Thunder and Lightning, Part 2: The AE86 Toyota Corolla Levin/Sprinter Trueno


Ironically, as the final Corolla Levin and Sprinter Trueno coupes were fading away, their AE86 predecessors were becoming more popular than ever. The AE86’s racing and tōge career did not end when the rear-drive Levin and Trueno went out of production and, starting in 1995, those exploits were further glamorized by Shuichi Shigeno’s manga series Initial D, whose young protagonist drove a white-over-black three-door AE86 Sprinter Trueno. The manga later spawned a popular anime series, which served to introduce the AE86 to a new generation of fans who weren’t old enough to drive (or weren’t born) when the cars were originally on sale. Drifting, meanwhile, eventually inspired an American feature film, 2006’s Fast and the Furious 3: Tokyo Drift, which included a cameo by Keiichi Tsuchiya.

1985–87 Toyota Sprinter Trueno three-door (AE86) front 3q © 2012 ThijsDeschildre (CC BY-SA 3.0 Unported)

Two-tone paint was standard on AE86 GT APEX cars and optional on other models. White-over-black paint jobs have become very popular for these cars thanks to Initial D, whose protagonist’s Sprinter Trueno wore that color combination. (Photo: “Toyota Corolla GT AE86 Trueno hatchback” © 2012 ThijsDeschildre; resized 2014 by Aaron Severson and used under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported license)

Some Toyota engineers and executives hadn’t forgotten about the AE86 either, despite Toyota’s comparative dearth of sporty models in the first decade of the new century. After Toyota signed an agreement with Fuji Heavy Industries (parent company of Subaru) to jointly develop a new sports coupe, the AE86 became one of the points of reference for that project, which was intended as a lightweight, straightforward, eminently driftable rear-drive coupe. Toyota and Subaru even hired Tsuchiya as a consultant on the development of that car, which new Toyota president Akio Toyoda decided in 2009 would be called “Toyota 86” in honor of its AE86 forebears.

As worthy as the modern 86/GT86/FR-S is — and if we were in the market, we would be tempted — we think its connection with the AE86 is rather tenuous. With its 1,998 cc (122 cu. in.) engine, bespoke chassis, and independent rear suspension, the 86 seems closer to the original Toyota 2000GT or the last rear-drive RA63 Celica 2000GT than the live-axle Corolla Levin and Sprinter Trueno. The AE85 and AE86 were never intended as pure, purpose-built rear-drive sports coupes; their existence was first and foremost a matter of production and accounting expedience, much like making dinner out of one or two new ingredients and an assortment of leftovers in order to put off really going grocery shopping.

2012 Toyota 86 front fender badge © 2012 Cllackr (PD CC0 1.0)

The Toyota 86 is sold as the GT86 in Europe and the Scion FR-S in the U.S., but even the Scion version proudly wears “86” emblems on its front fenders. The similar Subaru BRZ version, of course, does not. (Photo: “Toyota 86 GT – Logo 2” © 2012 Cllackr; dedicated to the public domain by the photographer under a Creative Commons CC0 1.0 Universal Public Domain Dedication, resized 2014 by Aaron Severson)

As with the Fox-body Ford Mustang, another cheap, lightweight RWD car with a cult following and vast tuning potential, the appeal of the rear-drive Corolla Levin and Sprinter Trueno was not so much that they were brilliant cars right out of the box (although they did very well in showroom stock competition), but that they constituted a solid, affordable foundation for any number of automotive impulses. Much of the reason for that was that at the end of the day, the Levin and Trueno were still Corollas at heart: cheap to buy, straightforward to maintain, and inexpensive to run.

Beyond that, they stand today as relics of an earlier automotive age. Today, conventional sedans and coupes without a prestigious European badge are becoming a tough sell in many parts of the world, superseded by an assortment of more specialized models. The Levin and Trueno recall an era before the reign of the specialty car, when achieving mass-market success still meant that each automotive line, however humble, had to offer a little something for everyone.



The author would like to thank Frank Dupre, Ingvar Hallström, John Howell, and ‘oversteerer’ for their assistance with background and images for this article.


