COAL: 1987 Toyota Corolla – I’d Rather Walk

1987 Toyota Corolla

I am not a car snob–I’m really not. I am not sure someone could be a car snob with a Chrysler K-car, Ford Tempo and a few Lada Nivas in their ownership history, but I could not drive this Corolla.  I tried to make it my winter beater but could not get over the sheer dullness of the overall experience.  A crap car with character can be interesting, but without it…

While I had managed commuting just fine on a bicycle in the spring, summer and fall months, I did not relish the idea of winter riding.  Temperatures can reach -40 Fahrenheit occasionally, but perhaps more importantly, the snow and ice mean a higher possibility of injury.  As I was unwilling to subject my solid Mazda 808 to the ravages of winter driving, a beater of some sort was needed and with very little cash in my pocket, frugality would have to take precedence over curiosity or passion.

1987 Toyota Corolla as bought

I replied to an ad offering a 1987 Toyota Corolla for $150. This was not the cool rear wheel drive AE86 chassis Corolla, but the rather more workmanlike front drive AE82 sedan.  It was not a car I had any real interest in, but perhaps I would bond with it like my old Chrysler LeBaron.  Failing that, it would at least provide reliable transportation over the winter.  The car had rust which was at its worst on the roof, with an additional patch of rust-through behind the left front wheel.  The exhaust had rotted through a flex joint and a small rear quarter window was broken.  One of the rear tail lights was broken as well, but that was merely an excuse to visit the scrapyard.  It ran and drove so I bargained the price down to $80 and took it home.

1987 Toyota Corolla interior

As I drove home it struck me that this was a gobsmackingly dull car when equipped with the automatic transmission.  It seemed to suck half the available engine power: a slushbox indeed.  The car competently navigated corners but with absolutely no zest or enthusiasm.

1987 Toyota Corolla trunk

Usually with a scrap value automotive purchase, you are left with a messy car filled with all sorts of strange items.  My Scimitar had a vintage radar detector as well as some horse whips.  My Lada had some cheap tools and a pair of ladies underwear.  Sadly, the Toyota also failed to deliver any character on the found-items front, holding only an empty garbage bag, two bottles of glass cleaner, a half set of brakes pads and the factory tire wrench.  The partial set of brake pads immediately got me to check the front brakes, but both sides were decent and equally worn.

1987 Toyota Corolla dirty engine

The glass cleaner looked a little too suspect to use on actual glass and the engine was filthy, but…

1987 Toyota Corolla cleaner

…with some elbow grease and paper towels, the glass cleaner yielded an engine that no longer looked like an environmental disaster.  The single over head cam 1.6L 4A-C four cylinder engine allegedly made 90hp but to my butt dyno, it felt more like 70hp at the most (they made 74 horsepower-ED).  While still equipped a carburetor and a mass of vacuum lines, the engine actually ran quite well.

1986 Toyota Corolla

A visit to one of the nearby junkyards yielded a 1986 Toyota Corolla sedan that would be my parts donor.  It is a bit strange to pull parts out of a much nicer car than your ratty recipient at home.  The glass and taillight I needed were in good shape and set me back a grand total of $30.  I would have grabbed a front fender but it had enough rust to make me pass (brown paint can hide a multitude of sins).  I should have grabbed the exhaust flex joint but had not thought far enough ahead to do so.


The new-to-me bits were quickly installed on the car.  I also took the opportunity to weld in a bit of sheet metal to seal up the front fender (parts store rattle can paint matched surprisingly well).  A lick of leftover paint on the peeling rims had them looking semi-decent.


At this point, the Corolla was a fully functional but rather ugly vehicle.  The exhaust still needed to be sorted, but the proper replacement piece proved to be rather expensive.  I planned to take the car to the local muffler shop and get them to bodge something together and that is when it hit me: I did not like this car in any possible way.  It was crappy but not in a good, characterful way.  I decided that life is too short to drive something like this.  If I was going to be limping a beater through the next several months, it should at least be something I care about.  With that, I sold the Corolla on for a (very) modest profit and set my sights on a beater with a personality.