History of Toyota sports cars (part 5)

On the face of it, Toyota’s most well-known family car – and the world’s best-selling vehicle – the Corolla, would seem out of place in the company of highly-focused sports cars but, in truth, over the years the Corolla has produced some of the most well-loved sporting Toyotas.

Corolla shows a different side

The most iconic must surely be the Corolla (AE86) Levin from the mid-1980s. As a sign of its following around the world, to this day fans still affectionately refer to it as the AE86 – or Hachi-Roku, Japanese for “eight-six” – the chassis code used by Toyota. At the time of its launch, the rest of the Corolla range – as well as most passenger cars – were moving to a front-wheel drive configuration, while the purists configuration of front engine and rear-wheel drive was reserved for the sporty coupés like the Levin.


Fitted with a high-revving and charismatic 1.6-litre, double overhead cam (DOHC) engine producing 124hp and mated to its engaging rear-wheel drive chassis and low-slung driving position, the AE86 was a real, undiluted driver’s dream. So much so, it quickly became the choice of serious race and rally professionals wanting a playful, reliable and fast rear-wheel drive machine.

What moved the AE86 into folklore was its pioneering role in drifting and film. Chosen by Japanese racing legend Keiichi Tsuchiya for its outstanding handling balance and control, the AE86 remains a mainstay at drift shows and competitions. But probably the most famous AE86 of them all is the white-over-black model that appeared in the classic Manga movie ‘Initial D’ in 1995: a film that told the story of Takumi Fujiwara, a delivery driver by day and drifting king by night. And his vehicle of choice – well, of course, it had to be the legendary Corolla AE86 Levin.

The GTi years

Later on in the 1980s another sporting Corolla took to the stage, the Corolla GTi. During this period, standard family hatchbacks that incorporated powerful engines, sports suspension and aggressively-styled body kits were the cars to have, and the Corolla GTi hit the sweet spot just right.


Featuring a tuned 1587cc engine – that was closely related to that fitted to the Corolla AE86 Levin – with double overhead camshaft and single point injection, it produced 130 DIN hp to give drivers energetic response. When combined with its light 1075kg weight, performance was electric (for the time) with a 0-100km/h time of under nine seconds and a top speed approaching 200km/h.

To cope with the enhanced power and to give drivers the most involving driving experience, suspension was upgraded and all four brakes were ventilated to keep you out of harm’s way. A sporty front bumper and rear spoiler, purposeful side-skirts and prominent GTi badging on the outside, as well as bolstered sports seats and three-spoke steering wheel inside, made it clear to everyone – inside and out – that this wasn’t just any Corolla.

Published: 24 October 2016

Information correct at time of publication.


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