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1986 Toyota Corolla GT-S - JDM Detour

Tapping into Japanese heritage by way of Baja, California

Aaron Bonk
Feb 24, 2014
Photographer: Matthew Jones

Don't even think about it. That's pretty much what Marty Hoberg will tell you the next time you get the hair-brained idea of seeking out a mid-1980s AE86, restoring it and doing something meaningful with it. That's mostly because a worthy example of the twin-cam Corolla isn't easy to come by and, even if you do happen upon one, possessing the magical combination of the skill set to resuscitate it and enough of the imperious banknotes to do all of that isn't likely.

1986 toyota corolla GT S japanese spec levin front end 02 Photo 2/9   |   1986 Toyota Corolla GT-S - JDM Detour

Hoberg speaks from experience. More than ten years' worth. But his pretensions for Toyota's special version of its fifth-generation Corolla originate not at the doorsteps of late-twentieth-century Tokyo tuning shops but amid the dirt-lined backroads of Mexico's Baja, California peninsula. That's exactly where Toyota's factory off-road racing efforts culminated alongside lauded driver Ivan "Ironman" Stewart and is exactly what Hoberg's AE86's likeness pays homage to. The white, yellow, orange and red overlapping layers are very much a tip of the hat to the prized driver of more than 80 victories as well as to the likes of the company's other less-publicized racing efforts, like its 1980s IMSA Celica program, for example.

Whatever motorsports parallels you've drawn end now, though. Hoberg's AE86 was built for manhandling by means of SCCA club racing—not for blowing past cacti along silty, dirt-washed terrain. As such, a 20-valve 4A-GE engine was put to use as was a Garrett GT25 turbo that, according to Hoberg, is good for an estimated 220 hp. The fourth-generation 4A-GE with its silver cam cover is the obvious choice for a reason. Silver-top engines, produced exclusively during the post-AE86 era, feature variable valve timing on the intake side, five valves per cylinder, and a unique intake manifold that hosts a quartet of throttle bodies nestled behind their own velocity stacks. With its 10.5:1 compression ratio and nearly straight passageways into the combustion chambers, it's the engine you wish every sub-2,400lb car came with.

1986 toyota corolla GT S gas door 08 Photo 3/9   |   1986 Toyota Corolla GT-S - JDM Detour

The undeniable precursor to the FR-S and BRZ dyad, the AE86 Corolla shunned conventional 1980s automaker prudence, resulting in among the very few rear-wheel-drive, small-car platforms of the period, a characteristic that has arguably contributed to the lightweight coupes and hatchbacks becoming the storied models that they have. Improving upon all of this takes little effort. Hoberg's roadmap to all of that includes period-specific SSR alloys that appropriately blend in with the N2-style aero pieces and Japanese front end that was sourced from the overseas-only Levin model with its fixed headlights. Fitting the aero package from the race-only chassis to the Corolla was every bit as complicated as you'd imagine. According to Hoberg, the front spoiler was too narrow, the fender flares needed much attention and finding someone to do all of this was as much of a challenge as sourcing the parts. "My vision exceeded my wallet," he says humbly, which is arguably what led to the project's 10-year lifespan that's, by all accounts, not entirely finished (a rollcage, bucket seats and final tuning are on the agenda).

1986 toyota corolla GT S N2 style aero kit 06 Photo 4/9   |   1986 Toyota Corolla GT-S - JDM Detour

Chassis code police will be quick to point out that Hoberg's GT-S is indeed an AE88, and not an AE86, but doing as much simply proves the trivialness of it all. It's true that a closer look at any North American-bound Corolla's VIN plate of the period will reveal its non-Japanese residence, but the AE86 designation is more than just a series of digits; it's a birthright. In accordance with time-honored Toyota speak, the A represents the model's engine, which in this case is of the 4A series. The E, for reasons internal to Toyota, is the company's designation for Corolla, and the 8 and 6, for reasons equally as contrived, represent E80—Toyota's marker for its fifth—generation platform-as well as the specific variance that makes up the overseas-only Levin and Trueno.

Automotive nerdisms and VIN numbers aside, Hoberg's arguably gotten exactly what he's asked for: "An AE86 that looked like it just came from a track in Japan..." that took a detour to the nation's east coast by means of Baja, California.

Tuning Menu

1986 Toyota Corolla GT-S

Owner Marty Hoberg

Hometown Atlanta, GA

Engine 4A-GE engine; Garrett GT25 turbocharger; MegaSquirt engine management; Samco Sport hoses; K&N air filter

1986 toyota corolla GT S 4A GE engine 07 Photo 8/9   |   1986 Toyota Corolla GT-S - JDM Detour

Wheels & Tires 14x8"/14x10" SSR Longchamp XR-C wheels; Kumho Ecsta V700 tires

Interior MOMO steering wheel; Stack instrument cluster; carbon-fiber dash

Exterior Japanese-spec Levin front end; N2-style aero kit; carbon-fiber hood; Sparco fuel-filler cap; custom paint


1986 toyota corolla GT S japanese spec levin front end 09 Photo 9/9   |   1986 Toyota Corolla GT-S - JDM Detour
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