It didn’t exactly take the fan furore of the new Toyota 86 to reignite the spark for the model’s spiritual predecessor. The venerable little Toyota Corolla AE86 has quietly been the favoured cheap, reliable, and plentiful rear-wheel drive sportscar of choice for track-day-goers, drifters, and plain old enthusiasts alike for ages.
Launched in 1983 to a receptive audience, it built up a fearsome reputation on circuits all around the world, especially in the production categories of touring car races in Europe as part of Toyota’s factory team.
Once the drifting community rose in the mountains of Japan, the midnight drivers flocked to the Corolla mainly for its price — it’s not easy for a young driver to own a car in Japan, with its draconian taxes — but also for its live rear-driven axle, and limited slip differential fitted as standard.
The 4AGE engine revved like mad doing little else, but it was responsive and faithful, as it still is today. However, finding an AE86 still with its original four-cylinder motor fed by a carburetor is nigh on impossible, even more so in the Middle East. Many have been butchered to hold straight-six 2JZs or even the 1UZ V8.
Be patient, be prepared to import from other GCC or further-off countries, and stick to the 4AGE family or alternatively the much more powerful BEAMS motor, with its two defining features: 200 horsepower out the box, and a six-speed manual transmission.
Otherwise head to Sharjah and take your pick: five versions of 4AGE motors are all available, with the best ones being anything with fuel injection, basically. (Good luck finding a carburetor specialist in the UAE.) An engine swap is easier than changing your tyres, provided you do your research before taking any of the 4AGEs designed for front-wheel drive transverse applications. In any case, most local AE86 owners swear by the furious-revving BEAMS four-cylinder.
With its low weight of less than 900 kilos, precise steering and great balance, the AE86 handles superbly but benefits a lot from chassis stiffening. If you get yourself behind the wheel of a liftback, even more so, as general opinion is that the coupé body is stiffer from the factory.
Mechanical parts are easy to come by, and you’re looking at complete service kits available over the counter from Al-Futtaim, or on order. If you’re missing something cosmetic or any aftermarket tuning components, though, get used to trawling the internet into the wee hours of the morning.
Oh, and do yourself a favour and look for a car that hasn’t been hacked from right-hand drive to left, with 10 bonus points if you bag an AE86 with a VIN number whose 11th character is a ‘V’. That signifies a Middle East-spec car originally destined for our region.
Be prepared to pay anything from Dh10,000 for an example in a sorry state and the steering wheel on the wrong side, to whatever sky-high figure the emotionally attached seller is stubbornly and sentimentally sticking to.
But once you fling the eager little ‘Rolla into your first corner, and hear the four individual throttle bodies roaring for air, you’ll be sold on the AE86 and its 4AGE — the little engine that could.