Curbside Classic: 1984 Toyota Corolla Diesel – Latecomer To The Diesel Party

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Toyota is an interesting company. Sometimes, they’re comfortable being pioneers, as with their hybrid technology. But when it comes to their bread-and-butter cars, they lean to the conservative. This Corolla represents that doubly: Not only was Toyota late in switching the top-selling Corolla to FWD with this generation (E80) in 1983, but they were also rather late for the diesel party. In fact, they pretty much missed it, as this quite rare Corolla diesel attests to. It’s still looking for it…

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The VW Rabbit/Golf Diesel (CC here) self-ignited the small-car diesel soiree, back in the fall of 1976. During the historic run-up in fuel prices in 1980-1981, Diesel Rabbits were fetching 50-100% premiums in LA. Everyone rushed to get into the game, including GM, in a big way. The Great American Diesel Boom was underway.

But Toyota was a bit late out of the gate, and by the time their 1C 1839cc four arrived here in the Corolla in 1984, fuel prices were sinking, and the Olds diesel fiasco helped close the chapter rather abruptly. After just two years in the US, the Corolla Diesel was history.

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The 1C engine was Toyota’s first modern diesel engine, appearing first on a JDM-only Starlet in 1979. It was also available in the US on the gen1 Camry (CC here), including a turbo-charged version. I can’t remember ever noticing one, but I take it for the truth.

The version in the Corolla made 58 hp, which was better than the Diesel Rabbit by a good measure. It had excellent EPA numbers (adjusted): 33-43-37, a 28% improvement over the gas engine. But as gas prices sunk, that just didn’t ignite any interest. Who knows how many were ever sold in the US.

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This generation Corolla was a very important one, in making the giant leap to a modern FWD configuration. Unlike most American cars that almost inevitably suffered initially from making the same transition, the all-new E80 Corolla never wavered one iota from its bullet-proof rep, despite truly being an all-new car. Take that, Detroit!

If anything, the E80 Corollas even improved upon its already well-developed rep as being the low-cost way to go for driving a small sedan over the longer haul, especially at the higher commute mileages that were common in CA, thanks to its reliability and excellent resale value which typically more than offset its higher upfront purchase cost. There was a reason the Corolla developed its rep, and these are the cars that cemented it.

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This particular car is not only unusual for having the diesel, but also because of its hatchback body style.

Toyota Corolla 1984

 The notchback sedan (above) was much more to Americans’ taste in the mid eighties. The hatchback era and the diesel era ended about the same time. But the hatchback was the preferred body in the rest of the world, so I’m sure it will look familiar to you non-Yanks.

For us, this is a rather unusual outsider, in more ways than one. Dang, it’s hard to peel off a shot without another CC getting in the way.

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