Curbside Classic: 1973 Toyota Carina – My CC Holy Grail

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There are about 250 million cars on the streets across the United States. Most have not reached Curbside Classic Status, and those that have are often “common” classics such as an SS Chevy or Mustang. In addition, the ravages of rust and time have driven car after car into the jaws of the recycling center. Because of this, our roads are littered with the popular, the common, and the new. Despite this challenge, each of us searches for their own Curbside Classic Holy Grail. It may be a very rare car, an unusual body style, or a car we remember from our youth. My personal Holy Grail is the Toyota Carina.

toyota carina ad

From 1972-74 Toyota offered this coupe alongside the Corolla and the Celica. Toyota based the Carina on the Celica chassis, but installed a Corolla 1588cc 2-TC engine under the hood (US-bound Celicas had the larger 2L 18R engine). This created a coupe with the sportiness of a Celica and the fuel economy of a Corolla with a price somewhere in between. However, it seems Toyota buyers chose economy or sportiness, and passed on the compromise.

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I never owned or rode in a Carina, but as a kid one parked in my neighborhood, and I liked its lines. The Carina had unusual tail lights that wrapped over the top of the rear fender, and grill mounted high beams inside the headlight bezels. While I wanted to find one for Curbside Classic, I knew they were rare as Hen’s teeth; few were sold, and 90% of them had dissolved into rust back in 1985.

However, living in Southern California, I knew I had a shot. Most of Toyota’s early sales were in California, and car bodies last for ever in this mild climate. Sure enough, several months ago a Carina crossed in front of me while I sat at a light on Redondo Beach Boulevard, but I could not take chase. While I whacked the steering wheel in frustration, my Holy Grail rolled off to the east.

 Bondo-bucket

But with time, I prevailed. My wife asked me to drive her to Starbucks this morning, and as I pulled up to the into the parking lot, I spotted this Carina. Of course, I had left both camera and phone at home, but Celeste offered to watch for the owner as I rushed back for the camera. To my relief, I returned to find the car still in place.

As you can see, this car is a true Curbside Classic. There are no signs of modifications outside the dealer installed trunk rack, and it still retains three of the factory wheel covers. Sadly, the car came equipped with a 2 speed Toyoglide automatic, so in addition to the smaller Corolla engine, power delivery is further hobbled by a power sucking torque converter and limited gear ratio options.

 interior

Inside, we see original door panels, typical Toyota door latch and lock hardware, and a watch cleverly mounted on the steering wheel. The exterior is complete, outside of a missing bumper guard. Both interior and exterior show signs of wear, but the exterior shows some signs of attempted restoration. In addition to the bondo adhered to the fenders, someone painted the grill the body color, since it came in a silver or argent shade from the factory.

That missing bumper guard and the structure underneath it indicates the car is a 1973, using the first generation of government mandated bumper protection. Toyota added large bumpers and shock absorbers to their 1974 models, and the cost of engineering these upgraded bumpers may have led to the Carina’s demise, given its low sales.

 The Holy Grail

How low? According to Ward’s Automotive Yearbook, Carina sales in 1973 barely moved the needle. Toyota’s three bestselling nameplates were: Corolla (116,905), Corona (61,305), and Celica (59,600). In comparison, only 15,008 Carinas sold, behind every Toyota except the Land Cruiser. If you’re curious, total Toyota US sales in 1973 were 326,844, compared to over 2 million in 2012.

Anyway, that’s what I know about the Toyota Carina. I’m delighted to share my Holy Grail with you this week- Some of you may have forgotten this obscure Toyota, and most of you haven’t seen one in many years!

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