Many cars come and go over the decades. Some are remembered others fade away into the pages of history, but very few become cult classics. Such cars become legendary amongst the petrol headed fraternity and very rarely come up for sale, not for a reasonable price anyway. The Toyota AE86 is one such car and today we have been given the keys to a pristine 1986 example along with complete access to Millbrook’s challenging Alpine Test Track. The car is actually a bit before my time and so this is the perfect opportunity to find out what all the fuss was about.
The cars angular stance has aged well and certainly makes a real statement when stationary. Its appearance is functional and the flared wheel arches in tandem with the classic 80’s two-tone paint scheme highlights a sporting character. The AE86 may only have a 123BHP 1.6 litre engine, but it weighs in at just 970KG making this car no slouch even by todays standards. The lack of mass and being rear wheel drive was this machines source of success in motorsport as it proved itself to be a David amongst Goliath’s.
Opening its door, climbing in and closing it with that satisfying “old car” clunk is like going back in time. This particular car is in mint condition and its immaculate blue seats along with boxy dashboard design makes modern cars feel far too complicated for their own good. The steering wheel is just that, it doesn’t have buttons for the radio or switches for heated seats, its pure function is to change the cars direction. The same goes for the console which houses its heater that is either on or off, not trying to mimic the temperature of Monaco in realtime.
Truing the key awakens this legend with a raspy bark and a few pops. This made me smile. You can always tell a car is going to be a bit of character by the way it fires up. Dabbing the throttle is most amusing with little spits and bangs continuing to emanate from the rear. This car does not have power steering which at low speeds is a pain and leaves you wresting the wheel into place, however, whilst in motion the lack of electronic interference provides such a beautifully direct feel from the steering. All of the controls are fantastically analogue, particularly the highly responsive throttle. Now with this car being 27 years old its breaks, though providing good feedback, do not slow the car down particularly quickly. When you really start to push the AE86 it begins to come alive. Throw it into a corner and the near perfect balance of the entire car can be sampled. Lift off of the throttle whilst there is lateral load on the car and you can see just where the new GT86 got its drifting talents from. As the weight shifts, the rear goes light and all it takes is just another prod of the throttle and you are in oversteer heaven. Gear changes from its manual box are joyous and with the close pedal arrangement at your feet it just begs to be heel and toed.
It is clear that this car still hasn’t lost its charm and though older than me, the Toyota AE86 Corolla has gained yet another fan. The car is a representation of purity and driving spirit, something seldom seen in many cars of today.