Hold your breath, ladies and gentlemen, for you are in the presence of greatness: quite possibly the finest AE86 ever…
The niche verb ‘to eighty-six’ is a useful one to have in your vocabulary. It means to get rid of something or someone, and it’s one of those age-old terms whose origins have been all but lost; some claim it came from 1930s numeric restaurant slang, where number 86 meant ‘we’re all out of it’. Others say it came form Prohibition-era New York City – specifically a bar called Chumleys, which had a separate exit at 86 Bedford Street for the punters to leg it out of when the feds arrived; when there was a raid, they’d 86 the customers. Whatever the truth, it’s a handy phrase to know.
Of course, to petrolheads like us, that number has an entirely different meaning. ‘Eight six’ translates to ‘hachi-roku’ in Japanese, and that’s the common nickname of the fifth-generation Toyota Corolla, model designation ‘AE86’ (hence the nickname), launched in 1983.
This was an eminently popular model, not just with mainstream punters – although that’s invariably the case with Corollas of all generations – but with the tuner fraternity too. Why? Well, aside from the rakish array of options available (coupe, saloon, fixed-headlight Levin, pop-up headlight Trueno), it offered a frankly magnificent platform for tomfoolery. Lightweight cars with rear-wheel drive will always be entertaining and, back in the early 1980s, the allure of disc brakes, a four-linked rear and an LSD were undeniable.
And the jewel in the crown was the 1.6-litre 4A-GE engine – a highly tuneable fuel-injected twin-cam, with a variable intake system and revs for days. Throw in a generation of budding drift aficionados, and the hero status of cult manga series Initial D, and the hachi-roku’s place in the pantheon of all-time greats was assured.
An important model, then. So when FC magazine boss-man Jules got on the blower to tell me about what he reckoned was ‘the best AE86 in the UK’, you can imagine the spike on the excitement-o-meter. The car’s owner, Conrad Bradley, took the editor’s compliment with a smile. “The best in the UK?” he pondered, stroking his chin thoughtfully. “That’s very kind. But – and I don’t like to brag – I’d say it’s more like the best in Europe.”
Clearly this is a car worth knowing about. And we’re going to wade in with a massive spoiler right away, because there’s a detail about this sparkling build which is really going to irritate the purists. You see, that revered 4A-GE twink is such an integral part of the AE86’s legend, people see it as sacrosanct, as untouchable. But you won’t find that engine here. Lift the lightweight carbon fibre bonnet (a J-Blood item sourced by Newera Imports, incidentally), and what you’ll find gazing malevolently back at you is a 2.0-litre BEAMS engine.
What’s that, you may ask? Good question. Essentially, it’s one of the best production engines ever crafted, in terms of quality and durability. Designed in conjunction with Yamaha and manufactured by Toyota, the name stands for ‘Breakthrough Engine with Advanced Mechanism System’. Designed from the off to be very light, it features as standard a forged crank, aluminium alloy pistons, titanium valves and, in the case of the 5th-gen ‘black-top’ engine you see here, a semi-drive-by-wire throttle. It is, in short, bloody clever…