Our sources for the history of the Corolla, Sprinter, their rivals and antecedents, and Toyota itself included “A Dozen Small Wagons,” Road & Track Vol. 25, No. 2 (October 1973): 38–49; Arban, “RX3,” n.d., no/%7Earban/ RX3.html, accessed 21 February 2014; Tony Assenza, “Toyota Corolla GT-S,” Car and Driver Vol. 33, No. 8 (February 1988): 119–123; Automobiles 1959 (Tokyo, Japan: Motors Trade Association of Japan, 1959); “Autocar Road Test: Toyota Carina 1.6GL,” Autocar 27 April 1988: 48–55; the Auto Editors of Consumer Guide, Auto ’90 Vol. 516 No. 1 (Fall 1989); “Autos Abroad: A new Lotus blossoms …” Car Life March 1963, reprinted in Lotus Elan 1963-1972 Collection No. 2, ed. R.M. Clarke (Cobham, England: Brooklands Books Ltd., ca. 1983): 5; “Auto Test: Toyota Corolla GT Coupe,” Autocar 21 April 1984: 38–43; “Auto Test: Toyota Corolla 1.3,” Autocar 15 March 1980: 48–53; “Auto Test: Triumph Dolomite Sprint: Britain shows the way,” Autocar 26 July 1973: 8–13; Ben Barry, “Toyota GT86 coupe (2012) CAR review,” CAR 28 October 2011, www.carmagazine., accessed 6 February 2014; Patrick Bedard, “The Econohunks (Comparison Test),” Car and Driver Vol. 32, No. 9 (March 1987): 42–53; Nicholas Bissoon-Dath, “Toyota MR2 Supercharged,” Car and Driver Vol. 33, No. 6 (December 1987), reprinted in Toyota MR2 1984-1988, ed. R.M. Clarke (Cobham, England: Brooklands Books Ltd., ca. 1989): 89–93; Phil Bradshaw, “SpeedTECH: The definitive guide to EFI transplants,” 2000, home.clear. pages/ phil.bradshaw/ INDEX.HTM, accessed 21 January 2014; Michael Brockman, “Toyota Corolla GT-S,” Motor Trend Vol. 36, No. 9 (September 1984): 36–39; Rich Ceppos, “Datsun 210,” Car and Driver Vol. 24, No. 7 (January 1979): 43–46; “Preview Test: Chevrolet Nova CL,” Car and Driver Vol. 31, No. 1 (July 1985): 45–50; and “Preview Test: Toyota MR2,” Car and Driver Vol. 30, No. 8 (February 1985), reprinted in Toyota MR2 1984-1988, pp. 18-21; Jason Clenfield and Yuki Hagiwara, “Doubting Toyota prince defeats crisis to prove self wrong,” Automotive News 23 November 2013, www.autonews. com, accessed 8 February 2014; K.C. Colwell, “Ford RevoKnuckle and GM HiPer Strut Explained,” Car and Driver Vol. 56, No. 9 (March 2011), www.caranddriver. com, accessed 1 May 2014; “Corolla Levin,” jp/asahi/ hattori/ homepage/car/ Levin.htm, accessed 13 February 2014; Mike Covello, ed., Standard Catalog of Imported Cars 1946–2002, Second Edition (Iola, WI: Krause Publications, 2001); Sean Connor, “1984 – 1987 Toyota Corolla Sport coupe: a last rear-wheel-drive economy car classic,” Classic Cars Today Online, 7 June 2012, www.classiccarstodayonline. com, accessed 6 April 2014; Csaba Csere, “Short Take: Toyota Corolla GT-S,” Car and Driver Vol. 30, No. 3 (September 1984): 85; Michael A. Cusumano, Staying Power: Six Enduring Principles for Managing Strategy and Innovation in an Uncertain World (Oxford, NY: Oxford University Press, 2010), and The Japanese Automobile Industry: Technology & Management at Toyota & Nissan (Cambridge, MA: The Harvard University Press, 1985); Richard Doig, “ST205 Superstrut Suspension,” New Zealand GT-Four Homepage, 2007, gtfour.supras., accessed 8 July 2014; “Eastern Most,” CAR September 1985: 138–145; Edward Eves, “Designs Analyzed-8: Alfa Romeo Giulia GTV,” Autocar 21 December 1967, reprinted in Alfa Romeo Giulia Coupes Gold Portfolio 1963-1976, ed. R.M. Clarke (Cobham, England: Brooklands Books Ltd., ca. 1992): 68–71; Gareth Evans, “Toyota FT-86 coupé: the new spy photos (2011), CAR 14 October 2009, www.carmagazine., accessed 6 February 2014; “Executive Action (Road Test: Toyota Corolla Executive),” Autocar 9 September 1987: 60–66; “Executive Bios: Akihiko Saito, Chairman, DENSO Corporation,” DENSO Global Media Center, www.densomediacenter. com, accessed 18 January 2014; James M. Flammang, ed., Standard Catalog of Imported Cars 1946-1990, 1st ed. (Iola, WI: Krause Publications, 1992); “Giant Test: Celica GT, MGB GT, Lancia Beta Coupe,” CAR September 1975: 54–60; “Giant Test: Corolla v. Escort,” CAR July 1968: 44–49; “Giant Test: Honda CRX -v- Toyota Corolla GT Coupe -v- Volkswagen Scirocco GL,” CAR June 1984: 108–117; “Giant Test: VW Scirocco TS v. Capri 2000GT v. Toyota Celica ST,” CAR December 1974: 72–79; Guide to Motor Industry of Japan 1967 Edition (Tokyo: Japan Motor Industrial Federation, Inc., 1967); Larry Griffin, “Road Test: Toyota Corolla LE,” Car and Driver Vol. 29, No. 10 (April 1984), reprinted in Car and Driver Road Test Annual 1984: 67–71, and “Short Take: Chevrolet Nova Twin-Cam,” Car and Driver Vol. 33, No. 12 (June 1988): 135–137; Guide to the Motor Industry of Japan 1990 (Tokyo: Japan Motor Industrial Federation, Inc., 1990); Akira Higuchi, assignor to Toyota Jidosha Kabushiki Kaisha, “Suspension of Vehicle,” U.S. Patent No. 4,844,505, filed 14 December 1987 and issued 4 July 1989; John Hilton, “Toyota Moves to America,” Car and Driver Vol. 29, No. 10 (April 1984), reprinted in Car and Driver Road Test Annual 1984: 68–69; Honda Motor Co., Ltd., [“Honda introduces new proprietary technologies with launch of ‘new Prelude’ FF specialty car”], [Japanese press release], 25 November 1982, and [“New DOHC 16-valve engine for FF compact cars in the Civic/Ballade series”], [Japanese press release], 24 October 1984; “Hot Gossip (Sports Hatchbacks),” What Car? October 1985: 42–47; Ben Hsu, Classic Japanese Performance Cars (North Branch, MN: CarTech, 2013); Teruo Ikehara, Toyota vs. Honda (Tokyo: Nikkan Kogyo Shinbunsha, 2002); Yasushi Ishiwatari, “High Tech,” Car and Driver Vol. 31, No. 8 (February 1986): 34, and “Toyota Corolla: The twenty-valve four-banger,” Car and Driver Vol. 37, No. 4 (October 1991): 26–27; Garth Ivers, “AE86: An In-Depth Look at a Legend,” HR (Hachi Roku), 24 April 2008, www.hachiroku., accessed 3 April 2014; Jikayousha [All Album:] Buyer’s Guide 1987 Cars, February 1987; “Keiichi Tuschiya,” Drift Japan, 29 March 2007, driftjapan. com, accessed 3 April 2014; Kris, “Changing 205 Super Strut Suspension,” Icy Designs, March 2010, diy.icydesigns. com/ article/ 93/Toyota/ Celica/ 1994-99_(ST20x)/ Suspension/Brakes/ Steering/ Changing_205_Super_Strut_Suspension/, accessed 10 July 2014; L’Editrice Dell’Automobile LEA, World Cars 1973 (Pelham, NY: Herald Books, 1973); World Cars 1974 (Pelham, NY: Herald Books, 1974); World Cars 1979 (Pelham, NY: Herald Books, 1979); World Cars 1980 (Pelham, NY: Herald Books, 1980); World Cars 1984 (Pelham, NY: Herald Books, 1984), and World Cars 1985 (Pelham, NY: Herald Books, 1985); Brian Long, Celica & Supra: The book of Toyota’s sports coupes (Dorchester, England: Veloce Publishing, 2007); Mazda Motor Corporation, “History of the Rotary Engine,” 2007 [PDF document]; “Member’s List,” 24 October 2012, www.geocities. jp/e56tokusou/ mlist/mlist.html, accessed 22 March 2014; “Mr. Panache (Autocar Road Test: Toyota MR2),” Autocar 13 March 1985: 50–56; “Motor Trend‘s 1990 Import Car of the Year,” Motor Trend Vol. 42, No. 3 (March 1990): 44–71; National Traffic Safety and Environmental Laboratory, “Overview and Future Prospect of Emissions Regulations in Japan,” 4 February 2003, www.ntsel., accessed 14 February 2013; Yuichi Natori, “Preview: Supercharged Toyota MR2,” Car Australia November 1986, reprinted in Toyota MR2 1984-1988, pp. 46–49; “New Car Prices,” Wheels December 1985: 129; New car price guide, 5 November 1993, Car and Driver Japan Edition 10 December 1993: 220–230; Paul Niedermeyer, “Curbside Classic: 1985 Toyota Corolla GT-S – The Legendary AE86,” Curbside Classic, 2 April 2012, www.curbsideclassic. com/ curbside-classics-asian/ curbside-classic- 1985-toyota- corolla-gt-s-the-legendary-ea86/, last accessed 19 January 2014; “1967 Hino Contessa 1300 — Rear Guard Assault,” New Zealand Classic Car Magazine 11 October 2007, www.classiccar. articles/ rear-guard-assault- 1967-hino-contessa-1300-176, accessed 26 January 2014; “1971 Corolla Sport Coupe,” Road Test Toyota Special (1970): 30–33; “1998 All Driving Album,” Driver No. 785 (June 1998): 143–155; Hajime Nishimura, ed., How to Conquer Air Pollution: A Japanese Experience (Studies in Environmental Science 38) (Amsterdam, Netherlands: Elsevier Science Publishers B.V., 1989); Sean O’Mara, “The Enduring Legacy of Initial D and the AE86,” Otaku USA Magazine 28 January 2013, www.otakuusamagazine. com, accessed 18 January 2014; John Phillips III, “1990 Import Cars: Charting the Changes,” Car and Driver Vol. 35, No. 5 (November 1989): 64–69;, Book of Automobile Production and Sales Figures, 1945-2005 (N.p.: 2006); “Promise Unfulfilled (Road Test: Nissan Sunny 1.6SLX Coupe),” Autocar 8 April 1987: 48–55; Ben Pulman, “Toyota’s GT86 meets the legendary ‘Drift King,'” CAR 11 February 2013, www.carmagazine., accessed 6 February 2014; “Rear Wheel Drive Toyota Corolla Cars: 1966-1983,” Corolland, n.d., www.corolland. com, accessed 18 January 2014; “Road racerbout (Motor Road Test No. 15/68: Ford Escort Twin Cam),” Motor 6 April 1968: 41–46; “Road Test: Toyota GT Coupé Corolla,” Motor 10 March 1984: 12–15; “Road Test: Toyota Corolla 1300 4-door (Motor Road Test No. 26/80),” Motor Road Tests 1980: 224–227; “Road Test: Toyota Corolla 30,” Motor 16 March 1979: 20–23; Toshiyasu Santo, assignor to Toyota Jidosha Kabushiki Kaisha, “Strut Type Suspension,” U.S. Patent No. 4,995,633, filed 31 August 1989 and issued 26 February 1991; Masaaki Sato, The Honda Myth: The Genius and His Wake (New York: Vertical, Inc., 2006) and The Toyota Leaders: An Executive Guide, trans. Justin Bonsey (New York: Vertical, Inc., 2008); Jim Schefter, “Little fire breather: Corolla GT-S,” Popular Science Vol. 225, No. 5 (November 1984): 66; Don Sherman, “The Econoboxes: All the small cars that are fit to drive, Part One,” Car and Driver Vol. 24, No. 1 (July 1978): 33–56; Bill Sherwood, “The Stock 4AGE Description Page,” www.billzilla. org/ 4agstock.htm, accessed 4 April 2014; “Sigve’s Toyota 1981 TE71 GT,” n.d.,, accessed 31 March 2014; “Star Road Test: Toyota Corolla 1.3GL Liftback,” Motor 10 September 1983: 12–17; “Star Road Test: Toyota Corolla 1600 Liftback (Motor Road Tests No. 12/80),” Motor Road Tests 1980: 166–171; “Sunny Outlook for Nissan (Road Test: Nissan Sunny 1.3LX 5-Dr),” Autocar 26 November 1986: 28–34; “Super Strut Suspension,” Toyota Corolla FX GT, 2009, www.oocities. org/fxgt20/ superstrut.htm, accessed 10 July 2014; “Super Strut Suspension” and “205 Suspension,” Celica GT-Four Drivers Club, 2013, www.gtfours. what/ sstrut/ sstrut.htm and www.gtfours. pics/ suspension/ 205/sus.htm, accessed 10 July 2014; Rich Taylor, “Pocket Rockets,” Popular Mechanics Vol. 162, No. 8 (August 1985): 76–79, 120–121; “Tearaways! (Group Test: Toyota Corolla GT, Alfa Sprint, Opel Manta GT/E),” What Car? June 1984: 28–32; “Test Extra: Toyota Celica GT,” Autocar 1 March 1975: 43–44; “Test extra: Toyota Corolla Coupé SR,” Autocar 11 October 1980: 20–23; “Test Match: Ford Escort XR3i, Toyota Corolla GT, Vauxhall Astra GTE, Volkswagen Golf GTi,” Fast Lane July 1986: 48–55; The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift (produced by Neal H. Moritz, written by Chris Morgan, directed by Justin Lin; United States: Universal