On May 1983, the world got the latest version of one of the most iconic sports cars from Toyota’s stable—a plucky, lightweight, chuck-able (albeit underpowered) two-door coupe based on their best-selling sedan, the Corolla/Sprinter. Called the AE86 Levin/Trueno, the two-door Jap was solid, reliable, responded well to upgrades and was a cult classic in the making along with the 1.6 litre 4AGE motor that powered it. It was also Rear Wheel Drive, which meant you could take it sideways as often as you wish in a safe and fairly controlled manner.
What pushed the AE86 (especially the Trueno variant with the pop-up headlights) to heights of fame—much higher than a 128 HP power figure from the factory should have, anyway—was Japanese manga artist Shuichi Shigeno’s Initial D series, where a panda white AE86 took centre stage as Takumi Fujiwara’s ride. As a manga it garnered a mainstream audience that perhaps wouldn’t have picked up a manga had it not been for the drifting cars and mountain street racing. As an anime adaptation beamed to households globally, Initial D essentially raised a whole generation of automotive enthusiasts and fueled the fascination for JDM car culture as well.
Takumi’s Fujiwara Tofu Shop AE86 might have established him as a fictional drifting god, but in the years during which the show was set in, Toyota drastically changed the approach to making the Levin/Trueno sports cars for subsequent generations. The biggest change came in the drive layout—while the 86 was RWD and perfect for drifting, the AE91, AE101 and AE111 generations of the Levin/Trueno were all FWD. While power outputs increased with the 20 Valve 4AGE ‘silvertop’ and ‘blacktop’ motors (not to mention the supercharged 4AGZE variant), the FWD layout meant the later generations were deprived of the RWD fun that characterised the KE30, K370 and AE86 generations.
Shahed Hossain’s AE91 is a visual tribute to Initial D’s iconic AE86. With the signature white-black ‘Panda’ paint scheme, dished black Watanabe wheels and the ‘Fujiwara Tofu Shop’ decal emblazoned across the doors in Japanese script, this AE91 is distinctive, to say the least. Powered by a silvertop 4AGE with tasty bits like Kelford cams, the 91 has enough power and lack of weight to make the driving experience a fun, engaging one.
Nimbleness is a character trait that all Levin/Trueno models have had since day one, and this is no different—even under hard acceleration, the Trueno is able to dart in and out of traffic and change lanes in split seconds without much hint of body roll or discomfort. The VVT (on the intake cam) kicks in fast and hard, with the aftermarket cams holding the revs in place for more top-end power.
Shahed is no stranger to old Toyotas—he’s had an RT40 Corona, an EP71 Starlet and an AE111 Levin as well. So when it came to restoring and driving the AE91, he knew what was involved. Everything from doors to fenders to the dashboard had to be sourced—from Dhaka’s Dholaikhal to Malaysia to Japan.
The AE91 is a comfortable, fast and reliable sports car—with a bit of paint and the right parts, it can be a fitting tribute to an iconic piece of pop-culture history.
Photos: Ahbaar Mohammad