I’ve professed my affinity for the AE86 chassis numerous times on Speedhunters, and over the years there have been many more posts debating their merits and shortcomings.
Here’s the TLDR; they are old, they are expensive, they are fun, and they require dedication.
11 years on from the First Annual Retro Toyota Gathering, I’ve seen faces come and go. Some people buy an AE86 based on videos and imagery of cars being flung into corners at high speed, only to be disappointed when they realise that a lack of talent and 130hp (on a good day) doesn’t get you very far. Others buy one because they’re looking for a car that attracts more attention at car shows than the norm. Neither of these buyers usually own their AE86s for a long time.
But the ones that buy an AE86 because of the sense of occasion, for the underdog aspect and the community, they persevere.
Those that were fortunate enough to buy into AE86 ownership years ago, achieved it at a far lower entry fee. Many cars (not just AE86s) have been priced out of the realm of enthusiasts and into the hands of speculators and investors. This means that if you want a taste of AE86 experience now, checking the back of the sofa for some loose change won’t cut it anymore.
Despite the increase in price, AE86s are surprisingly still one of the more affordable Japanese cars that have a degree of provenance. Just look at the recent auction results for cars like the BNR34 Nissan Skyline GT-R, Honda NSX and the Mk4 Toyota Supra…
But just because AE86s aren’t the most expensive, doesn’t make them affordable. And yet, the popularity of this car doesn’t seem to fade with a constant stream of cars being imported to the UK each month.
The 12th Annual Retro Toyota Gathering was held last month, rather selfishly on my part. The actual celebrated date – tomorrow, the 6th of August (8/6) – bordered perilously close to the due date of the most expensive project I’ll ever embark on: parenthood.
Despite the brought forward date, the event built on the same format it always has. Numbers have never been a priority and striving for a personable experience has always been the primary focus. It’s always a given that a proportion of cars are in bits being worked on, mine included.
Seeing owners return year on year provides an opportunity to see their cars evolve and visions coming to fruition. While there are more travelled paths when it comes to how people modify their AE86s, owners are still finding ways to personalise and customise their cars in different ways.
There is no right or wrong way to ’86’, but general consensus is that a healthy degree of lowering and some wider wheels will do the trick. Add in some individual throttle bodies either picked from, or still attached to a 20-valve 4A-GE engine, and you’ve pretty much nailed it. There are outliers to this approach too which are less common, but equally as cool.
Adam’s car specifically was of great interest to me. I previously owned this AE86, although back then it looked vastly different. The car went from my possession, through two owners in France, back to a friend in the UK and then eventually into Adam’s hands. It’s spent many a year under the knife as it was restored and transformed into what we see today – a car that wouldn’t be out of place in a grainy VHS copy of the famed AE86 Club videos. If you have not watched these, seek them out. The nine volumes are essential viewing for any self-respecting Corolla enthusiast.
The lesser-known Carina was available with a 4A-GE engine as well, but it also came with independent rear suspension. The 4A-GE is long gone in this car, replaced by a BEAMS 3S-GE engine from an Altezza, with throttle bodies for extra response and noise.
While AE86s will always outnumber other retro and classic Toyotas on this day, a reasonable variety of cars were still in attendance.
Everything from affordable front-wheel drive Corolla estates to luxury coupes and even a rare right-hand drive Toyota Surf.
The two standout cars on the day for me were surprisingly not AE86s. The first was Cameron Palmer’s MX41 Mark II.
Carefully curated accessories complement the car, with the kyusha styling evident throughout. When you look deeper, influences from other genres appear too.
The wheels and steering wheel have carefully been engraved, paying homage to the lowrider culture that Cameron has drawn inspiration from.
The SSR FL2 wheel on the back seat has been adorned with roughly 4,000 stones.
It’s a bold statement, but this EP82 Starlet GT Turbo is likely one of the best-condition examples anywhere in the world.
With a scant 19,314km (or 12,001mi) on the odometer, the interior looks barely sat in.
The engine bay looks just as new, devoid of any corroded bolts or perished rubbers.
Even the original hubcap and steel wheels are present.
The venue aligned a retro Japanese-themed weekend with the event, which meant interspersed amongst Toyotas other marques and models were found throughout the parking area.
Continuing the theme for a number of years was the event sticker, made in the style of a UK road tax disc, with all proceeds going towards charity. Two charities were nominated this year – Race Against Dementia and the UNICEF Ukraine effort. Each received half of the £206 raised.
Year on year, I expect to see a decline in attendance at the Retro Toyota Gathering, but it remains at the very least consistent. I genuinely believe that cars are the best catalyst for forming friendships and having that shared interest keeps them strong.
So maybe 86 Day isn’t about the cars at all, but about the people? If someone can put up with the foibles and challenges of keeping a retro Toyota on the road, they’ll make a good friend. They’ll likely be broke most of the time, but they’ll make a good friend.