Pictures/Relativity Media: 2006); “The Tide Turns (Group Test: High Performance Coupes),” What Car? February 1984, reprinted in High Performance Capris Gold Portfolio 1969-1987, ed. R.M. Clarke (Cobham, England: Brooklands Books Ltd., ca. 1990): 130–137; “This year’s imported cars,” Kiplinger’s Personal Finance Vol. 37, No. 12 (December 1983): 67–72; Jonathan Thompson, “Introduction: Japan’s First Mid-Engine Sports Car,” and “Toyota MR2,” Road & Track Vol. 36, No. 3 (November 1984), reprinted in Toyota MR2 1984-1988, pp. 6–13; Tony Tortorici, ed., Chilton’s Toyota Corolla 1970-87 Repair Manual (West Chester, PA: Chilton Book Company, 1995); Eiji Toyoda, Toyota: Fifty Years in Motion (Tokyo: Kodansha International, 1987); “Toyota AE86,” GTBlogger, 28 February 2012, gtblogger. com/ toyota-ae86/, accessed 18 January 2014; Toyota Canada Inc. Newsroom, “Toyota Corolla: World’s Most Popular Car,” [press release], 5 September 2013, ca, accessed 13 February 2014; “Toyota Corolla 1100,” Motor Trend Vol. 20, No. 7 (July 1968): 88–89; [“Toyota: Corolla Levin (5th, 1.6L-SC, FF/5MT, AE92 version)”], Greeco Channel, n.d., greeco-channel. com/ car/ toyota/ corolla_levin/, accessed 22 August 2014; “Toyota Corolla Sprinter,” Car and Driver Vol. 14, No. 6 (December 1968): 69–72, 87; “Toyota Corolla AE86,” Drift Japan, 25 June 2007, driftjapan. com/ blog/ toyota/ toyota-corolla-ae86/, accessed 18 January 2014; “Toyota Corolla Levin/Sprinter Trueno (Sports & Specialty),” Driver No. 785 (June 1998): 60; “Toyota Corolla 1600,” Road & Track Vol. 22, No. 9 (May 1971): 55–58; “Toyota Corolla Sport Coupe,” Road & Track Vol. 31, No. 5 (January 1980): 118–121; “Toyota Corolla SR-5,” Road & Track Vol. 24, No. 12 (August 1973): 87–89; “Toyota Corolla TE71,” Midgley Motor Sport, n.d., midgleymotorsport. com/ the-rallycars/ toyota-corolla-te71/, accessed 22 March 2014; “Toyota Corolla Tercel Liftback SR5,” Road & Track Vol. 31, No. 5 (January 1980): 50–53; “Toyota history: corporate and automotive,” Toyoland, N.d., www.toyoland. com, accessed 17 January 2014; Toyota Europe, “Toyota motorsports history from 1957 to the present,” n.d., com, accessed 21 January 2014; Toyota (GB) PLC, “Team Toyota GB,” 21 September 2012,, accessed 18 January 2014; Toyota Motor Corporation, “Akio Toyoda,” n.d., toyotanews. pressroom. toyota. com, accessed 8 February 2014; All About the Toyota Twin-cam, 2nd Ed. (November 1984); “A 75-Year History through Text,” 75 Years of Toyota, 2012: “Dealerships in Japan,” “Engine type,” “History of Toyota’s Motor Sports Activities,” “Jidoka — Manufacturing high quality products,” “Just-in-Time — Philosophy of complete elimination of waste,” “Overall Chronological Table,” “Sales Volume in Japan,” and 75 Years of Toyota: Vehicle Lineage: “Carina Hardtop (1st),” “Carina Sedan (1st),” “Carina Sedan (4th),” “Celica Coupé (1st),” “Celica Liftback (4th),” “Corolla Ceres Hardtop (1st),” “Corolla Coupé (2nd),” “Corolla Coupé (3rd),” “Corolla Coupé (4th),” “Corolla FX Hatchback (1st),” “Corolla Hardtop (3rd),” “Corolla Hardtop (4th),” “Corolla Levin Coupé (5th),” “Corolla Levin Coupé (6th),” “Corolla Levin Coupe (7th),” “Corolla Levin Coupe (8th),” “Corolla Liftback (3rd),” “Corolla Sedan (1st),” “Corolla Sedan (2nd),” “Corolla Sedan (3rd),” “Corolla Sedan (4th),” “Corolla Sedan (5th),” “Corolla Sedan (6th),” “Corolla Sprinter Coupé (1st),” “Corolla II Hatchback (1st),” “Corolla van (4th),” “Corolla wagon (1st),” “Corona Hardtop (7th),” “86 Coupe (1st),” “MR2 Coupé (1st),” “MR2 Coupé (2nd),” “Publica Sedan (1st),” “Publica Starlet Sedan (1st),” “1600GT (1st),” “Sprinter Carib Station Wagon (1st),” “Sprinter Coupé (2nd),” “Sprinter Coupé (3rd),” “Sprinter Coupé (4th),” “Sprinter Hardtop (3rd),” “Sprinter Marino Hardtop (1st),” “Sprinter Sedan (2nd),” “Sprinter Sedan (3rd),” “Sprinter Sedan (4th),” “Sprinter Sedan (5th),” “Sprinter Sedan (6th),” “Sprinter Trueno Coupé (5th),” “Sprinter Trueno Coupé (6th),” “Sprinter Trueno Coupe (7th),” “Sprinter Trueno Coupe (8th),” “Tercel Sedan (1st),” “Toyopet Corona Hardtop (3rd),” “Toyopet Corona Mark II Sedan (1st),” “Toyopet Corona Sedan (3rd),” “Toyota 2000GT Coupé (1st),” 2012, com, accessed 13 January through 15 April 2014; [“News from Toyota: Toyota Corolla Launched; Standard starting at ¥432,000 (Tokyo)”], [Japanese press release], 20 October 1966; [“News from Toyota: Corolla Series and Sprinter Full Model Change”], [Japanese press release], 6 May 1970; [“News from Toyota: Toyota Corolla, Sprinter Full Model Change”], [Japanese press release], 23 March 1979; [“News from Toyota: Toyota Corolla and Sprinter Full Model Change”], [Japanese press release], 12 May 1983; [“News from Toyota: Toyota Corolla and Sprinter Full Model Change”], [Japanese press release], 15 May 1987; [“News from Toyota: Toyota Corolla and Sprinter Full Model Change”], [Japanese press release], 12 June 1991; [“News from Toyota: Toyota Corolla and Sprinter Full Model Change”], [Japanese press release], 15 May 1995; [“News from Toyota: Toyota Corolla, Sprinter Minor Change”], [Japanese press release], 31 January 1977; [“News from Toyota: Toyota Corolla and Sprinter Series Complete Redesign”], [Japanese press release], 26 April 1974; [“News from Toyota: Toyota Sprinter Minor Change, Four-Door Sedan Added,”], [Japanese press release], 27 August 1971; Toyota: A History of the First 50 Years(Toyota City, Japan: Toyota Motor Corporation, 1988); [“Toyota Corolla Ceres and Sprinter Marina launched; Corolla FX full model change”], [Japanese press release], 18 May 1992; “Vehicle Heritage: Corolla: The