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1987 Toyota Corolla GT-S Coupe (AE86) - Of Hachi Roku And Hokusai

Are We Talking About a Classic Japanese Art Print or This White-Hot AE86 Coupe? (Or Are You Just Happy to See Us?)

B.K. Nakadashi
Nov 15, 2011
Photographer: Josh Mackey

Have you seen this *image before? This is “The Great Wave Off Kanagawa”, the first of a series of ukiyo-e woodcut prints created by Hokusai in the late 1820s or early 1830s. It’s a single piece of symbolic shorthand that embodies the term “old school Japanese” for millions around the world—and you can’t get a lot more old school than two centuries ago. But the image itself can be readily adapted to explain the car whose hood it adorns—and perhaps the owner himself.

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That’s the thing about art. On its face, The Great Wave is a lovely picture. Splash it on the hood of your car with a vinyl wrap, and it’s a looker. But look into it a little, and it becomes so much more. Mount Fuji’s promise of everlasting youth and/or immortality may seem distant in the face of more pressing issues—like that wave about to crash down on your head. Yet Hokusai believed that age, and its accompanying wisdom, was part of his late success. “At the age of five, I had the habit of sketching things. At the age of 50, I had produced a large number of pictures, but none of them had any merit... At 73, finally I learned something about the true nature of things—birds, animals, insects, fish, grass and the trees. So at the age of 80 I will have made some progress, at 90 I will have penetrated the deepest significance of things, at 100 I will make real wonders, and at 110, every point and every line will have a life of its own.” Alas, Hokusai passed at the age of 89, in 1849, and could never have imagined that lines could have come to life as have those which penned the AE86.

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The owner seems to have accumulated his wisdom at a far younger age. “It’s such an awesome image... how something like water, that can be so calm, can become so fierce and powerful. So when the opportunity arose to be one of the first in the Pacific Northwest to have this vinyl-wrapped hood, I was all for it.” Owner/builder, Vance Sakado is surely used to scenes like this, with the mighty Pacific near his door—and furthermore, he sees the inclusion of Hosukai’s legendary image on his ’87 AE86 coupe as a nod to his own ancestry: “The times that I went to Japan and actually saw this artwork, I was in awe. I also wanted [an image] that can be tied in to my Japanese heritage.”

Both art and automobiles were once reserved for the privileged and educated in Japan, but though they started as fascinations of the rich, both eventually became staples of modern life. Starting in the 17th century, the ukiyo-e (or “pictures of the floating world”) style evolved and spoke to the working classes of the day. The movement, ukiyo-monogatari, encouraged living in the moment, taking life as it came, and floating though life “like a pumpkin dragged along by the current of the river.” And so it was that Vance, having run an AE86 previous to this which he regretted selling after listening to his (now ex-) girlfriend nag him about it for far too long, found another to suit his needs, and dragged his pumpkin home along the current of Interstate 5.

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“When I bought this car down in Portland,” Seattle-ite Sakado says, “it wore an oxidized factory single stage paint job with a few good size dents, the floorboard had a tear in it (I heard the previous owner kid high-centered it on something), and the interior had two crappy SR5 seats, steering wheel and dashboard. That’s it! The spare tire well held mostly water and a slimy space saver spare. [The notion of that spare tire well acting as its own Great Wave, with the spare as fishing boat, must go unexplored for reasons of space and sanity.] I thought the differential was going to explode on me while driving home; I don’t think a pack of wolves could have howled that loudly.” As cool as they are, a basic AE86 Corolla is very much a working-class car, far removed from the VIP rides on the other end of the spectrum. Plus, Vance is a Toyota Master Technician, a man who can get things done to his own satisfaction with his own hands; he did the mechanical work, from rebuilding the suspension to sorting the howling wolves in the rear end, himself.

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Woodcut prints were seen as much as a product of the printer as of the artist, a true collaborative effort blending traditional art with improved technology. Hmmm. Artistic yet mass-produced? Beauty that not only speaks to the people and resonates deeply within them, but puts itself within their grasp? It’s hard to do better than The Great Wave or an AE86 Corolla. Blending tradition with more modern touches to improve its reach? How else can you explain 21st-century tire, suspension and engine management technology in an early-‘80s-fettled shell? Similarly, no car can be built in isolation; there is always assistance from friends and colleagues. Take the bodywork, for example: it was done internationally! (OK, so Burnaby, BC isn’t that far from Seattle, but still...)

