CC Capsule: 1987 Toyota Corolla – The Working Woman’s Hard-Working Car of Choice Retires to Eugene

(first posted 11/23/2017)        To properly understand the Corolla, and why it has perpetually been so successful, one needs to spend a couple of hours driving the freeways of Los Angeles. You will see innumerable Corollas from new to 20 years old or so, being driven by working women; in particular, immigrant working women. The kind of women who clean houses and offices, provide care-giving to kids, the disabled and old folks, cook, sew clothes, make things, sell things, and do so many of the other essential jobs that keeps life flowing for the folks that don’t drive Corollas. They may well drive several hours each day to and from their workplace, and they are often the primary or sole providers for their children.

These women are practical and thrifty, and they absolutely need the most reliable and economical transportation that exists. And they found it, starting back in the 1980s, in the form of the Corolla, like this first generation FWD version.

Of course working women of a different sort had already discovered the Corolla in the 70s and early 80s, like my administrative assistant at the TV station in LA. She had been driving an early 70s Nova coupe, which was actually a pretty tough and relatively reliable car for her. But its V8 sucked gas, and it was aging quickly from the daily freeway grind. In 1984, she ditched the old Chevy and bought a Corolla sedan just like this one, the first year with FWD.

Now given all the horrible disasters that GM had with its big switch to FWD with their 1980 X cars, and the various degrees of fragility and lack of proper development the new FWD cars from Ford (Escort, Tempo) and Chrysler (K-Cars) had in their first year or two, one might well have given pause to buying a first year all-new FWD Corolla. But no worries, it’s a Corolla. These were every bit as good on day one as their RWD predecessors had been after 20 years in production. Nobody but Toyota could pull that off.

Patti drove that Corolla for quite a few years, and her commute got drastically longer after we started the new station out in Glendale. But her Corolla was absolutely flawless for some ten years, and then she sold it to one of the Latino cleaning women at KVEA, who drove it for another ten years. And she let the other hundreds of thousands of Latino women in Southern California in on her secret. And now they all drive Corollas.

And where do they buy their Corollas? At Longo Toyota, by far the world’s largest Toyota dealer every year since 1967, and owned by Penske since 1985. It’s a giant 21 acre campus with 650 employees. They sell some 3,000 cars per month, and they have the highest percentage of Corolla sales of any Toyota dealer. Why bring this up? Unless one understands the priorities of So. Cal. car buyers, and the vastness of the place, and the priorities of its drivers, it’s not always easy to understand how Toyota became so big, so fast in this country, starting right here in LA. Toyota’s focus on ultra-reliable and economical transportation devices was the perfect fit for Southern California. And like everything that first starts in California, the rest of the country discovered Toyota too, with a few exceptions.

And it’s not just Corollas and working women; the same applies to the Camry, except that its demographic was a bit more upscale; it became the freeway warrior’s car of choice for the folks whose cleaning woman arrived in a Corolla. Of course in recent years things have gotten a bit fuzzier with those folks, in terms of their car buying preferences. But in the 80s and 90s and into the aughts, the Camry (and Accord) were the cars of choice for office/cubicle workers, again due to their unbeatable reliability, as well as guaranteed high resale value due to the demand for them from the other demographic. Yes, used Camrys and Accords are also coveted by the working women in LA, even if they already have several hundred thousand miles on them. The mild climate and freeway driving means that they’re still in the prime of life.

This vintage Corolla is of course too old now for the daily freeway grind, but here it is living out its later years in Eugene, like so may of us California transplants. Now we too have a more leisurely life, live close to the center of town, walk and ride our bikes more here, and we mostly clean our own houses.

And now the old Corolla only gets used when need be. Although this vintage is getting a bit scarce, it undoubtedly has another decade or so of Eugene living ahead of it.

Corolla: the car of choice for hard-working, hard-driving women in LA and leisurely/part-time/barely/not-at-all working hardly-ever-driving Eugenians. A car of many talents, for those that absolutely need to drive and those that would rather not drive at all.