First Generation, Production Period 1966-1970,” “Vehicle Heritage: Corolla: The Eighth Generation, Production Period 1995-2000,” “Vehicle Heritage: Corolla: The Fifth Generation, Production Period 1983-1987,” “Vehicle Heritage: Corolla: The Fourth Generation, Production Period 1979-1983,” “Vehicle Heritage: Corolla: The Ninth Generation, Production Period 2000-2006,” “Vehicle Heritage: Corolla: The Second Generation, Production Period 1970-1974,” “Vehicle Heritage: Corolla: The Seventh Generation, Production Period 1991-1995,” “Vehicle Heritage: Corolla: The Sixth Generation, Production Period 1987-1991,” and “Vehicle Heritage: Corolla: The Third Generation, Production Period 1974-1979,” 2012, com, accessed 18 January to 8 February 2014; Toyota Motor Sales, “Celica” [Japanese brochure 30097-4511], November 1970; “Corolla” [Japanese brochure 1513414-5403], March 1979; “Corolla Ceres” [Japanese brochure CE0038-9205], May 1992; “Corolla Coupe” [Japanese brochure 151222-5202], February 1977; “Corolla (Coupe-Hardtop-Liftback),” [Japanese brochure 151107-5705], May 1979; “Corolla Coupe, Hardtop, Liftback” [Japanese brochure 031365-5502], February 1980; “Corolla FX Series” [Japanese brochure 151061-5910], October 1984; “Corolla Levin” [Japanese brochure CE0047-9106], June 1991; “Corolla Levin” [Japanese brochure CE0022-9505], May 1995; “Corolla Levin: New Quality Coupe” [Japanese brochure 151063-6205], May 1987; “Corolla Levin 1600” [advertisement, c. 1972]; “Corolla Liftback” [Japanese brochure 155771-5101], January 1977; “Corolla Sedan 1300-1500-1600DOHC-EFI” [Japanese brochure 151304-5404], March 1979; “Corolla Sprinter” [Japanese brochure 30042-4306], June 1968; “Corolla 30 Hardtop” [Japanese brochure 15078-4904], April 1974; “Corolla 30 Sedan,” [Japanese brochure 151068-4904], April 1974; “Corolla (Toyota Corolla 1100)” [Japanese brochure] c. November 1966; “Evolution New Corolla Levin” [Japanese brochure 151052-6111], November 1986; “4-door Sprinter: Handsome” [Japanese brochure 30108-4608], August 1971; “1400 & 1200 Corolla Coupe” [Japanese brochure 30093-4509], September 1970; “New Carina” [Japanese brochure 131017-5609], September 1981; “New Corolla” [Japanese brochure 151030-5902], February 1984; “New Soarer” [Japanese brochure], January 1986; “New Sprinter Coupe” [Japanese brochure 161028-4904], April 1974; “New Sprinter Hardtop” [Japanese brochure 161152-5202], February 1977; “Publica” [Japanese brochure No. 700], June 1961; “Sprinter” [Japanese brochure 161033-6205], May 1987; “Sprinter Hardtop/Coupe” [Japanese brochure 161254-5403], March 1979; “Sprinter Marino” [Japanese brochure AD0038-9205], May 1992; “Sprinter Sedan/Liftback” [Japanese brochure 161244-5403], March 1979; “Sprinter Trueno” [Japanese brochure 161089-5805], May 1983; “Sprinter Trueno” [Japanese brochure], 1986; “Sprinter Trueno” [Japanese brochure 161043-6205], May 1987; “Sprinter Trueno” [Japanese brochure AD0067-9106], June 1991; “Sprinter Trueno” [Japanese brochure AD0021-9505], May 1995; “The Midship Toyota MR2” [Japanese brochure 281010-5906], June 1984; “Toyota 86” [Japanese brochure HNZ06001-1204], April 2012; “Toyota Sprinter” [Japanese brochure 30076-4505], May 1970; “Toyota 1600GT: Corona 1600S/Corona Hardtop 1600S” [Japanese brochure 20030-428], August 1967; and “Toyota 2000GT” [Japanese brochure], c. May 1967; Toyota Wiki, “Toyota A engine,” 5 February 2009, com/ wiki/ Toyota_A_engines, “Toyota Corolla E90,” 6 February 2009, com/ wiki/ Toyota_Corolla_E90, accessed 18 March 2014, and “Toyota T engine,” 5 February 2009, com/ wiki/ Toyota_T_engine, accessed 19 March 2014; Tunny77, “Toyota TE27.GG42,” The Roaring Season, 29 January 2013, www.theroaringseason. com/ showthread.php?958-Toyota-Levin-TE27-GG42, accessed 20 March 2014; Jeremy Walton, Escort Mk 1, 2, 3 & 4: The Development & Competition History (Sparkford, England: Haynes Publishing Group, 1990); Mark Wan, “Toyota Celica,” AutoZine, n.d., www.autozine. org/ Archive/ Toyota/ classic/ Celica.html, 9 August 2013, “Toyota Corolla Levin AE86 (1983),” AutoZine, n.d., www.autozine. org/ Archive/ Toyota/ classic/ AE86.html, accessed 23 October 2013, “Toyota Corolla Mk8,” AutoZine, 22 April 2000, www.autozine. org/ Archive/ Toyota/ old/ Corolla_Mk8.html, accessed 8 February 2014, “Toyota Corolla Mk9,” AutoZine, 7 June 2002, www.autozine. org/ Archive/ Toyota/ old/ Corolla_Mk9.html, accessed 8 February 2014, “Toyota Corolla [Mk11],” AutoZine, 12 September 2013, www.autozine. org / Archive/ Toyota /new/Corolla_Mk11.html, accessed 2 March 2014, “Toyota 86 and Subaru BRZ,” AutoZine, 30 May 2012, www.autozine. org/ Archive/ Subaru/ new/ BRZ_86.html, accessed 8 February 2014, and “Toyota Auris/Blade,” AutoZine, 10 February 2007, www.autozine. org/ Archive/ Toyota/ old/ Auris.html, accessed 8 February 2014; “Toyota 2T engine,” n.d.,, www.engine-specs. net/toyota/2t.html, accessed 23 May 2020; “2TG, 2T-GEU and 3TG Engine Parts,”, n.d., toyheadauto. com/PerformancePages/2TG_Parts.html, accessed 23 May 2020; “What’s New for ’92,” Motor Trend Vol. 43, No. 10 (October 1991): 27–42; “Wild Bunch (Group Test: Ford Fiesta XR2, MG Metro Turbo, Peugeot 205 GTi),” What Car? August 1984: 40–44; “Why is Toyota successful? (The Toyota Production System),” Toyoland, n.d., www.toyoland. com/ toyota/ production-system.html, accessed 17 January 2014; James P. Womack, Daniel T. Jones, and Daniel Roos, The Machine That Changed the World (New York: Free Press, 2007); and Jack Yamaguchi, “Toyota Corolla dons a new kimono,” Road & Track Vol. 46, No. 12 (August 1995): 49–50.

