Rocket Bunny Toyota GR86 vs. ’80s-era Corolla—Which Would You Choose?

With the new Toyota GR86’s arrival earlier this year, we expected to see at least a handful of modified versions peppering the Las Vegas Convention Center for SEMA week. Instead, we saw but two, one of which was actually the GR86’s mechanical twin, the second-generation Subaru BRZ. The other was this JDM model nestled inside Cusco USA’s booth, clad in Pandem’s latest bulk-inducing aero. Just a few feet away, it was joined by the very chassis that inspired it: The legendary AE86 Corolla.

Based on its given specs, the mid-1980s Corolla even in GT-S form doesn’t have the sort of attributes that would constitute a world-renowned automotive icon. When introduced in the U.S. during that era, it was an affordable way to get a fun, tossable people mover with a front-engine, rear-wheel-drive layout. Despite not pumping out impressive horsepower numbers—in fact, it was considered underpowered—it was a performance bargain. Those that got behind the wheel quickly discovered that the lightweight Corolla and its capable suspension made for an intoxicating mix.

Old Is Gold

With the Corolla’s eager handling and sporty look, its growing fan base saw true potential and were more than enough to elevate it to small Japanese car royalty, especially with the push it would receive years later from the anime realm. As such, pricing on the used market these days is as ridiculous as you might imagine. Those who currently have one aren’t in any rush to unload them. And, if they’re willing to put in the hard work and countless dollars to take on a restomod project, they might end up with something like this Mastermind North America “Trueno” built by TEC-ART’S.

The familiar two-tone paint treatment is joined by high quality Impulse carbon fiber goods that go beyond the obvious hood replacement and headlight toppers. Under that clean white paint, the Corolla’s doors, hatch, and even its roof have all been swapped out for dry carbon replacements. The front bumper, fenders, and headlight brackets were renewed with replacement versions from Restore-Parts.com.

Fancy Footwork

Most would expect a set of Watanabes to be used here, but a more modern take was chosen with 15×8-inch Work Meister CR01s wrapped in 195/50 Toyo Proxes R1R tires. Behind the three-piece wheels are freshened-up OEM calipers with Endless pads that clamp down on TEC-ART’S Super Slit rotors using the group’s steel braided brake lines. Pull the wheels off and you’ll be able to see the KW Suspensions updates backed by Cusco’s Pillow Tension Rods, Pillow lower arms, and lateral rods.

You won’t find the usual cracked dash and gouged door panels inside this Corolla, as it’s been restored and customized. Intricate stitching on the gauge cluster housing matches that of the Cusco x Bride seat collaboration, with the retro seat gradient also used on the door panels and rear seating.

Lift that featherweight hood and you’re face to face with a TEC-ART’S custom 7AG with 12.8:1 compression, its own cams and crank, and Toda valves. On top of the head, you’ll find a coil on plug conversion and attached to either side a custom header and an ITB set up that includes an aluminum plenum and drive-by-wire operation. Motec’s M130 serves as the brains of the operation while a Toda clutch and flywheel transfer the power.

Last month we showed you a rendering of Pandem’s latest wide body kit intended for the modern GR86. Some loved the updated look while others weren’t all that pumped on the squared fender treatment – something the aero giant has been leaning toward with other kits, like the one for the GR Yaris.  Regardless of what side of the fence you reside, and though it sounds painfully cliché, the rendering that Pandem released didn’t do justice to the finished product.

The body lines and styling direction of the new generation GR86 and its BRZ twin feels more mature and less edgy than the original Scion FR-S neé Toyota 86. The sculpted rear portion of the front fenders steps away from that notion for a moment, but the feeling is lost with the rear of the vehicle fading into a rather generic appearance. The Rocket Bunny kit, as always, takes a look at the car’s design blueprint, crumples it up, and tosses it aside.

Flex Appeal

The controversial squared fender arches add more width to the 86’s svelte frame but also offer a whole new profile, front, rear, and quarter view as the car takes on the stocky physique of a bulldog. The front bumper replacement gives the flat, original front fascia a set of lips and is all but begging for new owners to fill the bumper’s main grill opening with a front-mount intercooler.

The funky extensions that flow from the black border of the front fenders complete with a line of holes is a little off-putting, even if it does play off the aggressive front bumper canards. The bold angle and depth of the newfound arches require a healthy set of tires be used to drive home that GT feel. For this build, 255/35 Advan A052 are fitted to 18-inch BBS mesh wheels with a lip that seems to run a mile long.

The overhang from the rear quarter panels in addition to the diffuser are enough to give the rear end some much needed spice, but it’s the wing that helps tie it all together. Just a few inches above the trunk lid with its curvaceous ends hovering over the taillights, the new style add-on is a departure from the previous Rocket Bunny 86. Also in the rear, blue tinged titanium exhaust tips extend from the Fujitsubo exhaust system – a brand that Cusco USA serves as an exclusive authorized dealer for.

Then And Now

There isn’t much to compare when the original 8-6 is parked right next to the modern-day version from a factory standpoint, other than the numerical reminder and obvious front engine, rear-wheel drive connection. From an aftermarket standpoint, these original chassis have been fitted with an endless line of aero pieces over the last three decades (Pandem included), many of them adding considerable width to their hips and shoulders. This GR 86 simply offers a modern take on that very idea.

The plan to put these two siblings together at SEMA with over 30 years of separation between them served as one of the highlights of the week. The question is, which would you choose? The classic body style in pristine condition that will cost an arm and leg to repair should something go wrong, or the GR86 with modern amenities and a futuristic take on Toyota’s legendary 8-6 label?

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