South Africa where I originate from, but I had lusted after them since watching rally and circuit motorsport coverage on television in my youth. When the possibility of owning one was realised after moving to the UK, I wasn’t going to let the opportunity pass me by.
Buying that first car was a baptism by fire. Before purchasing the AE86 I had barely worked on cars, and as with any old car, this one needed work. But two things came out of this: Learning to work on a car that was extremely basic in terms of how it went together, as well as also joining the close-knit community of owners here in the UK, which primarily congregated on the now defunct eight-six.co.uk forum.
The adoration for these fairly unassuming Japanese compact cars grew year on year, and after taking over The Corolla Brotherhood from a friend 13 years ago, I organised and hosted the first Retro Toyota Gathering, which will celebrate its 12th year in 2022. AE86s have provided the catalyst for me making friends all across the globe and that is something I am hugely grateful for.
Throughout those 13 years I’ve owned every body shape of AE86 in various guises – from completely original, one owner cars to fully modified, forced induction track specials.
I currently have two AE86s in my possession. Both cars have interesting back stories, which makes them a bit more special to me.
The most recent purchase, a zenki Levin coupe, lay dormant in a garage for 11 years before I purchased it.
The car was driven into and incurred some damage to the passenger side wing not long before the owner was due to go to university, so it was parked up in his uncle’s garage with the view to repair in the coming months. In a not too uncommon situation, life moved on and work, relationships and other hobbies took precedence. After a few weeks of discussion, a price was agreed and myself and a friend made the four-hour drive to collect it.
While the outside of the car has seen better days, the interior is largely unmarked and completely original. AE86 owners will know the frustration of cracked dashes and centre console lids, which thankfully this has neither.
The other AE86 in the workshop is one which longtime Speedhunters readers may recognise. Dino featured the kouki Levin hatchback in 2009 when it was still in Japan before Az (the owner) moved back to the UK. I met Az at the first Retro Toyota Gathering and stayed in touch ever since. He then went back to Japan for six months for work, but six months became one year, then two, then seven, with the car all the while sitting outside under a cover at his mother’s house. Another case of life taking over.
I’d mentioned to Az that should he ever wish to sell the car to let me know, and all those years later the call finally came. He was back in the UK for a week to see his family and prepare to move to Australia. A deal was done and the AE86 has been in my possession since. This necessitated the sale of the DC2 drivetrain-swapped EG Civic I had at the time, but it was a worthy sacrifice.
Sadly, time hasn’t been kind to the car and it does need some love, but that is all to come and it is currently stripped and on a rollover jig awaiting rust repairs and paint.
For as long as I’ve been a fan of AE86s, I’ve also longed for a Subaru. My first memories of Subaru were magazine and video coverage of Colin McRae competing in the iconic blue and yellow 555-liveried Impreza. Homologation specials have always appealed to me and I had narrowed down my search to a Spec C Impreza.
A purchase of a heavily modified GC8 V3 STI was meant to be a stop-gap, as I was expecting it to take months and months to find one. However, one popped up at the Japanese auctions within a month. Whoops.
The car in question was a GDB-E ‘Blobeye’ STI Spec C, supposedly one of 103 cars produced in that year in the lightweight ’16-inch’ guise. Very few survive in original condition with most predominantly either converted to Group N rally cars or used for gymkhana in Japan. After a discussion with the agent and a relatively sleepless night, I woke up to a message that my bid was successful. A few months of agonisingly tracking the ship later, a summer of use ensued and now the car awaits some routine maintenance ready for the British springtime.
In recent years, the prices of AE86s along with many other Japanese cars of a sporting nature have shot up, pricing many enthusiasts out of the opportunity of owning one. They now sit in the realm of speculators and collectors, which in my opinion is a shame. I’m also unsure if the driving experience is proportionate to what these cars cost nowadays, but that’s a debate for another time.
While the value and difficulty of replacing parts should the worst happen is a slight concern, I still intend to use my cars as much as possible, while improving upon the original qualities that made them special in the first place. After all, cars are made to be driven.
An SH Garage update will soon follow, detailing some of the progress with the cars and what the future holds for them.