The online dictionary Jisho ( was also a big help in deciphering Japanese-language information.

Some historical exchange rate data for the dollar and the yen came from Lawrence H. Officer, “Exchange Rates Between the United States Dollar and Forty-one Currencies” (2011, MeasuringWorth,, used with permission). Exchange rate values cited in the text represent the approximate dollar equivalent of prices in non-U.S. currencies, not contemporary U.S. suggested retail prices, which are cited separately. Please note that all equivalencies cited herein are approximate and are provided solely for the reader’s general reference — this is an automotive history, not a treatise on currency trading or the value of money, and nothing in this article should be taken as financial advice of any kind!



Add a Comment
  1. Wow! What a great and detailed history you have written. Thanks.

  2. This was truly well worth the wait! Very comprehensive article – the AE101 Levin and Trueno shared a dashboard with a 4 door hardtop called either the Sprinter Marino or the Corolla Ceres, some of which also carried the 20V engine. A friend of mine ran a few of these cars, and the early manual ones definitely needed a 6-speed gearbox – you also had to be a skilled driver to rein in some of the torque steer. The boy racers graduated from the Suzuki Swift GTi to these in the late 1990s when they became available as foreign used cars in the Barbados market. There are still a lot of them around in varying stages of tune – it’s become increasingly difficult to find one that’s completely standard.

