In-Motion Classic: 1972 Toyota Corona Mark II – One In A Million

1972 Toyota Corona Mark II

Sometimes interesting cars appear in unlikely places.  My wife snapped these pictures while chaperoning our daughter’s band trip in Salem, Massachusetts.  She knew the car was interesting, but wow – this is a car I haven’t seen in decades, and rust-prone New England isn’t where I’d imagine one to be driving down a city street.  A one-in-a-million encounter… in more ways than one.

Interestingly, Salem once played a bit part in Toyota’s history.  In 1972 – around the time our featured car was new – a Salem Toyota dealer sold a red Corolla wagon to a local couple.  What seemed like an ordinary transaction, though, was made more interesting because Toyota declared that car to be the company’s one millionth US sale.  The lucky couple were treated to a ceremony, as well as engraved watches and a free London vacation.  But Toyota itself was the real winner.  The company had made it big.  And the Corona Mark II was part of that success.

1960 Toyopet ad

Toyota began exporting vehicles to the United States in 1958.  Unfortunately, the Toyopet was poorly matched to the US market.  Within a few years, Toyota suspended US passenger car sales for several years (though Land Cruisers remained).  In hindsight this was an effective strategic retreat.

In 1965, Toyota returned, this time with the Corona, a better vehicle, and one developed in large part to American tastes.  Coronas sold much better than the Toyopet, and Toyota sought to build on that success by expanding into a wide range of cars – à la American brands.  The Corolla debuted as their small model – meanwhile the Corona Mark II edged Toyota into the burgeoning “intermediate size” market.

1970 Toyota Corona Mark II ad

A bit larger, flashier and better appointed than Toyota’s other products, the Mark II brought the qualities that consumers noticed in the smaller Corona to a larger car that could accommodate a family, or even a full load of adults in relative comfort.  Few would have guessed at the time, but this car set the stage for generations of Toyota’s mid-market descendants.

1971 Toyota Corona Mark II ad

Performance was respectable as well.  Power came from a 108-hp, 1.9-liter four-cylinder engine that was able to move the 2,300-lb. Toyota to 60mph in about 14 seconds.  While not stellar by today’s standards, as Road & Track noted in a 1970 road test, the Mark II was “in a dead match with its competitors for performance.”  Numerical performance, however, told only part of the story.  The Mark II’s engine was blissfully quiet, its shifter smooth and handling responsive.  In short, a prelude for Toyotas to come.

Another Corona Mark II attribute was value.  The five-passenger Mark II came standard with reclining bucket seats, full carpeting… and numerous little details that Toyota became famous for.  Amusingly, when Road & Track tested the Mark II, they griped that some of the trim was “a bit pretentious.”  Toyota didn’t want to be accused of being too soulless, so there were a few ’70s-style flourishes inside and out.  Most buyers weren’t put off by them.  Overall, Toyota struck a good balance between style and functionality.

1972 Toyota ad

Customers found this a compelling package.  While early US Toyota sales are not available broken down by model, total US sales increased from 72,000 in 1967 to 295,000 in 1972 – increasing fourfold over the first-generation Mark II’s model run.  Mark II’s weren’t the only reason for this success: Corollas, Coronas, Celicas and others all played a part.  In retrospect, the Mark II is perhaps most interesting because in later decades Toyota mastered the art of selling mid-size cars to North Americans.  The Mark II provided a successful start.

1972 Toyota Corona Mark II

R&T did suggest that the Mark II’s 13-inch tires were undersized – something this owner took care of by replacing them with 14” 1980s-era Supra wheels.  It’s a complimentary look that emphasizes the car’s sportiness.  Incidentally, this isn’t the first Mark II with Supra wheels to appear at Curbside Classic, as this green sedan written up ten years ago sported the same look.

1972 Toyota Corona Mark II

I’m glad to have these fleeting pictures of such a rare survivor.  The Corona Mark II was a stylish, well-built car that offered customers a solid value.  Its main legacy, however, was setting the stage for Toyota to achieve great success with future products.  That one millionth Toyota sold in Salem 50+ years ago was a milestone, but to put that in perspective, the company now achieves more than 2 million US sales annually.  Those legions of Camrys, Priuses and others owe a debt of gratitude to the Corona Mark II.


Photographed in Salem, Massachusetts in April, 2024.  Many thanks to my wife for taking these photos.


Related Reading:

1970 Toyota Corona Mark II: Stodgy, Thy Name Is Toyota   Paul Niedermeyer

1970 Toyota Corona Mark II: Heritage For Sale   Perry Shoar

1971 Toyota Corona Mark II: Some Things Never Change   Paul Niedermeyer