This weekend at the Phillip Island Classic, over the 17th to the 19th of March, the Heritage Touring Cars series will be joined by another legend of Australian Group C touring car racing – the ex-Toyota Team Australia AE86 Group A Toyota Corolla Coupe of Craig Foster.
Built in the sixth month of 1986, the car is classed as a Kouki model, which denotes it as a late model car. Its sister car, built in 1985 is a Zenki car – an early car – and is currently on show in the Bathurst Motoring Museum.
The car is the last of the factory-built Toyota Racing Development TTA AE86s from Japan to come across to Australia. It raced from late ’86 through to the final race for TTA, which was held at Oran Park in 1989. That day John Smith drove it to clinch the manufacturer’s championship for Toyota.
There are very few AE86 Kouki coupes in Group A racing, and this car is the only one which TRD Japan built and sent to race in Australia. Most of the cars were hatch models or the early Zenki model coupe.
Image thanks to John Smith
It endured a rough start to its racing career, breaking an axle in its debut at Sandown and then blowing an engine on the third lap of the 1986 James Hardie 1000.
Although its career improved immeasurably from there, and it did a lot for Toyota with John Smith behind the wheel, it may well be remembered for an altogether less glamorous performance.
During the 1987 James Hardie 1000, a World Touring Car round, it and its sister TTA coupe crashed out together at the top of the mountain when a huge rainstorm lashed the circuit. Drew Price was at the wheel at the time and running first in class, one lap ahead of the sister car driven by Mike Quinn.
It sustained damage to its front right-hand side as well as the right-hand and left-hand rear quarters, but escaped in better shape than the sister TTA coupe, which ended up a twisted wreck.
Following the race the car was repaired and fitted with Zenki-specification front bumper, lights along the rear beaver panel, rear tail lights and rear bumper due to limited stock of parts. This left it looking a lot more like its Zenki sister car.
It continued racing in the 1987 championship, but the little 1.6-litre was outclassed at most events by the two-litre Nissan Gazelle. The AE86’s cause wasn’t helped by the fact that the Gazelle was piloted by a young Mark Skaife!
The car pulled off an incredible feat in 1988, finishing 9th outright at Bathurst driven by John Faulkner and Mike Quinn.
Toyota held on to the car at the end of its period career, giving it a stint in the Bathurst Motorsport Museum and otherwise keeping it at their headquarters. In 2011, Heritage Touring Cars competitor Chris O’Connor was able to buy it, eventually selling it to Craig Foster.
Craig Foster: “My father, William Foster, used to sit up and watch the old Australian Formula Pacific on TV, back when John Smith was racing a RALT RT4.”
“In the mid-‘80s we had a new neighbour, and one day not long after he’d moved in Dad noticed him carrying a racing suit inside. It was John Smith, who was actually the last driver of my ex-Toyota Team Australia AE86 Corolla Coupe during its period career. He lived next door to us in Ingleburn back in the mid-‘80s.”
“In 1984 he turned up with the first TTA AE86 hatch on a trailer. When they took the car out for its first test day at Oran Park I took the day off from school go and check it out.”
“At the time I was working for John at Ferguson’s Toyota in Hurstville during my school holidays. I cleaned the cars and worked in the pre-delivery department. Dad was also involved, assisting Toyota Team Australia at Oran Park and working at Bathurst as a time keeper in ’84 and ’85.”
“John’s the reason that I went down the path of Toyota road cars. I remember always wanting an AE86 coupe like the race cars in my early years of driving, but back then you could not import such cars.”
“Over the years I’ve owned in excess of 15 Toyota AE86s, converting them from Australian Domestic Market (ADM) specification to Japanese Domestic Market (JDM) spec.”
“I began importing parts from Japan about 15 years ago, originally just as a hobby to assist with my own car builds, but it kept growing and I eventually registered a business – Just JDM Imports. I’ve since brought in twelve containers, mostly with AE86 parts along with cars as well as bits and pieces for other marques.”
“I’m a licensed aircraft maintenance engineer these days, but in the late ‘90s I assisted Mike Quinn at race events for the Australian Super Tourers. I worked in the pit crew at meetings around Australia, mostly working on Toyota Camrys and Ford Mondeos before taking up a full time mechanic job at Brad Jones Racing in 1999.”
“I was to be the number one mechanic on the Audi two-litre super tourer, but due to lack of funds they ended up unable to race, so I worked as the number two mechanic on the Ford AU V8 Supercar instead. I had a year in motorsport before I had to return to my aviation career.”
“Chris O’Connor, another former employee of John Smith at Ferguson’s and a fellow Heritage Touring Cars series competitor, was lucky enough to buy my AE86 from Toyota in 2011. It had been sitting out the back of Toyota’s headquarters, and had spent a little time at the Bathurst museum.”
“When Chris bought the car I told him that if he was ever interested in selling it to give me a call. To his credit, when he decided to sell the phone rang and we came to an agreement for the car and a set of parts.”
“It meant selling some of my other toys and a loan from my parents, without which I would not have been able to do this, but it was the realisation of a dream for me so I’m incredibly grateful.”
“When I took custodianship of the car I restored it to its original Kouki appearance and re-stickered it back to the 1987 World Touring Car round at Bathurst. Thanks to Mary from printability for all the stickers.”
“I removed all of the suspension, cleaning, freshening it up and rebuilding it where necessary. I also cleaned and repainted the underside of the car. My goal is to prepare and preserve it for future racing events and give it a full restoration down the track.”
“I have my CAMS racing license ready to go and plan on running the car in the Heritage Touring Cars series assisted by my father. I can’t wait to drive this brilliant little car, and am looking forward to putting it on track to showcase its history and share it with everyone who remembers it and everyone who is inspired by it.”
Craig and the ex-Toyota Team Australia AE86 Toyota Corolla Coupe will make their debut at the Phillip Island Classic this weekend, over the 17th to the 19th of March alongside a magnificent entry of Group C and Group A historic Australian touring cars. Be there!
Stay tuned to www.heritagetouringcars.com.au for more.
Thanks to Craig Foster for sharing the car’s story and for the images.