    1. Thanks, Dave. It hadn’t occurred to me that the Levin and Trueno dash was the same as the Ceres/Marino, but I looked it up and you’re quite right.

      I don’t think a lot of my U.S. or European readers will probably have heard of the Ceres and Marino, so I added a photo. Four-door “hardtops” like these were very popular in Japan for a number of years, going back to the late seventies. Most were not actually pillarless hardtops in the traditional sense, but they approximated that look by concealing the B-pillars (designing them to be thin in profile, painting them black, and putting them behind the door windows rather than between them), using frameless door glass, and sometimes adopting a more coupe-like roofline. A couple of examples with which readers may be more familiar include the ’90s Integra four-doors, the Lexus ES250 (which I believe was based on the JDM Camry Prominent hardtop), and the last U.S.-market Mazda 929.

      The Corolla Ceres and Sprinter Marino were offered in three grades (F Type, X Type, and G Type) that approximated the AE100/AE101 Levin/Trueno S, SJ, and GT grades in engines and equipment. There wasn’t an equivalent to the GT APEX or GT-Z, so as far as I know you couldn’t get a Ceres or Marino with Super Strut or the 4A-GZE engine, but as you mention, the G Type did have four-wheel discs and the 4A-GE TWINCAM20 engine. You could also order a sports package that included the coupes’ spoilers and other cosmetic bits, so a properly equipped Ceres G looked and performed a lot like an AE101 Levin GT.

  3. It looks to me that the Super Strut suspension worked by simply divorcing the strut from the steering, as with Ford’s RevoKnuckle on the Focus ST and GM’s HiPer strut on the Regal GS/Insignia and that the extra lower arms allow better steering geometry and reduced offset, a la BMW’s double pivot and the lower-half of Audi’s four link design. It probably also induces camber gain, as you speculate.

    1. You’re right — I hadn’t previously looked closely at the layouts of the RevoKnuckle or HiPerStrut (or whatever Renault calls theirs), but the basic principles look to be very similar, just executed a little differently in each case.

      1. I’ve been studying these systems more closely and Super Strut was actually somewhat more complex than the current HiPer Strut, RevoKnuckle, and PerfoHub. The newer setups have the relocated steering axis and reduced spindle height, but Toyota also did something very complex with the way the strut extension is pivoted to the rear lower arm to allow more camber gain. The GM, Ford, and Renault setups give a little more camber gain, but looking at the way they’re set up, I’m reasonably confident that it’s not as much as Super Strut provided. The tradeoff is that they’re also not as complex or as expensive and will hopefully be more reliable.

  4. Love this site! I love the Levins from start to finish. I own an AE111 Levin with the 20 valve blacktop and man isn’t it fun to drive!

  5. A great article.

    Several of the AE86 Levins that competed in the Australian Touring Car Championship in the mid to late 80’s are now racing in historic touring car racing – they are great little cars!

  6. My mostly stock 4A-C powered USDM AE86 with the manual transmission (slightly modified intake/vaccum setup and rear muffler delete ,keeping catalytic converter) has hit GPS Verified 101mph on flat ground, I’m sure if it was a little fresher (mine has 230k miles) it might hit 105. That’s getting close to 5,000rpm in 5th which is right when peak power starts to fall off, so anything beyond that would be stretching it.

  7. Thanks, I enjoyed the article… I’ve had my AE86 Trueno for 23 years now… Handling in stock form was pretty scary. Not sure how they got the factory JDM model to 2090lbs. Mine fully stripped for racing with no interior and sweating every gram is still 2030lbs.

    1. I’m a little puzzled by the JDM curb weights myself; I’m not sure what Japanese vehicle regulations require in terms of fuel and fluids in those calculations, but the quoted figures seem consistently lower than what I’d expect from a fully equipped and fueled car. (That’s a frequent issue with manufacturer curb weights regardless of country of origin.) Unfortunately, there’s not much to be done about it short of putting the car on a scale or finding some reasonably neutral third party who has. For that reason, I tend to find factory weight figures of most use for comparison purposes — for instance, the weight difference between trim levels.

  8. On the subject of the Toyota A engine, aside from Toyota reputedly drawing inspiration from the Cosworth BSA (some go as far as to say it is a reliable copy), does any relation exist between the Toyota A and Daihatsu C-Series engines?

