Convertibles, for many, have always been a symbol of the “Good Life”, especially in the United States. Before the widespread popularity, affordability and availability of air conditioning in mainstream cars, dropping the top in warmer weather was the ultimate for cooling off in a velocity-assisted breeze. Convertibles have historically sat near (if not at) the top of a particular model line’s pricing tier. I find it interesting, with Toyota’s conservative image in present day, to think that there were once several independent coachbuilders that served up convertible versions of the Corolla. Our featured car was a conversion done by Matrix3 out of Costa Mesa, California.
When you think about Corollas of recent memory, what adjectives come to mind? Try to be objective. Years ago, my older brother and his family had a 2003 Corolla sedan in dark blue. It was a pragmatic choice of a functional, logical, sensible, not-unattractive car that was also, perhaps most importantly, dead-reliable. It was also the epitome of boring. It was listening-to-NPR-News-on-a-warm-summer-Saturday-night boring. It was two-hour-conference-call-at-nine-AM-on-a-Monday-morning boring. It was, however, the perfect car for my brother’s family and their needs at that time, and it never, ever left them stranded or dissatisfied with its abilities.
Imagine that just about twenty years prior to the date of manufacture of my brother’s car there was actually a Corolla that was somewhat glamorous after having been given a convertible makeover – in California, the Land Of The Sun, no less. The years between the mid-70’s and the early-80’s were mostly a barren wasteland for the once-popular convertible. After the last, new ’76 Eldorado drop-top had been used by a Cadillac dealership as an evil tool for price-gouging, there wouldn’t be another domestic, company-authorized convertible until model year ’82, when Lee Iacocca brought one back to Chrysler showrooms in the form of the petite, origami-styled, K-platform LeBaron.
Soft-top versions of the Buick Riviera, Chevy Cavalier, Ford Mustang, Pontiac Sunbird, and a few others soon followed. In the convertible’s truly dark times in the U.S. between 1976 and ’82, there were conversions performed by the likes of Griffith (Toyota Celica Sunchaser, AMC Eagle Sundancer) and the outfit that performed the surgery on our featured Corolla, Matrix3. I could not actually find much information on Matrix3 online, though it was not for lack of trying. I did find a Matrix3 Corolla brochure for sale, but… nope, sorry. Not at that price, and not just for this piece. Please try to bear with me.
I thought the venue in the background of our featured car was a fitting one. The Aragon Ballroom is located in Chicago’s Uptown district, which was an area that was a hot spot for entertainment (jazz clubs, theaters) from the turn of the last century through about the 1950s. The Aragon opened in 1926 and was a popular dance hall with live, Big Band orchestras performing in the 1940s and ’50s. Lawrence Welk and his orchestra performed here, live on WGN Radio. (Don’t laugh… I grew up watching “The Lawrence Welk Show” on weekends with my family, as a third-generation viewer. I have both a soft spot and genuine respect for LW.)
Through the years and a series of other uses for the Aragon, including a rock concert venue, a roller skating rink, and a large discotheque, its most current reinvention is, again, as a concert venue for popular acts. Similarly, our sporty, red Corolla SR-5 (from the E70 series that ran from between 1979 and ’83) had been reimagined as a zippy, upper-tier funmobile, simply by virtue of its being a convertible – and a great-looking one, at that. The temporary absence of new convertibles from the U.S. market seemed to have made the hearts of Americans grow fonder, as many makes added one to their stable as the ’80s progressed. Again, I couldn’t find any pricing info on the Matrix3 Corolla, but I’d be willing to bet the convertible originally listed for at least half-again over the sticker price of a loaded SR-5 notchback. Our featured car was not an inexpensive new-car purchase.
Today, the Corolla is offered in only one bodystyle – naturally, the one that makes the best sense: a four-door sedan. It comes in nice exterior colors, like “Slate Metallic” and white. It’s the largest Corolla yet, being roughly the same size as the third-generation, U.S. Market Camry (the 1992 – ’96 XV10). It is commodious, sensible, inoffensively-styled, and imminently practical. I salute owners of these cars for their demonstration of sound logic. The new Corolla is the “dad jeans” / “mom jeans” of the current crop of compact cars.
The new Corolla also stands in direct contrast with the sportiness, fun spirit, and downright whimsy displayed in our featured car. It is also a fact of life that unless you are Peter Pan, everybody and everything must eventually “grow up”. As for me, and as opposed to the Corolla’s trajectory, I hope to maintain as much of my youthful energy for as long as I can. Here’s to my avoidance of succumbing to dad jeans for as long as possible. Here’s also to our featured car – a fine exhibit of once upon a time when there existed a Corolla that was actually a little sexy.
Uptown, Chicago, Illinois.
Saturday, April 23, 2016.
- From David Saunders: Curbside Classics: 1980 – 1983 Toyota Corolla – The Datsun 510 Doppelgänger;
- Jason Shafer: Curbside Classic: 1981(ish) Toyota Corolla SR-5 – So, Do You Want It Now Or After Breakfast?; and
- Tatra87: CC Capsule: 1981 Toyota Corolla 3-Door Wagon – Too Beige, Or Not Too Beige?.