TGIF[R-S]: Inspired by the best Corolla

TGIF[R-S]: Inspired by the best Corolla

Welcome to the latest installment of our weekly series: TGIF[R-S], where Features Editor Sami Haj-Assaad details the ownership experience of the Scion FR-S. If you haven’t seen the latest articles, be sure to check out the whole archive of them. 

It’s hard to believe but the Scion FR-S was inspired by a Toyota Corolla. Crazy isn’t it? How does a 2,700 lb, 200-hp rear-wheel drive sports car share anything with a boring econobox?

The honest truth is that it doesn’t. Not now anyway. To find the actual relation you have to look back between the years of 1983 and 1987. Then you’d find what is easily the coolest Corolla ever made.

The 112-hp Corolla GT-S is a cult classic. Often called by its chassis code (AE86) the car is pure in its mission, which is to provide an easy and fun to drive coupe. All this is accomplished by having a low weight and directing power to the rear-wheels. Sound familiar? To make things even more exciting, the AE86 featured skinny 14-inch tires which were always at the edge of traction.

The car’s cult status was then enshrined in popular culture in 1995 when it became the star of a comic strip and anime cartoon called Initial D. Stylishly drifting up and down mountain landscapes, it helped usher in a new era of automotive enthusiasts. Suddenly kids weren’t concerned about power, technology and turbos, they just wanted to know: Does it drift like the 86?

The AE86 is still a cult car today (perhaps more than ever), and attracts the same enthusiast crowd that it did back when it was new. To further explore this inspiration to my FR-S I met up with a local 86 collector, who owns a good chunk of the AE86 real estate.

Kenneth Greenly and his girlfriend Lydia own not one, not two, but four AE86s. Two of them are considered daily drivers and are well running and fairly comfortable SR5 models equipped with automatic transmissions. One of the two is done up in a ‘panda’ livery, similar to the one in the Initial D cartoons and comic strips. Lydia’s SR5 is painted completely pink. Yes, pink!

But Ken’s pride and joy is a car he calls the “The Beast” which features a ton of mods, and sounds like a monster. He gave me a ride around the block and it was an absolute riot.

It made me think: something like this used to be called a Corolla? What happened? This thing is miles away from what’s sold as a Corolla today. It’s low and agile, not slow and boring. It brought a big grin to my face, something no modern Corolla is capable of.

In the context of the FR-S, the apple doesn’t fall too far from the tree. From the moment I drove the Scion, I felt like I was the one piloting it. It feels analogue, a true successor to the AE86.

Ken has two other special cars on his driveway. A green AE86 coupe, which he reserves for track-days and something more modern… and familiar.

Two completely melted tires sitting in the back seat of Ken’s green 86 are proof he has a good time with the car. The AE86 certainly has a unique knack for killing rear-tires. Drift legend, Keiichi Tsuchiya raced an AE86, and had a unique driving style within the Japanese Fuji Freshman race series which involved using drifting as a non-traditional passing method in mid-corner. Ken clearly channeled his inner Keiichi Tsuchia at his last track day.

Four AE86s isn’t enough for Ken though. He also owns one last toy. At the end of his driveway is a brand new FR-S. Done up in the  “Whiteout” color scheme, Ken’s FR-S is the latest addition to his ranch of 86s.

With four old-school, running and clean AE86s, with two of them ready to hit the track, why get another ride?

It’s not easy keeping four 25 year-old cars running, he says. The FR-S gives him a true daily driver that’s still in keeping with his automotive preferences. It’s like the AE86, he tells me, but in some respects, even better.

“Its almost exactly like the 86’s, but lower, quicker and more modern,” he says. “It’s also more comfortable than my two projects… and hopefully won’t need as much attention.”

Neither the FR-S nor its predecessor are about high speeds or the latest technology. Whether it’s 25 years old, or made a few months ago, this is something I’ve learned to appreciate and something Ken most obviously has for many years. It’s the enthusiasm for driving that ties these two cars together and that has brought me to Ken’s driveway to experience it first hand.

  • Graeme

    Interesting stuff. I wouldn’t mind own 5 cars.. Must have one hell of a garage! 😀

  • Halycon

    The irony is that the FR-S is actually a Subaru clothed as a Toyota. 😀

  • because the 70’s RWD Celica should be completely forgotten…