During the golden era of "import tuning" (I'm gonna call it at around '00-'05), it wouldn't have been terribly hard to lay your hands on an AE86-generation Toyota Corolla like this for a fairly reasonable price. Today, these are damn near extinct and will set you back a pretty penny, no matter if you're looking for a showroom specimen or a junker to restore. So imagine being able to build a project of this caliber in '04. It was seen around SoCal often, and its owner, Allen Lugue, became well known for sourcing the very parts that made it legendary. And then one day it simply disappeared. That is, until late last year when it resurfaced like Bigfoot. Though it's been out of public view for close to a decade, Allen's Corolla remains virtually untouched, as if released from a time capsule for automotive millennials to enjoy. Of course, this makes the car eve rarer and more special than ever, which is why it deserved a long overdue visit from us.
I was able to catch up with Allen last winter at the AutoCon/Purist Group holiday toy drive, and being that we both own cars with their fair share of rarities, we thought it would be fun to reminisce—and truthfully, I didn't know the full history of his car until then, either. The most important feature on this car comes along with the best backstory: the Run Free aero. Don't know what Run Free is? To AE86 enthusiasts, the name Running Free represents a legendary drift team in Japan, and one of its members, Koichi Yamashita, owns a small shop bearing a slightly similar name: Run Free. To everyone in the Japanese drift and AE86 communities, Yamashita-san is one of the most well-known and respected names, period—and as a real AE86 enthusiast, he knows a thing or two about how to make them look good, real good. The front and rear bumper replacements and revised fenders all work harmoniously with the other Run Free body parts (side skirts and carbon-fiber hood) to help transform it into the ultimate AE86. Ask any 86 owner and he'll collectively agree.
Now, sourcing a Run Free kit isn't hard, but they're costly, not to mention expensive to have shipped over. Back in '04, when Do-Luck USA was around, the company was an official distributor for Run Free and Goodline, another body kit producer that's no longer in existence. Though Allen had originally contacted Do-Luck USA to purchase a Goodline kit ("It was my first choice," he says.), he joked that they should use his car as a SEMA demo car. "I knew it would be an impossible request," Allen adds. "The show was only three and a half weeks away, and they laughed at my idea." But life has a funny way of throwing curveballs at you, and the following morning, Do-Luck told Allen that they would be using his car for SEMA, but with a small twist: no Goodline kit and instead, the full Run Free! Yamashita-san overnighted the parts from Japan and the rest is history. Allen met the SEMA deadline and later "retired" the AE86 from shows as we mentioned earlier.
We're both happy and relieved to see a Corolla like this back on the streets where it belongs. It's too good to keep a secret, and a damn shame to be kept under wraps. That's partly the reason why I started taking my own EF Civic out again, not just for the driving, but to stay connected to the car community as a whole, just like Allen's taken a liking to again. He says, "I brought it out because the newer and younger generation of car enthusiasts should be able to see and appreciate a piece of tuning history." This is the part where we all collectively agree with a resounding "yes."