Let us set aside the universally understood duality of water’s nature; provider of life when calm, both in our own bodies and as a suspending body for a variety of delicious life-forms, yet easily able to slap you down with frightening alacrity should unpredictable Mother Nature rear her angry head. It is a jarring image: a giant wave, not a tsunami, according to historians, lest we deal with any uncomfortable contemporary parallels, coming in front the left, churning and aggressive. Western eyes reading words on a page left to right don’t see this image the same way a pair of eyes used to reading right-to-left across a page would. It’s why the bad guys in American movies always come in from the right side of the screen; we’re trained to look left so entering stage right is, for us, more of a surprise. And so, the wave coming from the left has the same effect on the Asian viewer. On top of this, we are viewing this from what we must assume to be ocean level; the wave has reached such a height that it would surely crash on top of us. The wave, captured at its height, creates tension as we look at it. When will it crash? What damage will it do? Sakado’s ride creates the same sort of tension; even at rest, it seems coiled and ready to pounce. Such tumult. Such turbulence. Awe and terror, all rolled into a single entity. Are we talking about the print or the car? Yes. If you don’t think that there’s plenty of that going on under the carbon-fiber, vinyl-wrapped hood—read: a red-top 4AGE block with a ported and polished blue-top head, breathing through individual throttle bodies—well, then, friend, you’re reading the wrong magazine.

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Mount Fuji’s snow-capped peak has been a proud symbol of Japan for more than a thousand years, stretching heavenward and perhaps living up to its immortality (fushi means immortal; the mountain is called Fuji) image bestowed upon it by the melancholy, traditional Tale of the Bamboo Cutter. (In his advancing age, Hokusai is said to have looked to Fuji as a sort of fountain of youth.) In the maelstrom of the wave and the boats being tossed about, Fuji stands steadfast and stretching to the blackened sky. The way the wave seems to curve around the mountain, your eye cannot help but be drawn to its pyramidic stability, a steadfast opposition to the chaos of the wave. And such, with the increase in power, there is great attention paid to the suspension, substantial chassis-stiffening and adjustability added in. A little bit of Mount Fuji’s stability has been mixed in with the substantial selection of parts; it is a calming influence, in stark contrast to the bedlam contained under hood.

The boats caught up in the wave are oshiokuri-bune, fast boats used to transport the day’s live catch to the markets on the bay of Edo (now Tokyo Bay). Symbols of speed if not power, they are rendered helpless against the enormity of nature’s oceanic force. Kinda like the guy in the other lane when the light turns green. Mostly. Luckily, Vance doesn’t take it out much anymore. “This car was primarily my daily driver, but now it’s mostly for show. Don’t get me wrong; it’s not a garage queen or anything like that. I do drive it, and do drive it HARD. I take it out whenever I feel like driving it, rain or shine.” Auto-crossing and SCCA Drift School are among the activities he’s looking forward to with it.

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Which isn’t to insinuate that it’s complete: much like Hosukai’s 36 Views of Mount Fuji that stretched to 46 images, it seems like these things are never really done, are they? “It’s taken me three years to get it to where it is now. What’s on the chalkboard for it now is to turbocharge it, maybe cage it, and do some interior work though I’m undecided on what to do, though, and my sewing skills aren’t up to par. Maybe some carbon-fiber doors as well? I don’t know...

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“I think my single favorite aspect of this car is that it’s fun as hell to drive. From taking the twisties to maybe a little drift, it’s just amazing what a little 1.6-liter engine can do on a chassis like that.”

Unexpected depth. Surpassed expectations. Timeless beauty, and an excellence of execution. Art meant for the masses. Stability and tumult, in one package. The unexpected beauty of violence. Are we talking about some classic Japanese art print, or this white-hot AE86 coupe? Why, yes. Yes, we are.

Who was Hokusai?
Hokusai, born late 1760 in Edo (now Tokyo), was a Japanese artist, painter and printmaker. In childhood, his name was Tokitaro; his father was probably Nakajima Ise, mirror-maker to the shogun, and his mother was likely a concubine.

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He started painting at the age of six, was sent by his father to work in a bookshop/lending library at age 12, and became apprentice to a wood-carver at 14. Once he turned 18, he was accepted into the studio of Shunsho--head of the Katsukawa art school and a prominent ukiyo-e wood-block print artist; Hokusai remained there for a decade. Later expelled by a rival student after Shunsho’s passing, he evolved his art from straight portraiture to landscapes and tales of daily Japanese life. He was associated with a variety of art schools until 1798, age 37, and became a truly independent artist for the first time. As his landscapes gained notoriety, he began to attract students of his own.

