To outsiders, AE86 enthusiasts may seem like a bunch of elitist madmen that spend way too much time and money on their small capacity, rear-wheel drive ’80s Toyotas. But when a passion runs this deep, there must be something about them that you just can’t get anywhere else.
Now don’t let that intro mislead you – I’m an AE86 fanatic through and through – but I needed to write something relatable to draw you in, right? As you can imagine then, when I was invited to join a trio of pristine white Corolla Levins for a touge run, I happily accepted the offer.
On a brisk autumn morning at a 7-Eleven on the outskirts of Tokyo, I was greeted by the sweet sounds of three 4A-GE-powered cars humming towards me in the distance. Anyone familiar with Japanese car culture will be quite accustomed to seeing modified cars parked in front of popular conbini (convenience) stores, and it’s a sight that never gets old. This particular morning, I was joined by Umino-san, Shunya-san and Kaname-san, each in their respective AE86 Levins.
After grabbing some breakfast to go, it was up into the mountains towards Ōmugishiro Parking Area, a popular place for car nuts to gather on weekends. It’s also a beautiful place to take in the views that Lake Okutama has to offer.
Following some light mingling, we made our way through a number of Okutama’s beautiful winding roads, stopping for a photo break outside the iconic Showa Restaurant.
Now, there are plenty of famous driving roads in Japan, such as the famous Hakone Turnpike, Skyline and Happohagara, but the roads that trace through the mountainous region of Okutama are true hidden gems. Surprisingly devoid of the usual weekend crowds, this touge is the perfect setting for a spirited drive.
Roads like this create an almost movie set-looking backdrop when you’re working with a group of AE86s, made even easier when there is little to no traffic impeding on the shot.
Whilst all Levins, each of these 86s are quite different from one another. We’ll kick things off with Shunya-san’s perfectly simple, white-on-black-bumper notchback. The balance of a kouki front bumper on the zenki chassis and RunFree flares on all four corners creates what in my opinion is the perfect street stance for a Hachiroku.
Shunya-san has kept true to the roots of the 86, retaining the 16-valve 4A-GE with the added necessity of ITBs and a TRD-style header.
Inside, the period correct style continues with a pair of Bride Brix seats, Nardi Classic steering wheel, and an obligatory cup holder in the centre dash vent.
If period correctness is the name of the game, Kaname-san has nailed it, with his almost completely stock panda hatchback. The modestly fitted SSR MK-IIIs and full kouki kit make Kaname-san’s car unmistakably an 86, even to the casual enthusiast.
Kaname-san has also retained the factory 16-valve 4A-GE with a simple intake and exhaust upgrade.
It’s easy to go above and beyond when you’re building an AE86, but when roads like these are your doorstep, it becomes abundantly clear that simplicity and seat time are the only necessary ingredients for a good day out.
Last, but so far from least, we have Umino-san’s white kouki notchback. For this car you’ll have to wait, as it deserves its own post where we can dive into the nitty-gritty of what is an unbelievable restoration. While you wait, I’ll leave you with this sneak peek at Umino-san’s attention to detail…
After a good few hours and a few hundred corners, we looped back around and into Okutama Parking Area and posted up in front of the Showa era-style store.
All so similar but each with a completely different character and look is what makes shooting three of the same make and model so special to me. With the first AE86 variants turning 40 this year, it’s safe to say that almost every combination of engine, gearbox, styling and interior has been done on these cars. But as the industry begins to creep more and more into a world of automation and disengagement, the movement back to simplicity and seat time-inspired builds is clear, especially in these three.
Living in Japan for over a year and spending the majority of your waking hours exploring workshops, circuits and automotive events makes it easy to become slightly numb to happenings that would excite even the most apathetic car enthusiast, but it’s moments like this where I have to stop and pinch myself. Being able to follow three perfectly-built AE86s driving through the Japanese mountains was a surreal experience – one that I wished every car enthusiast could enjoy.
Initial D and internet hype aside, I implore anyone that gets the chance to jump behind the wheel of an AE86 to take it.
Happy 86 Day!