When you’re looking at buying a car, you want economy. You want the most of the attributes that you desire, without spending any more than you need to spend. If, for instance, you were looking for a car with a manual, five valves per cylinder, and individual throttle bodies, you would not have to shell out six figures for a 1990s Ferrari. Instead you could drop $12,000 on a Corolla.
This is the Corolla Levin from the early 1990s and it might be a bit unfamiliar to American eyes. We got the Levin here up to the generation before this one. It was the one that came after the AE86, and it had charming pop-up headlights and front-wheel drive. Good cars!
That was the AE92 generation of the Corolla Levin. Here, we’re talking about the 101 and the following 111. The big visual difference between these cars and the AE92 is that the styling went from sharp and angular to round and blobby. You did still get generally the same business in terms of how the car drove. It’s still front-wheel drive, and it still has a 4A-GE four-cylinder.
The difference is that this later generation got the “silver top” and then later “black top” 4A-GE, good for around 160 horsepower and 120 lb-ft of torque. The difference there is that this version of the 4A-GE was a 20 valve, with individual throttle bodies.
What are individual throttle bodies? I gave a brief explainer a few years ago when writing about velocity stacks:
Individual throttle bodies are a bit easier to understand. Most cars just have what you would call a single throttle body. There’s one point where air gets pulled in from the outside, and it all rushes into an intake manifold responsible for feeding each of your engine’s cylinders. Individual throttle bodies have one point per cylinder for air to rush in, so there’s much less delay and disturbance for outside air getting into your engine. This quickens the response of your engine and gives you a chance to tune your engine right.
If you want to learn more about why individual throttle bodies (often abbreviated as ITBs) are hella sick, bro, just walk over to the far corner of your local community college parking lot and yell “HONDAS ARE COOL AND ALL BUT BMWS ARE BETTER” and four guys will run out of the shadows to argue with each other about their intake setups in front of you.
Setting up an engine to have five valves and one throttle body per cylinder is not the least complicated way to make power. You could supercharge a 4A-GE and make similar numbers. Toyota did that, too.
That wouldn’t give you the response, the urge that this engine provides. The feel. The sound. This is the kind of engine work that Ferrari was putting into its engines in the 1990s, in cars like the Ferrari 355. Incidentally, both the 20-valve Corolla Levin and the 355 made similar power for their displacement, 160 HP from 1.6 liters against 380 from 3.5 liters, going off Ferrari’s numbers.
For the price of servicing and maintaining a 355, though, you could pick yourself up one of these Corolla Levins. They seem to all hover around the $12,000 mark these days. The black AE111 above is at Japanese Classics in Maryland, asking just under 12 with a manual:
Here’s another from Duncan Imports wanting the same with an automatic:
And a low-mile manual from Duncan asking $17,000:
These are not the cheapest ways to get yourself a Corolla, but they are some of the cheapest ways to get some cutting-edge 1990s engine tech. I guess the question is if you want you car that’s 30 years old to represent the cutting edge of anything.