Celebrating 86 Day The Right Way

Outsiders may perceive AE86 enthusiasts as a group of elitist nuts who spend excessive amounts of time and money on their small-capacity, rear-wheel drive 1980s Toyotas. But when someone has such a strong enthusiasm, there must be something special about them.

Don’t be fooled by that introduction, though; I’m an AE86 enthusiast through and through. Still, I needed to write something comparable to hook you. As you might expect, I gladly accepted the invitation to go for a touge run with a trio of immaculate white Corolla Levins.

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I was greeted by the beautiful sounds of three 4A-GE-powered automobiles buzzing towards me in the distance at a 7-Eleven outside of Tokyo on a brisk autumn morning. It’s a sight that never gets old to see modified automobiles sitting in front of well-known conbini (convenience stores) for anyone familiar with Japanese automotive culture. On this particular morning, Umino-san, Shunya-san, and Kaname-san all joined me in our individual AE86 Levins.

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After getting some breakfast on the move, we headed up into the mountains in the direction of Mugishiro Parking Area, a favorite gathering spot for car enthusiasts on the weekends. It’s also a lovely location to see Lake Okutama’s scenic vistas.

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After a brief period of mingling, we traveled through several of Okutama’s lovely winding roads, pausing for a photo break in front of the famous Showa Restaurant.

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There are many well-known routes for driving in Japan, such the Hakone Turnpike, Skyline, and Happohagara, but the roads that wind through the Okutama Mountains are the real gems. This highway is the ideal location for a thrilling drive because it is surprisingly empty on weekends.

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When working with a group of AE86s, roads like this provide a backdrop that nearly resembles a movie set. This is made more simpler when there is little to no traffic obstructing the shot.

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When working with a group of AE86s, roads like this provide a backdrop that nearly resembles a movie set. This is made more simpler when there is little to no traffic obstructing the shot.

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Shunya-san has kept true to the roots of the 86, retaining the 16-valve 4A-GE with the added necessity of ITBs and a TRD-style header.

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Inside, the period correct style continues with a pair of Bride Brix seats, Nardi Classic steering wheel, and an obligatory cup holder in the centre dash vent.

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If period correctness is the name of the game, Kaname-san has nailed it, with his almost completely stock panda hatchback. The modestly fitted SSR MK-IIIs and full kouki kit make Kaname-san’s car unmistakably an 86, even to the casual enthusiast.

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Kaname-san has also retained the factory 16-valve 4A-GE with a simple intake and exhaust upgrade.

It’s easy to go above and beyond when you’re building an AE86, but when roads like these are your doorstep, it becomes abundantly clear that simplicity and seat time are the only necessary ingredients for a good day out.

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Last, but so far from least, we have Umino-san’s white kouki notchback. For this car you’ll have to wait, as it deserves its own post where we can dive into the nitty-gritty of what is an unbelievable restoration. While you wait, I’ll leave you with this sneak peek at Umino-san’s attention to detail…

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After a good few hours and a few hundred corners, we looped back around and into Okutama Parking Area and posted up in front of the Showa era-style store.

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All so similar but each with a completely different character and look is what makes shooting three of the same make and model so special to me. With the first AE86 variants turning 40 this year, it’s safe to say that almost every combination of engine, gearbox, styling and interior has been done on these cars. But as the industry begins to creep more and more into a world of automation and disengagement, the movement back to simplicity and seat time-inspired builds is clear, especially in these three.

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Living in Japan for over a year and spending the majority of your waking hours exploring workshops, circuits and automotive events makes it easy to become slightly numb to happenings that would excite even the most apathetic car enthusiast, but it’s moments like this where I have to stop and pinch myself. Being able to follow three perfectly-built AE86s driving through the Japanese mountains was a surreal experience – one that I wished every car enthusiast could enjoy.

Initial D and internet hype aside, I implore anyone that gets the chance to jump behind the wheel of an AE86 to take it.

Happy 86 Day!

Alec Pender
Instagram: noplansco

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