We have our eyes opened by a 1980s Toyota Corolla
Modern cars are great but a drive in a 30-year-old Toyota coupe highlights what they're missing
In almost any measurable way you can think of, cars today are the best they’ve ever been. The latest showroom fresh metal is safer, greener, faster and more technologically advanced than at any time before. Hooray!
I guess progress has a habit of working like that, things are gradually but continually improved upon. Except, I’ve just spent a day driving an inauspicious sportscar from the early 80s and it’s got me thinking. Has the breakneck evolution of the motor car taken a wrong turn?
It all started when Toyota was kind enough to loan us a Corolla GT Coupe – the AE86 as it’s fondly known among its fans. The car is kept on Toyota’s press fleet for the express purpose of causing beautiful glistening tears to seep gently down the faces of wizened motoring hacks as their failing minds are transported back to the good old days.
"it’s a far, far, far cry from sports cars like its modern day successor - the GT86"
It’s a noble cause and it wasn’t hard to see what the fuss was about. This AE86 has covered less than 40,000 miles since its 80s prime and it’s in wonderful condition. The bodywork is pristine (we’d been given strict instructions to keep it that way), the engine fires with a box-fresh enthusiasm and, if you listen carefully, the nightclub-spec blue velour interior resounds with the last days of disco.
The AE86 is less than 30 years old but it’s a far, far, far cry from sports cars like its modern day successor - the GT86. In this Corolla you use elbow grease to wind down the windows, get only the essential information from the analogue instruments and listen to whatever stations the wire radio antenna can get a fix on - unless you have some cassettes handy.
The closest the AE86 comes to high-tech is the infernal Clifford alarm system, which goes off when it sees fit and insists on an arcane sequence of button presses before you can start the engine.
None of this sounds very appealing but I’ve already conceded that modern cars are better in almost every respect. The key word here being almost.
When you drive the AE86 you instantly sense the absence of weight that comes from its compact size but also from this lack of the technological titbits that burden today’s cars. The 124hp engine that would struggle to shift a modern supermini with any verve gives the featherweight Toyota a mule-standard kick and the unassisted steering feels alive. It’s like driving a machine rather than a bank of computers.
"the AE86 is real, raw, unadulterated fun"
With the raucous aftermarket exhaust exposing the 1980s disregard for sound insulation and the driven rear wheels threatening to break loose at modest cornering speeds, the AE86 is real, raw, unadulterated fun.
You really feel like you’re driving it and it’s there where this 80s throwback surpasses so many modern cars. Too often, new cars today either have their driving experience sanitised by technology or are so capable and quick that approaching their limits on public roads is irresponsible or impossible.
The AE86 neatly shows how much of a laugh simplicity can be in a car, maybe we could do with a bit more of it…
Stay tuned to MSN Cars for our full AE86 v GT86 twin test and video...
First drive: Toyota GT86
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