Old Toyota revives youth and hooning days

MEMORIES: Hooning around in a 27-year-old Toyota 86 has provided motoring writer Rob Maetzig with one of his best motoring experiences of the year.
MEMORIES: Hooning around in a 27-year-old Toyota 86 has provided motoring writer Rob Maetzig with one of his best motoring experiences of the year.

One of my best motoring experiences of this year hasn't involved driving something flash and new - but hooning around in a 27-year-old Toyota.

Yep, my son was just a year old when this Corolla AE86 was first registered as a new car in New Zealand. Since then it had clocked up more than 330,000 kilometres and gone through five owners before it was purchased back by Toyota New Zealand and given a fairly rudimentory restoration before being sent out for the likes of Yours Truly to drive.

But why? It's because this AE86 was the last of the rear-drive Corollas, a car marketed by Toyota all those years ago as a lightweight and reasonably priced fun car for people to own and operate.

27 YEARS OLD: The Toyota AE86.
27 YEARS OLD: The Toyota AE86.

It's since gone on to become something of a cult car highly regarded by the club rallying set and drifters alike - and its name helps make it a sort of spiritual predecessor to the new Toyota 86, which is also being marketed as a lightweight and fun rear-wheel drive sporty car.

As part of the restoration the Toyota New Zealand people chucked in a few Toyota Racing Development items under the bonnet in an effort to get a little more out of the AE86's 1.6-litre twin-cam 4A-GE engine, and the car was also fitted with a new free-flow exhaust system.

All this meant that as I returned home from the local Toyota dealership in my Corolla, my wife could hear me coming. And no doubt she would have rolled her eyes as I double-declutched into second gear before roaring into the driveway. I know she promptly rolled her eyes again when I then discovered I couldn't get the damned key out of the ignition and was forced to ring the people at the dealership. It was all a little embarrassing really - because they reminded me that in the old days of ignition keys rather than keyless entry and push-button start, you sometimes had to push a little button on the steering column to get the key out....

But what fun!

Several forays out into the roads and streets quickly proved that this old Corolla wasn't particularly fast - after all, it only had a fairly tired 88 kilowatts on tap - but its light weight and rear-drive made it easy to get a little tail-happy, which added to the experience.

Of course 27 years have passed since this car was new, and in the intervening years all sorts of technologies have been introduced to help make motoring an easier and more convenient experience.

These include power steering. This AE86 doesn't have it, which means a surprising amount of muscle can be required to get around a corner especially at the lower speeds. For a sporty car the manual transmission also had a very long throw. And compared to sporty cars of today, the suspension was surprisingly soft.

But it didn't matter.

Frankly I loved the opportunity to get behind the wheel of this car which might have been bare-bones by today's standards, but which offered such an involving drive.

I'd absolutely love to own one.