In Japan, the honouring of long-dead ancestors is an early and well-established tradition. Lanterns are lit, gravestones are cleansed ritually, and dancing and music welcome the spirits. People who have gone before are still a part of dailynbsp;life.
Which brings us tonbsp;badges.
On the steering wheel on the front fenders, and etched into the headlights of the bright orange Toyota (that is truly a Subaru, more on that in a bit) is the identical mysterious number: 86. In Japanese, the word for this number is hachi-roku, and it is almost a code word. If you came in a midnight gathering of Japanese car enthusiasts at one of the parking lots that dots the street circling Tokyo, you can immediately join the club by saying nothing else. Hachi-roku. Smiles. Nods ofnbsp;comprehension.
Even when Scion was about and this little coupe was known as the FR-S, it nonetheless had 86 composed on its fenders, as a tiny secret handshake to those in the know. To explain the relationship, we’ve summoned an ancestral soul by means of a 1985 Corolla. I understand “Corolla” does not seem very exciting, but hang on to yournbsp;hat.
This is Marvin Ng’s 1985 Corolla GT-S, which he bought for $1,800 in 2000, as a commuter for his first job in L.A.. It’s 305,000 miles on the odometer, and has been sitting in storage for the last couple of decades. As it is a Toyota, it startsnbsp;immediately.
Pop the hood latches open and have a look at the firewall, and you will immediately find the reason behind all this 86 company. There, stamped to steel, is the version code: AE86. In precisely the exact same manner that BMW fans throw around chassis codes such as E30 and E39 as shorthand, Toyota fans know this squared-off hatchback by its numericalnbsp;designation.
In fact, it’s more than simply the Toyota nuts that will have the ability to give you chapter and verse about the hachi-roku. The AE86 is carried high on the shoulders of Japanese automobile culture as a result of its appearance among the central characters in First D, a comedian that broke from Japan in 1995. In a time when monsters such as the third-generation Mazda RX-7 twin-turbo and the Mk IV Toyota Supra Turbo were flexing the might of pan-Pacific muscle, a tiny hatchback was slipping sideways to the imaginations ofnbsp;countless.
The story is pretty straightforward. Takumi Fujiwara is a disaffected teenager who delivers tofu daily in his black-and-white Sprinter Trueno (the Japanese version of the Corolla GT-S). Tricked into creating an almost supernatural driving ability on the winding passes of the fictional Mount Akina, he finally falls in with a bunch of road racers and beats the pants off all kinds of much more powerfulnbsp;machines.
As an underdog story, it has a charm that does not require that you understand anything about ball-bearing turbos or ceramic valve-springs. First D was first a manga (comic), then an anime collection, and finally spawned drivingnbsp;matches.
Ng’s carefully maintained and altered AE86 manages to catch the spirit of the iconic Initial-D vehicle, and is a fairly wonderful device in its own right. The chassis was fortified with cross-bracing and continues to be stitch-welded in areas for extra stiffness. A newer, 20-valve form of the first 4AGE 1.6L lookup engine was swapped in; it makes around 165 hp and revs to 8200nbsp;rpm.
With four throttle bodies and a 5.5 kg flywheel, the 86’s engine responds instantly to throttle inputs, and has insanely loud as the revs climb above 5,000 rpm or so. It is a little hooligan of a machine, with weighty unassisted steering and a close-ratio gearbox that feels fresh. Everything is a mechanical symphony of clicks and snicks and revs and g-forces. You can just imagine it hurtling down some narrow Japanese sea road in the dead ofnbsp;night.
There is nothing cartoonish about how this car feels. That is fitting, since the legend of the Corolla GT-S goes back farther than Japanese manga, and in the memories of older racing and rallynbsp;motorists.
In 1986, Bob Trinder and his co-driver John Moody handled the completely ridiculous Can-A-Mex rally at a softly prepared Corolla GT-S. The rally started in Vancouver, then hurried to Acapulco, Mexico, up to Anchorage, Alaska, then back to Vancouver, finishing in the Expo ’86 fairgrounds. It contained almost four weeks of racing over 25,000 kilometers of gravel and paved roads, pitting the little Toyota contrary to factory-backed teams such as a former ex-Safari Rallynbsp;winner.
“It was much like the Datsun 510,” states Trinder, speaking from his home in Vancouver. “Some cars come out of the box and they are just perfect. About two-thirds of the way along we were able to pull off the exhaust, but the engine never missed anbsp;conquer.”
With both racing pedigree and a pop culture after, it’s easy to see why the 86 is something Toyota chooses to observe. But times have changed, and turning a simple shoebox to a winner is not as simple as it once was. The recent Toyota 86 is a collaboration with Subaru, who builds the cars; the Subaru variant is only subtly different, badged as thenbsp;BRZ.
The Toyobaru twins, as some wag dubbed them came in 2011 surrounded with a whole lot of hype. A shame, as both cars served up only small performance figures. When run head-to-head against something such as a modern Civic Si, the front-wheel-drive car was really faster. Matters were even worse in Subaru showrooms, with the 270 hp WRX parked nearby, for not much morenbsp;cash.
Yet as I pull away and rev the 86’s flat-four engine up to extract the comparatively meagre torque on tap, I can not help feeling that the modern automobile honours the older one in the appropriate ways. It’s affordable. It’s somewhat tail-happy. The existence of back seats and a good trunk make it a more sensible choice than an MX-5. You may run it yearlong — I have driven one of them on snow tires and it was more entertaining than a one-horse open sleigh. There’s a enormous aftermarket to bulge grip levels, and it is a fantastic car for entrance to the track daynbsp;spectacle.
There are hardly any authentic hachi-roku around nowadays, with most having rusted away or been mistreated into bits. However, the 86’s soul still comes to visit from time to time. Light the lanterns. Time to gonbsp;dance.
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Courtesy: The Globe And Mail