So you've fallen in love with that lightweight, high-revving, legendary little Toyota from the 80s. Maybe you're a drifting fan. Maybe you're an Initial D fan. Either way, I don't judge. They're great little cars, and they seem to make people happy. Myself included.
In this guide I'm going to walk you through some helpful tips for buying an AE86. First I should start off by saying this is a buyer's guide for people in the United States. I'm sure there's more nuance in other parts of the world, so if that's you, I recommend cozying up to a friendly local expert for some advice on where to find cars and how to put the correct value on them.
Step 1: Establish your budget
What kind of AE86 you can buy is largely dependent on what your budget will allow. At the time of writing this, there are a lot more people who want to buy an AE86 than who want to sell an AE86. Most owners I know are happy to store them away, even if they're not being used. With the way markets have been trending, it looks like it's going to get more expensive to buy back in.
Here's my rough breakdown of bands of budget for these cars and roughly what you get:
- $25,000 and up: A nice hatchback or coupe. GTS chassis. Fully restored or extremely original in the $30,000+ range. This can also get you a nice RHD JDM example.
- $15,000: A non-4AGE swapped hatch (BEAMs, SR20, etc) or a really nice coupe. This is a strange no-man's land where you'll probably find overpriced cars that don't sell and owners hoping to get more than buyers are willing to shell out for.
- $10,000: A GTS coupe or SR5 hatchback in decent shape. You can also get a kinda crappy GTS hatchback for this money, but expect it to have a incomplete/rough interior or no interior at all, along with fiberglass bumpers. Generally, at this price you can get a running/driving AE86, but it's going to be much nicer if it's a coupe. You can also get a clean and complete SR5 hatchback for this price. This is around what those trade hands for.
- $7,500-ish: This is where things get scrappy. It's still possible to get a GTS coupe for this much, and maybe a pretty rough SR5 hatch. Generally, you won't find a GTS hatchback that runs and drives in this range anymore. Swapped coupes will also be available around this price.
- $5,000: This is where half finished swaps, rusty cars, and vehicles in need of a lot of love will be sold at. This is what you'd call a "project car" - they'll need some love.
- $2,000 and below: Rolling shells and really rough projects. Generally, if what you're buying still has a 4AGE in it for this price, you're probably on the money for what it's worth so long as the chassis is somewhat salvageable. Hop on it if it has a GTS rear end in, because those alone will fetch $1,200-$2,500 depending on condition and location.
You'll definitely find outliers on price in both directions. Some cars sell for way more than they would private party (usually on bringatrailer) and some go for way cheap. There's always going to be an abandoned clean GTS hatch somewhere that someone is going to be lucky enough to pick up. I wouldn't recommend basing your pricing as a buyer or seller on either of those scenarios. It's not going to help get your car bought/sold any faster.
Should I buy an SR5 or GTS AE86?
This is an age-old question. The first question an experienced Corolla guy will ask is... "what are you going to use it for?" That's something important to think through before setting out to choose which kind of AE86 you're going to buy. Here's why: if you aren't going to end up using those tasty GTS parts (16V 4AGE / GTS rear end etc), then you're probably off saving the extra cash and buying an SR5. Great for swaps. If you plan on having a pureblood 86 with a 4AGE in it, you'll probably want a GTS. BaCk iN mY Day swapping an SR5 to a GTS wasn't the end of the world. Parts were plentiful and cheap. Now that's getting more expensive and difficult to source all the parts needed like gas tanks, fuel lines, harnesses, etc.
Here's my general guidance for what kind of AE86 to buy depending on your build:
- Drift car/Track car with a body kit and a motor swap: Get an SR5, save your money. GTS will cost more and you won't end up using what makes a GTS special. SR5s also come up for sale a lot more often, which makes it easier on you as a buyer.
- Restoration or restomodded car: If you're looking to put on nice JDM bumpers or USDM bumpers and conduct a restoration to get something resto-modded or just restored, go with a GTS. All your efforts and time will be needed to gather tid bits and getting the big pieces will take a long time and end up costing an arm and a leg.
- I just want an AE86 with a 4AG so bad and I don't have any money: Save more. Don't become the guy that buys an SR5, pulls out the engine, and then gets stuck and has to end up selling a shell for a loss. You'll also regret buying a 4AC powered SR5. It's an awful, slow and boring engine. At least the 4AG is awful, slow and exciting. If you have a super limited budget to begin with, keep in mind you're still going to likely have a limited budget going forward to build the car. Save more, PLEASE! Get a GTS. Patience will pay off here.
Where to buy an AE86: The places to look
This is where your extra work will definitely pay off. Being quick and having cash or a trailer ready to go is going to be your best bet. As a buyer, you want to have your eyes on as many sales outlets as possible, because buyers won't always post on every site. If you're only checking offerup and your dream car right next door goes up on facebook, you'll miss out. Cover every single sales channel. Here are the ones I recommend checking, if I missed one, let me know in the comments or DM me on instagram and I'll add it.
