Toyota Restomods Two Sports Cars with Hydrogen and Electric Power

Laurance Yap
Mar 2023
If you love old sports cars, you might be worried about what a zero-emissions future might look like. Will you have to give up the sound and driving thrills of your old ride? With two new concept cars, Toyota's showing what may be possible by retrofitting hydrogen combustion or electric power.
Two of the Toyota Restomodded models: AE86 H2 and BEV.

Zero-Emissions Path for Older Cars

We’ve written before here on GreenCars about Toyota’s holistic approach to reducing carbon emissions. While the company is making huge investments in battery-electric vehicles, and planning to roll out 30 EVs in the next few years, it’s also continuing to develop other technologies, including fuel-efficient gasoline engines, hybrids, and hydrogen. And at the Tokyo Auto Salon in January, a trade show focused on modifying and enhancing vehicles, Toyota showed that it’s not just thinking about the new cars it will launch – it’s also thinking about cars that are already on the road.

“The reality is that we cannot achieve zero carbon emissions in 2050 simply by switching all new car sales to EVs,” said Toyota CEO Akio Toyoda in a speech at the opening of the show. Indeed, given the huge number of older internal-combustion vehicles on the road, and the slow turnover rate of the global fleet, emissions from existing cars need to be targeted as well.

To show a couple of ways to keep existing cars on the road while still reducing emissions, Toyota showed off two eighties-era Corolla sports cars, known by their passionate fans as the “AE86.” One was powered by a hydrogen combustion drivetrain, and the other one with a full-electric setup. Both looked amazing and retro-cool, and help dispel fears that we won’t be able to drive the cars we love in a carbon-neutral future. On the contrary, CEO Toyoda – a passionate race-car driver himself – says that there is a carbon-neutral path that car lovers will be able to follow.

Back of of the AE86 H2 model.

AE86 H2 Concept

The first of the two AE86 concepts, the AE86 H2, is the most intriguing, partly because it is the most familiar. The AE86 H2 retains a four-cylinder combustion engine like the original AE86 Corolla, but in this application it burns hydrogen instead of gasoline. In place of a gasoline tank at the rear of the car, hydrogen is stored in two high-pressure tanks sourced from the Toyota Mirai fuel-cell vehicle, which is currently on sale in California.

This is not the first time that Toyota has showcased a hydrogen combustion vehicle. While most hydrogen cars use a fuel-cell stack to convert hydrogen gas to electricity, powering electric motors, Toyota thinks that hydrogen combustion has potential applications in commercial and consumer vehicles. The company has shown off race cars powered by hydrogen combustion, as well as a Corolla Cross with a hydrogen-powered four-cylinder.

What’s the advantage of retaining the complex combustion engine? The sound and specific responsiveness and power delivery that car enthusiasts love about older vehicles. The AE86 H2 provides the same analog thrills as a gas-powered vintage sports car, but with zero emissions.

Side profile of AE86 BEV

AE86 BEV Concept

The AE86 BEV, also painted in the iconic black-and-white of the original eighties Corolla sports cars, takes a more conventional approach to zero emissions driving. It is powered by an electric motor sourced from the Toyota Tundra hybrid pickup truck, paired with the battery pack from a Prius Prime plug-in hybrid. The truck-based engine provides amazing torque and power, while the Prime’s battery pack gives decent range, especially in a vehicle as light and compact as the AE86.

What’s interesting about the AE86 BEV is that it retains the stock manual transmission, giving its driver the opportunity to shift gears, just like in a vintage sports car. The manual transmission provides an additional layer of engagement for enthusiastic drivers, and answers critics that find electric cars a little too simple and easy to drive. The AE86 BEV’s engineers also tried to keep its weight distribution similar to the gasoline-powered AE86, which means it should retain the same excellent handling and nimbleness of the original.

Interior shot of the AE86

Other Sustainable Upgrades

Toyota looked beyond just the powertrains in these two concept vehicles. Interior parts, the seats and even the seatbelts are made from “rejuvenated” materials that feature a high percentage of recycled content. Other aftermarket partners have also contributed elements that contribute to their carbon neutrality.

Will Toyota bring these hydrogen and electric conversion kits to market? It’s hard to say, but many aftermarket companies have already started offering electric conversions for vintage sports cars like Porsche 911s, Jaguar E-Types, and Mini Coopers. An electric or hydrogen conversion could help keep beloved old cars on the road for longer – reducing the need to scrap them and replace them with a new vehicle.

A young couple admiring the forest and trees next to their RAV4 Hybrid

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