CC Capsule : 1988 Toyota Corona Coupé (T160) 2.0 GT-R – Identity Crisis

Here we go for another JDM parallel universe oddball, this time in two-door form: the curious case of the Celica notchback that got facelifted and rebranded as a Corona. Was that sufficient to really turn it into a Corona, whatever that actually means? In hindsight, probably not.

The early ‘80s saw Toyota’s range, hitherto quite conservative, overcome with a wave of Front-drivitis. Near the apex, the brand new Camry / Vista went FWD in 1982. The lowest rung of the range, the Starlet, changed over in 1984. The Corolla / Sprinter lost its floor hump more gradually from 1983 onwards, as did the Carina / Corona. Yet the new FWD Corona T150, sold alongside the RWD T140 for several years, did not initially include a two-door variant.

Then, in 1985, the Celica succumbed to the FWD epidemic and re-aligned itself with the Carina / Corona, just as it always had been, as the T160. Abroad, the new Celica was available as a notchback, a hatchback and ultimately a convertible. Toyota felt that the notchback would sell better on the JDM if it were marketed to a more mature clientele – one that did not go for the Celica’s racy hidden headlamps.

Thus the Corona Coupé came to be. It would remain a JDM exclusive, offered initially with three engine options (a 1.6, a 1,8 and a 2-litre) and five trim levels. The 1.6 was deleted after the mid-cycle refresh in 1987 and the SOHC 1.8 was replaced by a twin cam the next year.

Our feature car is a late-model GT-R, the highest trim with the most powerful engine, the 3S-GE. This engine was available in the US market Celica GT-S, where it provided 135hp. In Japan though, different emissions regulations meant that the same 1998cc block could churn out 160hp.

This car lacks license plates, which means it’s probably going to be chopped up in due course – yes, even in this condition. Heartbreaking!

Looks mighty tight back there. But hey, if you wanted space for the kids, the Corona saloon was just a few meters away within the same Toyopet Store.

The T160 Corona Coupé counts as one of Toyota’s rare missteps on their home turf – and it happened during a decade of unmitigated success. It replaced the RWD T140 Corona Coupé, which was a rather sweet-looking (if a bit origami-esque) genuine hardtop, but failed to elicit anything near the same level of interest.

Between August 1985 and September 1989, the Corona Coupé only tallied just under 35,000 units in Japan. That was during a massive expansion of the economy, a time when Corollas, Crowns, Mark IIs, Soarers and Supras were positively flying out the dealerships in their thousands every week.

This goes some way to explain why the Corona Coupé died without issue. Would the story have been different had it been called a Celica and had a different front end? Changing tack, Toyota decided to create the Corona Exiv hardtop sedan to spruce up the Corona range. It was a somewhat more successful gambit than this T160 Coupé, though in the final analysis, the historic Corona nameplate itself was found to be disposable. As was this particular car, unfortunately.


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Curbside Classic: 1988 Toyota Celica GT – Oh What A Feeling!, by Brendan Saur