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Heaven's Gate - Toyota Corolla AE86

Cult Car Comeback

Text By Ryan McKay, Photography by XeroTalent

When it comes to the AE86, there's really no denying the cult-like following the little Toyota commuter enjoys. And no, we're not talking about some crazy Hale-Bop shit where all the Hachi owners get together, don black Nike's, drink some poison and wait to be taken to another world...

While an obsession with old and underpowered commuter cars may be a bit odd to some of us, it's a lot healthier than jumping on board with the likes of Tom Cruise or Luis Farrakhan and joining a UFO worshiping cult.

It's still kind of ironic that the little econo-box from the Star Wars era enjoys such huge popularity today though; when back in the day, they'd hardly get a second look. The recent surge in the Hachiroku's popularity might be attributed any number of factors, but we have a sneaking suspicion there has been one major influence: drifting. And If we didn't know any better, we might be tempted to think that Junior Asprer is just another "Johnny-come-lately" to the old-school import scene who's played too much Initial D. But we DO know better.

While there may be some validity to the claim that the Hachi's popularity is linked directly to the fact that Takumi Fujiwara, Initial D's protagonist, drove an AE86, Asprer's ventures into the import world predate the drifting explosion by years. In fact, he's not even a drifter. Part of the import drag racing scene since it's infancy, Asprer was the first person to break the 12-second barrier with a FWD turbocharged Civic-way back when a 14-second Honda was still hot shit.

A quick look at some of his previous cars, like a 1981 Celica and a 1980 Celica, gives us some perspective as to what makes the Hachi so appealing to him-basically, it lets him relive his youth. Unlike some AE86 owners, who first learned of the once inexpensive RWD Toyota though films, games and magazines, he actually lived through the "old-school" era. Interestingly enough though, his decision to buy a Hachi sprung from his love of his old Civic drag car.

The car that he broke records and made a name for himself with in the import drag racing world was one that he says he'll never forget. The car was the first rear-wheel-drive converted import drag car, but regrettably, he sold it before he even made a single pass down the 1/4-mile with the RWD configuration. After selling the Civic, Asprer tried to grow up, and pursued a career outside of drag racing. Working for NASA/JPL as a systems analyst, he missed his racing days of yore-wishing he had held onto not only the Civic, but also his other old-school cars too.

"About four years ago, the 'old-school' fad was the hottest thing around and continues to be," Asprer says, adding, "If you were fortunate enough to have kept the car you built 12+ years ago, you were set. Me, well, I didn't."

Regretting his decision to part with the Civic, he quickly got the itch to build another ride. He says he chose the AE86 because he always admired it back in the day, plus the fact that JDM aftermarket parts are still being manufactured for the car played a big part in that decision.

By Ryan McKay
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