Toyota took classic AE86s and filled them with batteries and hydrogen

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I’m happy automakers keep taking vehicles from the 80s and 90s and restoring them. I just wish I could drive one.

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The “E” in the name of Toyota’s legendary AE86 was there to designate it as a Corolla, but wouldn’t it be awesome if it stood for “electric” instead? Apparently someone at the company thought so; Toyota is showing off a concept version of what the 80s icon would look like if it were powered by batteries (or hydrogen). The two cars are being exhibited at the Tokyo Auto Salon show, which runs from January 13th to the 15th.

The AE86 BEV Concept uses “electrification technologies cultivated by Lexus,” according to Toyota’s website, with parts from a hybrid Tundra and Prius. Mated to the truck motor is something you don’t usually see in electric cars — a manual transmission. I can’t say I’m exactly sure what driving stick with a motor that can provide near-instant torque would be like, but I do know that I’d love to find out.

With that said, I don’t think that joyride would be super speedy, or last very long; while Toyota clearly took pains to preserve a lot of the original AE86 driving experience, according to Jalopnik that motor could be making as little as 48 horsepower, less than half the original. Also, a Prius battery is just not going to get you very far.

Photo of the rear quarter-panel of the AE86 BEV, with a Levin badge. The “ev” in Levin is green.

Photo of the rear quarter-panel of the AE86 BEV, with a Levin badge. The “ev” in Levin is green.

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Not that power matters much to me — I’m just a sucker for cars with that quintessential 80s shape. To anyone out there looking to make a car with barely any curves (ahem), this is how you do it; not by copying PS1-era graphics, but by taking inspiration from geometric shapes, like the trapezoid. That is, as long as you’re trying to target people who grew up in the 80s and 90s watching anime like Initial D, which famously featured an AE86 — and which these concepts are clearly paying homage to with their paint jobs and stickers. I’ll admit that outside of that demographic, the general public probably isn’t clamoring for a return to boxy vehicles.

Toyota restomoded another AE86 to make its original engine run on hydrogen, so you can get the “appeal points of sound and vibration” that you’d get from a gas engine, but without the carbon emissions, according to Toyota. No points for guessing that some of the parts came from a Mirai, Toyota’s experiment with hydrogen that (unfortunately, in my opinion) hasn’t gotten much interest or investment in America. As Ars Technica points out, though, this car likely won’t be as efficient as a Mirai, or as fast as an unmodded AE86; there’s a reason most hydrogen vehicles use it in fuel cell form, rather than burning it in an engine.

While I’d probably go with the battery powered version if I was buying either of these cars, the AE86 H2 Concept has one massive advantage over the electric version: it has the pop-up headlights, instead of the fixed ones.

Not that it’s likely I’ll ever get that choice. While Toyota hinted during its press conference that it’s at least thinking about trying to make things easier for people trying to convert their own beloved cars away from gasoline, it’s not like like there are a ton of AE86s just lying around to be restored and modded. The company stopped making them in 1987.

It seems the AE86 BEV and H2 are destined for a place on my “cars I want but will never be able to get” list. They’ll be on there alongside that incredible Hyundai Grandeur EV we saw last year, a US version of the Honda E, and a Ford Maverick with both the AWD and hybrid systems sold at MSRP. (Ford, I know you can put those two things together because of the Escape and F-150, just do it already!)

PS: if you want to see these cars being put together, you can check out this video detailing that process — though unless you understand Japanese, it’s going to be a mostly visual experience.

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