Best sites to look for AE86 for sale:
- Facebook marketplace LINK
- Facebook groups: Finding AE86-specific groups will be enormously helpful in your search. It'll help you find cars just outside of your geographic area and it'll be an enthusiast-to-enthusiast transaction, which should help give you more background on the car or even have it come with a couple bins of parts. Here are a few to get you started, there are plenty more and be sure to look for ones that are in your region, too:
- CLUB86 (24k members) LINK
- 86Connect (7k members) LINK
- AE86 Buy & Sell (33k members) LINK
- AE86 Sell and Buy (21k members) LINK
- AE86 and Toyota Swap Meet (14k members) LINK
- Socal AE86 (3k members) LINK
- OfferUp: Yes, it's the absolute worst, but you'll still need to check it for cars for sale. They come up here. Be quick to call if a phone number is listed, I would skip private messaging if there's a car posted with a phone number, even if there aren't a lot of details. It helps show your interest is real.
- Craigslist: Be sure to change the location to your locale. It's a total crapshoot, but Craigslist still gets cars on it despite it being mostly a ghost town. Be sure you search for AE86, Corolla, Corolla GTS, and Corolla SR5 as different search terms. You may only get a hit on one of those. Prices usually are much higher than actual sell price. Feel free to lowball.
- BringAtrailer.com: This is a site for buyers with deep pockets, but nice cars are usually able to be found here. Aside from a couple shoddy SR5s that somehow got listed, this is where you'll find some pretty decent examples of AE86s. Keep in mind as a buyer, you're competing against the rest of the country and a lot of deep-pocket buyers when you're on this site. That's why the prices here are always higher than elsewhere. When you're on something localized like facebook marketplace or offerup, you're mostly competing with local buyers and enthusiast buyers.
- Make friends with people in the Corolla community: this might mean going to meet and asking for advice, or just striking up conversations online. Plenty of cars sell without ever being listed for sale. Check out Abraham's story about how he got his cars.
I created a post in the CLUB86 Facebook group where people can share their recently bought/sold prices. You'll see a bunch of posts here about what people paid years ago, that's not super helpful for you as a buyer today, so try not to get too bummed out on it.
What not to do when buying an AE86
There's one meme'd faux paux when buying an AE86. It's showing up to a facebook group and posting "want to buy an ae86" without much other information. Or doing the same thing without a realistic price. This is part of why I decided to write up this blog post - it can be hard to know if your budget will get you the car you're hoping to get.
That's tough as a buyer, but try to empathize with the community you're coming into with the same thing that gets posted all the time. If you're here to educate yourself, good job. You're off to a great start.
Posts like this will get you a post from OG Max saying "Here we go again" which is a pretty good representation of how everyone feels seeing the same empty posts every day. You can tell by the reactions it gets—most agree. Others aren't as friendly and you may get a good roasting.
How to make a Want to Buy post the right way:
Here's the rub though: some guys have cars for sale that aren't posted for sale and posts like this tend to pull cars out of the woodwork that might not have been known to be for sale. That makes it effective. So what's the answer? I think posting a "WTB" (want to buy) post can work, but you need to post these things with it:
- What your budget is - but don't be that annoying guy who says "I'll pay anything for the right car" - that's not going to actually help motivate buyers. You're going to get a bunch of guys with dumpy SR5s asking for 20 grand.
- Where you're located and if you're willing to travel - This will let local buyers know you're serious about checking out a car. It can also help you make friends in your area
- What you want and don't want - Are you okay with swapped cars? What are your deal breakers? Does it need to be a hatchback? Think about these things before posting and fill everyone in on what you're looking for. Good for you and good for sellers. Reference these wants against the price banding above and make sure your expectations/budget are realistic when paired together.
Figure out what you can afford and what you want. They might not be the same.
Ask yourself if an AE86 is the right fit
The experience of AE86 ownership over the years has changed significantly, and one of the areas that has most been impacted is the overall cost of maintaining and restoring these cars. Many years ago, parts were plentiful and pretty cheap. Now resellers are starting to ask quite a bit more and buyers have no choice but to purchase. If you don't have a good network of friendly Corolla friends, you're going to be SOL. I'll leave you with this humorous but very true screenshot from The Chairman:
It's definitely an expensive car to buy/restore/upkeep. It's really solid advice to think about total amount you'll be spending over the course of the next year of ownership (for example, $20k for a car and another 10-20k in parts and therapy sessions). If it's right for you, I wish you good luck!
That's about it for now! I'll come back and add content as I think of it or as I have questions asked that I see as being helpful to answer publicly here. Have a question? Want to just say something nice? DM me on instagram, I'd be happy to chat. If you ask me something that's already answered in here though, I may get annoyed. Slightly.
PS. If you liked this, show your support by checking out the fun products I design on ohsweetboy.com - I think you'll like what you see! Shares and links back to here are also helpful.
P.P.S. You'll go through stages where you hate yourself and love yourself and your car. You'll meet great friends along the way. Hang in there, getting it done is worth it.