After over five decades of producing affordable people-movers from its top-selling Corolla bloodline, the last Toyota model you think of whenever the name is mentioned has to be the nimble, FWD hatchback model like this 1987 Toyota FX16 GT-S. Lost in the shuffle among the carmakers' almost inevitable transition from tossable, fun-loving RWD chassis, which are often glorified and built, then re-built time and time again, to a packaging-friendly, cost-effective FWD Corolla lineup, the FX16 has spent the majority of its existence well under enthusiasts' radar.
In terms of aftermarket attention and appreciation for the Corolla, few cars carry as much admiration as the AE86. Its lightweight, RWD layout all but begs for modification and you've seen every possible version produced. On the flipside, rarely do you catch a glimpse of a modified FX16, a model that stood on its own in the Corolla lineup and brought with it a style similar to that of VW and Civic options during a time that helped usher in a new era of hot hatches and FWD became the norm. But as Honda and VW hit their stride, the FX and its short-lived production all but disappeared.
In the '80s, dual overhead cam powerplants complete with advanced four-valve (per cylinder) setups weren't very common. You weren't likely to find them in U.S. offered sub-compacts as the technology was reserved for the high-end sports car. That's why Toyota's 4A-GE was so special, based on a high-revving DOHC 1.6L that made appearances in multiple platforms, including the RWD Corolla GT-S and early model MR2s. Placing that same heart into the slanted hatchback FX16 was all part of Toyota's outlook that seemed to be steeped just as far into making fun-to-drive cars as it was into making sales.
Marvic San Juan, owner of this '87 GT-S, likes the idea of owning and building something outside the norm, and even from a very young age he knew he'd be tackling project cars of his own. He adds, "My dad used to build Toyota Mangos ('70s-era Corolla) back in the Philippines. I grew up watching him build those cars left and right, along with Jeepneys, lol!" The heavy Toyota influence didn't reflect on Marvic's jump into car building that began years later. "I started building my own project cars and ended up with some Hondas from about 1996-2003. After a while, I got tired of that due to people always trying to steal my car. I stopped messing around with cars for a few years."
The two-year hiatus from car building was snapped after Marvic attended an old-school Toyota meet in San Jose. The urge to get to get back to work was pushing hard enough to prompt a vehicle search online. "I started looking for another project to build but I wanted something unique and challenging that nobody had really done yet." The initial hunt was on for an AW11 MR2, but along the way this '87 FX16 caught his attention, even with some rear-end body damage.
ADDING A FEW MORE VALVES
With the car secured, the plan called for ignoring the original engine and instead dropping in a freshened and turbocharged 4A-GE, but in 20-valve trim. The 5-valves per cylinder offering, complete with a bump in compression and individual throttle bodies, was found in a number of chassis in Japan but never made its way to the U.S. Marvic's struggle to find the appropriate parts slowed progress considerably but eventually the powerplant was assembled piecemeal and swapped in, though it wouldn't be backed by boost. To keep the project going, Marvic chose to forego the turbo setup and keep it naturally aspirated. In addition, he ditched the original transmission and opted for a Celica 6-speed from a 2000 model.
With a focus on track days, the car maintained its status, and in 2009 Marvic had his heart set on doing a 3SGTE turbo swap, but with so much fabrication needed to complete the process he couldn't find a local shop to take on the task. "No one wanted to deal with it, so I stayed with my 4A-GE for a while longer until I could find a shop to do it but had no luck again. So, it went from a track car to more of a show car. I started building to a different level but it was so hard to find parts for this car and there are no aftermarket parts available. My dad helped me do all of the custom parts that I needed." Admittedly, the changes caused some disappointment as the FX didn't catch nearly the same amount of attention that other, more popular models did. That changed considerably after a color change to a unique Light Rootbeer Metallic and a set of 15x9-inch Work Meister S1 were fitted, both of which transform the exterior entirely. With dad's help, the home-built metal rear spoiler, side skirt extensions, front splitter and rear diffuser help streamline the boxy '80s flavor.
SIGHTS SET ON A RETURN TO THE TRACK
Take a seat in one of the re-wrapped GT-S seats, which, coincidentally, are a perfect match with the rear seats and door cards, and the 30-plus-year-old interior doesn't feel so outdated. A harness bar keeps occupants in place and the group of bars that fill the rear section of the car are structural rather than safety measures, as this car's track days seemed to be a distant memory at this point, though a change back to track status seems to be on the horizon. Marvic notes, "I never really cared that much about the shows, I just really wanted be known as a Toyota guy. For 2021, it's going to be back to racing." The 4A-GE that you see pictured might not be making the jump back to the track, though, as Marvic's vision for the future includes a cross-platform swap to Honda's K20 along with finally getting a taste of boost.
It's never an easy road when building a chassis that doesn't have the sort of aftermarket support that other more popular models do, but that's what makes it all the better when you accomplish a goal. Marvic put his spin on the almost forgotten FX16 GT-S and even snuck in some quality father-son time in the process. After 15 years of street, track and show use, this rare '80s Corolla hatchback has plenty of life left in it.