CC Capsule: 1970 Toyota Corolla Sprinter (E17) 1200 SL – Off To A Running Start

Finding a first generation Corolla is always a (rare) occasion to wonder why Toyota, and Japanese carmakers in general, lost the vaguely Italian flavour in their ’60s styling. This is evident with today’s Sprinter coupé. From this angle, it could pass for a Fiat or some late ‘60s Bertone-bodied special. By the mid-’70s, Corollas looked more like slimmed-down Ford Pintos, sadly. However, Toyota did take the Sprinter name and ran with it for a long while, though the model’s initial mission statement did evolve over time.

When the E10 Corolla bowed for MY 1967, the main potboiler variant was to be the family-friendly saloon, as per usual – of the two-door variety, immediately upon the November 1966 launch. Toyota immediately complemented the lineup with a 4-door variant, as well as a 3-door van/wagon for the lucrative professional market. In early 1968, they finally added a direly-needed dose of glamour to the range with the Sprinter coupé.

So initially, the Sprinter was merely a sub-species of Corolla – the spicy version of a rather bland family car. Toyota kept that image alive pretty successfully over the next generations, but they also turned the Sprinter into its own nameplate, albeit one that was always a Corolla clone.

This started with the second generation (E20) that arrived in May 1970: the Sprinter now came in both four-door and coupé guise, to be sold by the Auto Store sales channel. The model’s initial role as the spicy two-door Corolla was to be filled by the Levin from 1972 onwards; the Sprinter equivalent became known as the Trueno. Eventually, the Sprinter blossomed into a fully-fledged range, including saloons, wagons and the like, as well as unique variants such as the Carib, lasting all the way to 2002 in its home market.

So this first-generation coupé is the only “Corolla Sprinter” that ever was, only produced for two years. Our feature car is a late model with the bigger 1166cc engine, introduced in September 1969. Given that this is the higher-trim SL, said engine has a twin-carb setup only seen on JDM Sprinters and churned out 77 or 78PS (not sure if net or gross, but better than the 65hp found in single-carb versions of the same 3KB motor).

Disc brakes were standard on the front wheels and the front suspension was also revised when the bigger engine was installed, so this is the first Corolla to have a slight performance edge to it. They also added a bunch of padding to the dash and a console around the Corolla’s trademark floor shifter.

Once again, we are faced with a 50-plus-year-old car that manages to appear like it just left the showroom floor. The single “5” numeral on the license plate also means that it’s wearing its original plates, as those gradually switched to two digits from 1967 to 1971 and presently (since 1999) have three. The only alteration seems to be the wheels, but those might be period-correct aftermarket. Either way, they do not detract to this Sprinter’s looks in the slightest.

The only problem with this CC was how difficult it was to photograph. Can’t really hold that against it, I guess. Otherwise, the Corolla E10’s delicate design, competent construction, bulletproof engine, this version’s sportier underpinnings and this particular example’s colour and presentation all work for me. And I know I won’t be the only one, so here it is, subjected for your approval.


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Curbside Classic: 1969 Toyota Corolla (E10) Deluxe Wagon – Little Car With A Big Future, by T87

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

Vintage Review: 1968 – 1970 Toyota Corolla – Smaller Bug Killer, by GN