CC Capsule: 1981 Toyota Corolla (E70) 1.5 GL Saloon – End Of Part One

I have a thing for the 4th gen Corolla. Unlike the 3rd, it actually looks good. I had a lot of seat time in the wagon version as a kid, so it’s a car that presses the nostalgia button. And it was the last gasp of the original RWD platform, which has to count for something.

About that last thing: it may be hard for us car nerds to believe, but there are people out there who claim, with a straight face, that the Corolla is “the most produced car in the world,” with “over 50 million units made since 1966” and all that. The Corolla’s Japanese Wikipedia entry says this right in the intro. Not gonna hide the fact that, as I was giving it a look to brush up on E70 basics, that passage kind of triggered me.

Fifty million and counting, eh? Why, that’s a lot more than the VW Beetle, the various iterations of the Fiat 124 or the Ford Model T. But it’s like saying the Mercedes 220 has been in continuous production since 1951. “Corolla” is a nameplate. The Beetle, the Model T and the 124 are actual models. The car featured here, for instance, has literally zero common parts with present-day Corollas.

There should be some gen 1 bits left over in this 4th gen car. For one thing, the smallest available engine on the E70, the K-series 1.3 litre, was a direct descendant of the 1.1 pioneered on the first Corollas. The 1.5 in our feature car is a newer engine though. However, the basic suspension layout (MacPherson struts up front and live axle in the back) was also common to all Corollas up to that point.

However, our feature car here, being a high-spec saloon, was granted a fancy new multilink and coils rear suspension, rather than its more basic siblings (and all vans/wagons), which kept the old cart springs. So it’s not even clear that the E70 saloon in this post has any direct DNA link to the ‘60s.

Broadly speaking, it could be said that the vast Corolla nameplate went through three epochs and is currently in its fourth. The first was the RWD era (gens 1 through 4, 1966-1983), the FWD era (gens 5 through 8, 1983-2000), the narrow/wide era (gens 9 through 11, 2000-2018) and today’s 12th generation, which might be called the Prius era. The first two are fairly self-explanatory, but the third merits a bit of clarification: from gen 9, Toyota made two Corollas, a narrower JDM version and a wider global one. This is still the case with gen 12, but the difference is much less noticeable now that the platform is shared with the Prius. Essentially, Japan adopted the wide version as of 2018.

Of course, these “eras” are a less clear-cut in their timeline than I made it appear. It took a long while for the RWD era to bow out, for instance: saloons switched over to the front-drive E80 platform in May 1983, but the RWD E70 van/wagon, as well as the legendary AE85/86 Corolla Levin/Sprinter Trueno coupés, kept the E70 bones alive and kicking till mid-1987.

The Corolla was (and still is) a highly successful and very complex family of cars, one of the great nameplates in automotive history. But adding up every one ever made is like totting up apples, oranges and a whole fruit salad’s worth of other produce.

As regards this E70 saloon, with its clean-cut, slightly Euro-infused design and DOHC engine, it’s one of the coolest JDM family haulers of its time. Definitely in my top three Corolla generations – well above both its unsavoury predecessor and rather bland successor. The first era ended on a high!


Related posts:


Curbside Classics: 1980 – 1983 Toyota Corolla – The Datsun 510 Doppelgänger, by David Saunders

Curbside Classic: 41 Years Of 1980 Toyota Corolla Ownership – 261K Miles, $500 In Repair Parts, by PN

Curbside Classic: 1981 Toyota Corolla Wagon: It Could Have Been My Previous Car, by PN

CC Capsule: 1981 Toyota Corolla 3-Door Wagon – Too Beige, Or Not Too Beige?, by T87

Curbside Outtake: 1981 Toyota Corolla – Old School Waldorf School Corolla, by PN

COAL: 1980 Toyota Corolla (E70) – One Last Stand for the Wounded Warrior, by Rich Baron