This COAL proved to be quite a challenge to write. While the Corolla was a perfectly fine car over two years of ownership, there wasn’t much happening in my life to create car memories and the car itself didn’t provide much in the way of excitement, good or bad.
Upon graduation from Clarkson in 1979 with a BS in Industrial Distribution and about 2.0 GPA, I accepted a great job offer (ahem, my only job offer) from a start up electrical contractor based in Syracuse. I found an apartment in downtown Liverpool, just a block from Onondaga Lake and just two blocks from Heid’s Hotdogs, a local favorite for generations.
My boss had a vision for how to grow his business which involved investing in computer based estimating to help manage material and labor takeoffs. This was just 3 years or so before IBM introduced their PC. Our computer was about the size of an early PC but the software was on something that looked like a shrunken 8 track tape. No monitor, the only output was to a Digital DECwriter. Input was through a measuring wheel, pen or 10 keypad. I guess he figured that a young college kid could pretty quickly learn how this new method worked if he didn’t have to forget all he knew about pencil and paper estimating. He was right, once I acquired a basic understanding of electrical construction, I became pretty adept at cranking out accurate estimates and winning bids.
While our business was based in Syracuse, we did projects all over New York. It became clear that my old Beetle was not going to be up to the task of job site visits on a regular basis, so I started looking for a new set of wheels. I found a low mileage, 1975 two door Corolla for sale nearby and went to take a look. The exterior was in great shape, a shade of red that Toyota called…red. The all black interior was likewise clean except for the driver’s seat back which was bent back at an awkward angle. One look at the somewhat overweight owner told me what happened there. Fortunately, he had already sourced a replacement seat back and it was stowed in the back, awaiting installation.
Coming from my ratty old Beetle, the Corolla was such a grown up car. The 1.6 liter, 2T-C engine was coupled to a slick shifting 4 speed manual transmission. Power ratings are hard to pin down but let’s call it 75 HP, a big upgrade over the Beetle. As noted in reviews of the time, the Corolla was a bit of a heavy weight, especially when compared to the VW Rabbit and the Datsun B210, but I appreciated that heft, it felt solid. Plus, a real trunk! I knew that while this would be a reliable car, it was old school technology with rear leaf springs and rear wheel drive. While more appreciated now that they are mostly gone, this wasn’t where the action was back in 1979, everyone was moving to FWD.
Mine was the third generation E30, about as basic as you could get in a Corolla. Also in the Corolla line up that year were the 4 door sedan, 4 door wagon, and the 2 door SR5 hardtop. Coming in just a bit later was the 2 door SR5 liftback. This was a period when Toyota was really growing US sales with a wide variety of products including the Celica, Corona, Mark II, Land Cruiser, HiLux pick up; in addition to the Corolla in all of its guises.
As was my way in those days, I started right away on exterior mods. The first was one of those pop up sunroofs that were all the rage. These could be had for less than $200 and, if I remember correctly, could be installed with just a saber saw and a screwdriver. It amazes me now to think of it, but there I was hacking a hole in the roof of my 4 year old Corolla. Apparently it went well because the roof never leaked and the dome light still worked. It did improve flow through ventilation which was important because I did not have A/C in that car.
At some point I started to have trouble with the engine running rough. I should have taken it to a dealer, but back then the nearest Toyota dealer was a bit of a hike from where I was living in Liverpool, so I turned to a recommended local garage. I had it in the shop several times before getting it sorted out. I do remember driving home from work while they were still trying to get it running smoothly. Coming down a slight grade, letting off the gas and hearing a big BOOM, followed by the sound of a car with no muffler. The shop was actually on my way home so I pulled in to have them take a look. We found my muffler had exploded like a grenade. They finally did get it running reasonably well. I always assumed it was the combination of pollution controls and a carburetor not playing well together. All I can say is thank heavens for fuel injection.
The car served me well, if not with much excitement. Things continued to grow in the contracting business and with that, commensurate pay increases. At the time, I was seeing a girl back at Clarkson, resulting in frequent trips up to Potsdam. Between those trips and job site visits, the Corolla really racked up the miles. In the spring of 1981 I started to think about buying my first new car. I enjoyed reading all the road tests and memorizing details about options, colors and such. I would stop in at the import dealers and pick up brochures, acquiring quite a collection. My next car was going to be front wheel drive and a top rated pick, but with a unique personality.