It seems that the MT Car of the Year and European Car of the Year could not have been more different; to wit, the Mustang II and W116 Merc S-Class: one a sporty, more Broughamy Pinto, and the other a big, solid sedan for captains of industry. What about Mr. Norman Normal of Tulsa? Well, how about a Toyota Corona?
Of course, the 3rd-gen model had already made serious inroads on the West Coast, but at the time was seldom considered by Elmer and Mildred of Sioux Falls: “A Toyota? What will the neighbors think? I can just hear Bob Roberts making jokes if we bought one: ‘Hey El! Didja get yer car with your new stereo set? Har har har!’ Then he’d drive off, laughing over Pat Boone on the 8-track, in his Fury III. No sir, we’re getting another Impala!”
Despite a few styling quirks, the 4th-gen Corona introduced in 1970 was much more in line with the other compacts in the U.S. market. But Toyota was learning what would and would not fly in the American market, and the company was getting pretty fast on its feet.
Personally speaking, I like the looks of the 3rd- and 4th-gen Coronas better, but to many Americans in the ’60s and the early ’70s, they were a little too “out there” and a little too small for folks used to Torinos and Chevelles. But one gas crisis later, a lot of new car buyers were taking a second look.
The Corona was in its fifth generation with the ’74 model which, whether intentionally or not, was much more familiar–and acceptable–looking to Middle America–and there was even a pillarless hardtop! Zackman, did you know this? The 5th-gen was also a bit bigger, gaining almost 3″ in its wheelbase and 6.5″ in overall length, although that might have been due in part to the federally-mandated battering rams.
The 5th-gen sedan was very inoffensive and not immediately identifiable as a Japanese car, what with its squared-off styling, forgettable taillights and, starting with the ’77 model, even a formal grille. I’m sure many new Coronas sported whitewalls, too. All the more to blend in.
Although a bit smaller than the domestic compacts, from a distance it could have passed for a Volare or Ventura, especially when equipped with a dealer-installed vinyl roof (ugh!). Naturally, with its modest 1,968cc SOHC I4, which produced 97 hp at 5500 rpm, it also got better fuel economy than both the Granada’s
300 200 or 250 CID six and even Ma Mopar’s vaunted Slant Six.
Inside, things were not too scary for Thorvald and Greta Samuelsson of Minnetonka. Look–a bench seat and column-shifted automatic! If you didn’t want to go quite that far down that road, buckets and your choice of a four- or five-speed floor-mounted stick were also available.
In addition, the 1974 Corona–whether unwittingly or not–rather effectively previewed a new wave of domestic compacts that included the three-box 1975 Granada/Monarch, Nova and friends, rust-tastic Aspen/Volare twins, and even the 1978 Fairmont and Zephyr.
True, the Big Three offerings were a bit bigger and a bit cushier, but they were also thirstier and, depending on what day of the week they were built, had assembly quality that could be anything from acceptable to shoddy.
Yes, Toyota was learning. There was even an über-Corona of sorts (though it shared few common parts), the Broughamy Cressida, which replaced the oh-so-JDM 1972-76 Corona Mark II (CC here). The woody wagon version was every bit as ’70s-faux-lux as a Plymouth Volare Premier wagon.
The only problem? Despite being well-built and reliable, Toyota still hadn’t quite licked the rust problem. But it was the gen-5 Corona that began the Americanization of Toyota’s lineup that led to today’s successful Camry, Avalon and Prius. And for that reason, it is my 1974 CCOTY.
The pictures of the green ’78 Corona and ’76 Cressida wagon are by Paul. The sedan’s CC can be found here.