Forgotten 4AGE: The Corolla GT-S Time Forgot
Many of us watched, and loved, Initial D. We all want to be Takumi, destroying the legendary Takahashis in their expensive rotary builds with a glorified economy car with a solid rear axle and 110 HP at the crank.
Well, unfortunately for all of us, everyone else watched the same show, and now the AE86 of your dreams (which probably was an AE85 until someone swapped in a 200K mile 4AGE that has compression numbers in the two digit region) is on Craigslist for $9,000. All it needs is “an A/C recharge”! Oh, and for you to bring your own wheels. It’s become the unattainable shitbox, which is infuriating, because the whole point was for it to be a cheap learner’s car to get good with before moving onto a more desirable platform.
But what if I told you that cheap learner’s car still existed? Under 2400 lbs, screaming 4AGE under the hood, and selling for under $5,000 pretty much everywhere on the internet? You’d call bull. You’d assume I meant an MR2, which while cool, has none of the flingability or mechanical ease of an AE86, thanks to the “Midship” portion of the MR2.
Unless you remembered the next generation Corolla GT-S, the AE92 platform. In 1987, Toyota decided that for cost reduction and manufacturing simplicity, all future Corollas would be front wheel drive platform cars. They continued to make the new FWD Corolla just as go-kart light as the previous RWD generation, however. To sweeten the deal, they continued to produce a five speed manual transmission, mated to an optionally available 7,700 RPM redline 4AGE. The specific example we’re focusing on today is my friend Tim’s 1988 model year Corolla GT-S, that comes equipped with both of these goodies.
Tim’s example is a frequently spotted competitor at Houston SCCA AutoX, and it’s also his daily driver. As such, the odo rolled over 400,000 miles before burning up a valve, after which it was treated to a very recent engine rebuild. Now, compression is up to 10 to 1, and displacement is increased, although it was still quite the competitor before the recent improvements.
Tim’s car will either sit on a set of vintage 15 inch TE37s or the stock 14 inch wheels, depending on if the car is being dailied or raced at the time, and sports JDM swapped tails and Trueno badging in the rear. The bumper, skirts, and Ganador-style mirrors were factory equipped for the GT-S model, as was the Toyota Super Red paint. Performance mods include a set of RSR lowering springs and a factory exhaust with the cat deleted to allow the 4AGE to truly sing. In reality, this is about all you need to get the “Takumi experience” with how low the curb weight is on the AE92.
The interior remains stock down to the head unit and accordion shifter in all its late-80s Toyota glory, with the exception of a deep-dish OMP wheel. The dash, somehow, remains uncracked after 400,000 miles, which as any 80s Toyota fan will tell you is less likely than guessing winning lotto numbers while being struck by lightning. Driver aids are none. Buckle your seatbelt up, it’s 1988 and mandatory active supplemental driver restraints are another presidential term away.
A car that can turn over 400K miles before needing major work, get you to school or your job every day with the song of a high revving 4AGE making 70 HP/L ringing in your ears, and weigh 1000 lbs less than the Supra pictured above from the same year? Why did people forget this thing? Yes, FWD means that you can’t do mad skids in the McDonald’s parking lot, but the whole point of the show that immortalized the AE86 was that a light, simple, nimble car can do great things in the hands of a talented driver who knows how to wield it, and in that regard, the AE92 is as much of a success as its predecessor.