1980s Toyota Corolla AE86 Restomods Are the Most Awesome Alternative-Energy Vehicles Out There

On display at the Tokyo Auto Salon, the Corolla Levin and Sprinter Trueno are Japan-market variants of the sporty yet economical U.S.-market Corolla GT-S of the era.

by ZeuCer
  • Seeking to preserve its heritage for a greener future, Toyota just unveiled two restomodded classic 1980s hatchbacks at this year’s Tokyo Auto Salon, one powered by hydrogen, the other a pure battery EV.
  • The Corolla Levin and Sprinter Trueno are both Japan-market variants of the sporty yet economical Corolla GT-S that was sold in the U.S.
  • These cars were lightweight but low on power, and they are commonly known by their chassis code, AE86. While simple and relatively low-tech, these rear-wheel-drive machines became pop-culture icons in the 1990s thanks in part to the popular anime series Initial D.

If asked to list Toyota’s most important heritage vehicles, you might jot down the mighty twin-turbo Mk IV Supra, the unkillable Hilux pickup truck, the wafting Toyota Century (Japan’s only production V-12), or perhaps the million-dollar 2000GT. However, the most famous Toyota of all time is an underpowered hatchback with pop-up headlights and a speed warning chime that comes on if you exceed 64 mph. At this year’s Tokyo Auto Salon, Toyota moved to preserve the heritage of this little car, building a pair of restomods at great expense: one powered by liquid hydrogen, the other with a battery and electric motor.

toyota corolla from tokyo auto salon 2023

THE EV MODEL.

TOYOTA

Out of context, Toyota’s efforts seem a little like GM’s engineers showed up and said, “Good news, everyone, we’ve saved the Chevette for future generations!” However, the Corolla Levin and (more important) Sprinter Trueno shown off this week are far more than mere sporty commuters. In North America, these cars were sold as the Corolla GT-S, and they had a small but enthusiastic following. In Japan, they were known by their chassis code—AE86 or hachiroku, Japanese for eight-six—and they were rock stars.

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