Coastside Classic Outtake: 1969 Toyota Corolla Wagon – Home Away From…No Home

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I was perusing my files for Toyotas I’ve shot but not posted when I stumbled into this gem of a find from two years ago, shot on a cliff overlooking the Pacific near Big Sur. It’s my first and only gen1 Corolla, and it’s still in regular use, by the same owner since 1984. So what was I waiting for? Toyota Week!

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Actually, I did show you one shot of it in my post about our trip on this stretch of Hwy 1.  And I promised to write it up soon. How many times have I said that? I have hundreds of cars shot and still awaiting their day of fame on CC.

Given that we just had several vintage reviews of the first generation Corolla the other day, I won’t repeat a lot of the details. The Corolla was a big step for Toyota both in Japan and the US, to expand the brand’s reach into the huge market for low-cost but quite functional transportation. And in the US, the Corolla’s task was to take on the VW Beetle, which id did with gusto.

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The Corolla’s success was explosive. In only its second year on the US market, it jumped right to the #2 position among import cars, behind the Beetle. And within a few more years, it leapfrogged right over it.

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There aren’t many of these left anywhere, and the most common explanation is rust. Well, that’s certainly part of it, and this Corolla, which has lived near the salt air of the Pacific all its life, is showing signs of that.

But I have another theory: let’s face it, the great majority of the old American cars that we find in nice original shape were “grandma cars”, driven gently by older folks, and eventually stored in a garage until they passed on. Or even longer. Except for the valuable wrecks that folks will pay big bucks to restore, most of the marginal ones fell by the wayside a long time ago, or are sitting somewhere rotting away.

Why does that include so few old Japanese cars? Because almost invariably the buyers of them in the 60s and 70s and even into the 80s were young, or young-ish. They bought them specifically because they wanted reliable transportation for their commutes, and the cars racked up miles fast and furiously.

Toyotas made their reputation in California as freeway commuter cars; who doesn’t want the most reliable car possible when you have an hour or more commute every day? There weren’t a whole lot of old folks buying Toyotas back then, to pamper and keep safely in the garage for 30 years. Toyotas were run into the ground, one way or another. But I’m sure 20 years from now there’ll be plenty of pristine Camrys to be inherited from grandma.

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There was obviously a driver sitting in this Corolla wagon, enjoying the view. So I went up and introduced myself and explained my interest. I remember her name—Gwen. And that she bought it in 1984. And that she was clearly living out of the Corolla—she was having a meal at the time. The passenger side seat was gone to make room for a slender bed down the length of the Corolla. And something about living in someone’s back yard? And being on the road a fair amount of time as a consequence, in her Corolla.

Well, if you’re going to be homeless, she picked a good spot and a pretty durable automotive companion.

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We had a pleasant chat, and enjoyed the spectacular vistas, and then parted company. I hope she finds a permanent abode before her Corolla dissolves, although at this rate, that might yet be a while.