It died, quietly in it’s sleep. The rough, tough, little working class hero passed away without anyone noticing. I’m not talking about one ae86 in particular, but rather AE86’s in general. It was so gradual too, like a slow disease eating away at it. Some people may not know what I mean, there are others who’ve sat further in their chairs, nodding their heads. Some people are in the know. Long ago, back in 1983, consumers had the wonderful option of running to the dealership and buying a cheap affordable commuter car that offered something more than a cup holder and a radio. A strong focus on the balance between affordability and driving enjoyment is a concept fairly lost in today’s disposable car market. With driving enjoyment comes companionship from fellow drivers, and eventually motorsport sprouts from that friendly rivalry. The AE86 has always done well to keep up with more expensive, more complex vehicles. In the 90’s you could find GTS’s a plenty for a few hundred bucks, a little RWD car that had a little unf in the places unf should come. With the slow decline of the Honda, and closely associated import drag racing scene, drifting crept in to the lime light. Along with it came some of the cult status of the little Corolla, it’s reputation, it’s heart and soul? The cheap little car that could.
The definition of the AE86 was simply that of a sub $1000 sports car, not perfect but a great base to move up into the world of motorsports and particularly the motoring activity of drifting. Drifting is a sport for the working class, or originally it was intended as so. With so few offerings of usable Japanese chassis, and the faux pas of driving American ones, the AE86 GT-S and Nissan S240sx were direct rivals. At the beginning of the scene in North America, and really, the rest of the world, these were two fairly universally available chassis with great reputations. The Corolla was the cheaper of the two, being less ‘turn key’ than the 240sx. As popularity increased world wide, so did the need for more Corollas. Those that were known sold for good money, supply and demand drove up the prices of those readily available and others scoured the corners of the globe pulling up wood work to find others. For a short period in time there was a sudden burst of Corollas available for purchase, this drove the costs way down, and the need for preservation was low as well. Rather than trying to fix small dents or bends, people who needless destroy them and many of their now hard to come by parts, with the ease of picking up another for under $1000.
Time passes, and the world changes. It’s all pretty subtle really, but as things progressed, the interest in drifting, and subsequently the interest in the Corolla grew. While the production of the AE86 stopped in 1987 the interest in beating on them has always been greater the day next. We’ve now come to a very narrow path, that sadly will continue to be narrow. The numbers have dwindled, there just are not as many Corollas as there was before, this is the obvious observation. What’s not obvious is the true death of the car. The heart and soul, as mentioned before, the affordability of the Corolla, has died. No longer can one run to the classifieds to drive home a little putty Toyota for cheap.
With the increasing interest in Japanese motorsport, comes the increasing demands of the cars. The last hope of the Corolla was that of a Giant Slayer, the ability to do so well with so little. With the prices for stock Corollas basically the price of well built 240sx’s, there is no opportunity to save money, or be competitive. The little car is dead. From these ashes a Phoenix was rising, the ground boiled and bubbled, light jutted from the soil as an egg was about to hatch. Sadly however, like an abandoned nest, the FT86 failed to develop correctly, and is close to being still born. A strong lack of resemblance to the original GT-S, a lack in similar spirit, a different market segment, has left the FT86 just a lazy attempt at trying to borrow sales from a group of car enthusiasts not nearly associated with the original car. There really is no working class hero in the new car.
The secret of the gold has long been out, the town is flooded with so little gold to be had, and soon this western digging town will rid it self of hopefuls looking to score big in the world of Corolla and dry up. Cue tumble Weeds.
Continuing is the hardcore, the dedicated and the obsessed. Shaken are the fanboys, the wannabes and the passing interests.