    Preexisting ties between Toyota and Daihatsu notwithstanding, it is difficult to ignore the fact both engines appeared roughly at the same time in 1977-1978, feature cast-iron blocks with alloy-heads and belt-drives, the 1-litre Daihatsu CB and 1.3-litre Toyota 2A virtually share the same 76mm bore with Daihatsu even making use of Toyota’s lean-burn design system.

    1. I’m not familiar with the Daihatsu engine, but Toyota owned a big chunk of Daihatsu by then, so it’s not unlikely. It should be noted that the lean-burn system Toyota used in the late seventies (in the JDM 12T engine and others) was actually a Honda design used under license, so while that in no way contradicts your theory, it’s not probative either. Also, as I understand it, the early Toyota A-system engines (of which I think the first was the 1.5-liter 1A in the late seventies Tercel) ended up being somewhat troublesome and requiring some further design changes (details of which I do not know) to yield the later 3A and 4A engines of the eighties, so if the Daihatsu CB is related, I don’t know where it falls in that development sequence.

      As for the Cosworth comparisons, I’m leery of those. That engineers at Toyota (and/or Yamaha) were familiar with the Cosworth twin-cam engines is not unlikely, but Cosworth did not invent belt-driven OHCs (as discussed in the Pontiac OHC six article), and a great many of Toyota’s seventies engines were SOHC or DOHC with aluminum heads on iron blocks, so there was a lot of prior Toyota experience in many of those areas. Likewise at Yamaha, which had designed the heads for many of Toyota’s DOHC engines; Toyota’s official information on the 4A-GE is somewhat vague about Yamaha’s involvement with that engine, but Yamaha had done the heads for the 2T-GE, 18R-GE, and the later 1G-GE six, inter alia.

      I’ve noticed that British sources tend to be particularly insistent that any Japanese invention or design of any merit must necessarily be a copy of some (implicitly superior) prior British or European design, which I find frustrating, to say the least. It isn’t a strictly yea-or-nay question, since of course some Japanese automakers of the fifties and early sixties did use British technology, and at times hired European designers or consultants, but Toyota, in particular, was and is an enormous company which by the seventies had tremendous depth of engineering and manufacturing resources. While they were by no means adverse to licensing outside technology — the aforementioned Honda lean-burn system for one, Bosch D-Jetronic and L-Jetronic electronic injection for another — doing so was a matter of expedience rather than competency. So, I tend to take the instance that “the 2T-G was a copy of the Lotus Twin-Cam” or “the 4A-GE was a copy of the Cosworth BDA” with a grain of salt.

      If I were an engineer, I might be able to provide a more detailed comparison between the Cosworth and Toyota engines in combustion chamber design and so forth. Lacking that skill, I will say instead that the development brief for the A-system engine was to replace the existing K- and T-system engines with an engine family better-suited to eighties emissions standards, which by 1980 were as strict in Japan as in the U.S. There were twin-cam performance versions of the A-system, but on a numerical basis, its primary applications were in mildly tuned, frequently carbureted SOHC form, for which the high-strung Cosworth was probably not the most useful of models.

      1. The Daihatsu C-Series is largely associated with the Daihatsu Charade including potent 1-litre turbocharged engines from the 68 hp Charade Turbo and 101+ hp Charade GTti.

        Given the ties it is difficult to imagine Daihatsu going with a completely clean-sheet design for the Charade as both the car and engine appeared in late-1977, followed in 1978 by the Toyota A powered Toyota Tercel.

        1. It’s possible; as I said, I don’t know. FWIW, the 1987 Jikayousha buyer’s guide I have identifies the four-cylinder engines in the (later-generation) Charade as the 2A-U and 3A-U, which are Toyota engine codes (1.3 and 1.5-liters respectively) and presumably just Toyota engines.

      2. Belt driven DOHC engines were built concurrently by Fiat/Lancia, Cosworth, and apparently by several Japanese companies. I don’t doubt for a minute that I have missed many other makers from other countries who also utilised belt drive for DOHC engines.
        Who built the first one, and the first offered in mainstream cars I have no idea.
        But I think it was convergent evolution that brought them about. It was no secret that DOHC was a tremendous help in building an efficient engine. The problem designers and engineers faced was reliability and cost for production engines. The appearance of toothed belts was a useful tool in addressing both concerns.
        It seems technology has now caught up with the problems enclosed chains had, more cars are appearing with chain driven valve gear, improvements in lubrication and probably the metals used mean that the timing chain on a well maintained modern engine will probably last the life of the car.


        1. The Pontiac OHC 6 article talks at some length about the history of belt-driven OHC engines, of which Glas was the first series production manufacturer. Pontiac did a great deal of work on developing timing belts suitable for more powerful engines, culminating in the 1966–69 Pontiac 215/230 cu. in. SOHC six and a variety of experimental V-8 engines. The belt was quieter than a chain or gears as well as being cheaper, which added to its appeal.

          The eventual limitation, of course, is that with transverse engine/FWD layouts, or even longitudinal RWD ones where the engine bay is cluttered with plumbing and accessories, changing the belt is a bear of a job, and with some valvegear layouts, a broken or slipping belt can mean serious engine damage. As expectations have increased regarding what “the life of the car” ought to mean, that’s become harder to accept, to the point that even Honda (long a proponent of belt-driven cams) has switched to chains in the past decade or so.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Comments may be moderated. Submitting a comment signifies your acceptance of our Comment Policy — please read it first! You must be at least 18 to comment. PLEASE DON'T SUBMIT COPYRIGHTED CONTENT YOU AREN'T AUTHORIZED TO USE!