CC Capsule: 1979 Toyota Corona – When RWD Still Ruled

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1979 Toyota Corona with 35,000 Miles!

Just the other day I was wishing to myself that one could buy a reasonably priced, rear-wheel-drive, manual transmission sedan with room for a family.  The 2015 Dodge Charger nearly fits the bill (except for the stick shift), but seems to be the only RWD car in its class.  Otherwise, you have to step up to a small “luxury car” like a Cadillac, Lexus, BMW or Mercedes.

And then today along came this 1979 Toyota Corona to remind me of the penultimate year when rear-wheel drive was the standard in the US, and only niche players or niche cars offered front-wheel drive.

In 1979, Toyota, unlike most makers, had already begun their transition to FWD, as documented so well by Paul.  1981 would bring both the K-Car from Chrysler and the X-Bodies from GM.  But in 1979 and 1980, front-wheel drive in the US was still mostly the purview of brands like Citroen, Saab, Honda and Subaru that had committed to front-wheel drive decades earlier.  The major exception of course would be Volkswagen, but their purchase of both NSU and Audi in a way puts them in the same camp, as years or decades of experience helped their transition to front-wheel drive.

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In the service lane, and drawing a crowd!

But in 1979, you could still buy a RWD car in most price ranges, and from makers from almost any continent!  And that leads to this incredible example, a 1979 Toyota Corona with 35,000 miles, original paint and an original interior that a nice, little old lady drove in to my car dealership (Jim Coleman Toyota, Bethesda, MD) today to attempt to sell!

I remember Corona’s mostly as wagons, as a buddy of mine had a Corona wagon in this color  that was a hand-me-down from his mother in 1985 when we both got our driver’s licenses.  I never had a chance to drive his car, but at the time it was the sort of car you only noticed for its weaknesses, like a loose headliner, and a bit of an echo-y cabin.  His mother had replaced the wagon with a 1984 Camry Sedan, and I remember it feeling leaps and bounds nicer.

1972 BMW Bavaria Sedan. - 1

Chevrolet Impala

Style inspirations for Toyota?

But looking at it today, I have a totally different impression!  It looks like a cross between a BMW Bavaria and a Chevrolet Impala.  Clean lines everywhere, no unnecessary adornment, and even a hint of the so-called Hofmeister Kink.

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 Clean, clear and original

The interior even manages to split the difference between a German interior and an american one, featuring a 4-spoke steering wheel and console mounted automatic, but including a speedometer that is almost horizontal, hinting at the american style speedo.

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Original interior looks cozy and comfy

A quick check of NADA reveals that a 1979 Corona had an starting MSRP of $6,099, a touch more than a Chevy Malibu ($5,180), a touch less than a Chevy Impala ($6,138) and about 60% the price of a BMW 320i ($9,735).  So in a relative way, it truly is what it was, a rear wheel drive Toyota Camry predecessor, as a Camry with a few features probably compares similarly to a Chevy Malibu, Chevy Impala and BMW 320i today.

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A nod to Brougham culture

The only component of the car that just sticks out and makes no sense to me, even while being cool to look at, are the real wire wheels!  But I guess in a way, they too bridge the gap between European cars like Jaguar and the wire wheel covers in vogue on American cars in 1979.

So all in all, quite a time capsule to take us back to what is in hindsight a very attractive rear-wheel drive Toyota.  Too bad I don’t even have 1/10th of the $10,000 this nice little old lady is asking for the car!