The cars we loved.
Any one who follows Japanese auto manufacturers knows that whats available in the US is merely the tip of the iceberg as far was whats produced for the JDM (Japanese Domestic Market). No better example of this auto diversity and cloning exists than with Toyota, Japan’s largest manufacturer.
The Corolla platform has been one of Toyota’s most fruitful in spawning multiple cars with different missions, attributes and markets. During the 80’s and 90’s there were no less than 5 variations of the Corolla wearing names like Levin and Tureno. These were the sportiest versions of the Corolla, which was usually sold only as a four door sedan or station wagon.
Of particular interest was the Levin. The Levin was a two door only proper coupe with fixed headlights that was sold only in Japan, Europe and Australia. It’s direct counterpart, the Trueno was a rear wheel drive hatchback coupe that became the poster child for early high performance compact car enthusiasts.
The Levin came about when the AE86 platform (rear wheel drive) split into a new stream of platforms yielding code names like AE101, AE111,CE80 and so on. The Levin was the first product from split in the family tree. As with most other Toyota’s, there were no less than seven trim levels, ranging from the docile S model to the high performance GT and GT-Z variants. Most were powered by some variation of a 1.6 L 20 valve twin cam 4 cylinder. Power ranged from 94 to around 140 by the end of the model run in 2000.
Part of the Levin’s charm was that it was a simple car, lighter and smaller than the Celica, but more composed than the AE86 Trueno in bad weather due to front wheel drive. And of course like many cars from this era, it was highly tunable with aftermarket parts readily available. It’s interior was a bit more refined, with more in common with the Celica than the Corolla. For a short time Toyota sold a car that was similar in concept called the Paeso.
The Paseo was actually based on the Tercel and was smaller than the Levin. That was unfortunate, because a stripped down Levin would have been a much more entertaining car than a loaded Paseo. It just was not to be, as the Levin might have cannibalized the sales of both the MR2 and Celica. In America, lower end Celica ST filled the gap that the Levin would have fit in the North American market.
There were two generations of the Levin (if you don’t count the AE86 versions using the name before) starting in 1993 to 95 (AE101)and after a few years absence, a resurgence from 1997 to 2000 (AE111). The biggest difference between them is their front end appearance and the jump in horsepower to 140 in 1997 to 2000 models. The interiors were typical of Toyota’s, clean simple straight forward designs with little frills and good ergonomics. Levin seats were mostly cloth, but sometimes leather in the GT and GT-Z models.
With the MR2 and the Celica gone from the American market, an opportunity has arisen for Toyota at the lower end of the coupe spectrum. Soon, the AE86 platform will come full circle in concept when Toyota releases its new FT-86 in 2011. The new car will retain the spirit of the beloved Corolla/Truneo/Levin by being simple, small and having rear wheel drive. It will be powered by a 2.0 litre engine and 6 speed transmission. Multiple versions of the car will no doubt cater to the Levin buyer who wants a fashionable coupe and the performance enthusiast looking for a modern successor the AE86.