The early 1800s were a fruitful period for Hosukai: during a Tokyo festival in 1804, he created a portrait of the Buddhist priest Daruma said to be 600 feet long using only a broom and buckets full of ink. He collaborated on a series of illustrated books with popular novelist Takizawa Bakin, but the two didn’t get along; the publishers were given a he-goes-or-I-go choice, and they kept Hosukai. At the age of 51, he started on a range of art how-to books, including 1812’s titular Quick Lessons in Simplified Drawing. He also published 12 volumes of manga, or “whimsical drawings” as translated from the kanji: everything from everyday people to religious figures, from farm animals to supernatural scenes.

Not until the 1820s, when Hosukai was in his ‘60s, did his career peak with his Thirty-six Views of Mount Fuji. This series kicked off with Great Wave off Kanagawa, and the series became so popular that he later added ten more prints. By 1834, he hoped to match his success in his new landscape series, One Hundred Views of Mount Fuji. An 1839 studio fire destroyed much of Hokusai’s work, but he continued to produce work into his 87th year.

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He is said to have exclaimed on his deathbed, “If only heaven will give me just another ten years... Just another five more years, then I could become a real painter.” He died on May 10, 1849.

Tuning Menu

1987 Toyota Corolla GT-S Coupe (AE86)
Owner Vance Sakado
Hometown Seattle, WA
Occupation Toyota Master Technician
Engine 1587cc Toyota 4A-GE “Red Top” block; fully ported and polished “Blue Top” head; custom-tucked engine wire harness; custom stainless steel braided fuel delivery line; SK Sanyo individual throttle bodies; Toda adjustable cam gears, valve springs and timing belt; SARD fuel pressure regulator; Silk Road Hi-Rise 4-1 header with custom Innovate wide-band O2 sensor bung and skid plate; Takumi Rein Hard exhaust; Mishimoto radiator, cooling fans, shroud and radiator hoses; modified Circuit Sports S13 coolant reservoir; modified RS Chita water outlet neck; TRD ignition wire set, high-pressure radiator cap and billet oil filler cap; polished cam cover; clear timing belt cover; custom distributor cap heat shield; Nagisa Auto Shakkito shock tower plates; GReddy oil catch tank
Drivetrain standard 5-speed manual with TRD gear set; Toda 8lb flywheel; KAAZ 2-way LSD
Engine Management Vi-Pec engine management
Footwork & Chassis GReddy Type-S 32-way adjustable coilovers, Type-S front camber plates, front strut tower bar and electronic remote control dampening unit; Silk Road rear strut tower bar, adjustable panhard bar, rear control arms and adjustable rear links; Do-Luck adjustable frame stabilizer bar; Section (Silk Road) rear strut tower bar; Cusco front lower arm bar; Nagisa Auto fender braces
Brakes '88 cross-drilled and slotted rotors; Endless vinyl coated stainless steel brake lines
Wheels & Tires 15x8" +0 (front)/-6 (rear) Work Equip 03 wheels; Bridgestone Potenza RE-11 tires
Exterior Custom metal-molded fender flares; OEM JDM bumpers; Kouki bumper lights; Zenki lip spoiler, smoked corner lights and smoked taillights; JBlood rear bumper fins; East Bear side mirrors; Toy Cool Garage OE-style side skirts; IPF H4 V-HID headlight conversion; ViS carbon-fiber OE-style hood with custom vinyl wrap; custom Sikkens two-tone paint to OEM specification; body work by Andy at AK Autoworks, Burnaby, British Columbia, Canada
Interior Complete 1987 AE86 interior; Bride Brix II seats; MOMO Monte Carlo steering wheel; NRG detachable wheel hub and steering wheel lock; C’s short shifter with TRD knob, Pioneer AM/FM/CD/MP3/iPod/Cassette double-DIN head unit; JBL front speakers; Pioneer rear speakers and amplifier; 10-inch Bazooka tube with RE Audio Pro subwoofer, custom mount in custom trunk-pan liner
Thanks You Emily, for the support and for not killing me since I spent more time, money and attention to the car rather than her; John Morimoto for introducing me to the crew and for his friendship; Team MENACE, my other family and inspiration; Bob at Drift Office for the awesome support and friendship; Lawrence at Intec Racing for the hard to find JDM parts and friendship; Ivan, my fluffy Corolla side kick; my AE86 homies Shem, Mike G., Brandon N. (who got me started into this madness), Brandon H., Shannon K.; the friends and family of whom I learned so much from, got parts from and made friends with; Andy at AK Autoworks; Mishimoto; Phil Su at Diversity Law; Mike & Jin at SnP Designs; NAMSAYIN; Josh at Compustar; Gary, Jim & Ryan-my parts guys at Bob Bridge Toyota; Jess & Andrew at I Heart Models; and all the others that inspired me
WWW;;;;, (Bride/Nagisa Auto/SARD);;

By B.K. Nakadashi
32 Articles



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