Remember Hachi-Roku (eight-six, in Japanese), the humble tofu-delivering hatchback that used to transform into a fierce night racer at Mt Akina in the Manga cult Initial D? Well, if you’re a car fan and grew up in the late 90s, this possibly was the car that you wished to drive everyday. That hatchback was actually a Toyota AE86, a sports coupe that went on to become a cult. This was the car that made the front-engined, rear-wheel drive configuration popular for Toyota as well as other small sporty cars of that time.
And just when there was a need of a modern cult, Toyota announced the Toyota 86. The car is soon to storm Malaysia and we thought of tracing its roots. The Toyota 86 hails from the strong pedigree established by the AE86. Few know that the AE86 itself sprouted from a heritage of sports cars dating back to 1960s. The most prominent was the 1965 Toyota Sports 800. This was Toyota’s first attempt at a lightweight sports car and was well received by the enthusiasts from that era.
The Toyota Sports 800 was powered by a 790cc, two-cylinder boxer engine feeding all the power to the rear wheels, a classic drivetrain configuration still followed by purist sports cars. The maximum power was about 45bhp that gave this lightweight sports car a top speed of 160km/h. The Sports 800 became popular as ‘Yota-Hachi’, which translates to Toyota 8 in Japanese. It was a pretty looking car, styled by Shozo Sato, who designed World War II aircrafts. Aerodynamics were remarkable for the time while Toyota achieved lightweight constructions using aluminium and thin steel body and chassis elements.
The car fared well in many races, especially the endurance races where its lower weight and better fuel efficiency made for lesser pit stops. The all-new Toyota 86 not only adopted this layout from its grand daddy, but also the boxer engine layout, although one can find two more cylinders under the bonnet in the all-new Toyota 86.
Then came the Toyota 2000GT, featuring the same FR layout that stands for front-engine, rear-wheel drive. More than anything, the car achieved a classic status based on its styling. It was beautiful with its long flowing bonnet and pop-up headlamps. It was just 116cm tall and that gave it a wide stance. The car even featured in the James Bond movie “You Only Live Twice”.
The car featured a 2.0-litre straight-six engine pumping out 150bhp, courtesy double overhead camshafts. This was in 1967, and the car was good enough for a top speed of 220km/h. The 2000GT immediately became a sought after sports car in a world dominated by Europeans and sold more expensive than Jaguars and Porsches of that era. Sadly the production run spanned just three years, from 1967-70, and limited to just 351 units.
Then came the AE86, also known as the Toyota Corolla Levin and Toyota Sprinter Trueno. This small, lightweight coupe appeared in the fifth generation of Corolla lineup in 1983. The name too had a story. In classic Toyota nomenclature, the ‘A’ stood for the 4A series engine that it came with, ‘E’ represented the Corolla family, ‘8’ was for the fifth generation E80 series and ‘6’ was the variant code for its generation.
The AE86 was affordable and readily available back then and immediately caught the attention of performance enthusiasts. It was powered by a fuel injected, 1.6-litre inline-four that developed 130bhp. The AE86 soon took over the street-racing scene and led to the drifting culture for masses.
The AE86 is still in demand and commands a premium pricing. Even after nearly three decades of existence, there are various performance parts and mod-jobs available specifically for the car.
With such a varied pedigree, the all-new Toyota 86 sounds promising enough to lead to its own fanfare in the coming years. We just cannot wait to drive this rear-wheel drive sports coupe, which appears on Toyota’s catalogue after a very long time. Can you?