Last time I found and wrote up on of these oddball mini “hardtops” was a rather tired white Corolla Ceres. And I didn’t really have any words of praise for it. By contrast, there was a previous piece on this Toyota penned by Brendan Saur that was rather more positive. Well, finding this very well-preserved early model Sprinter Marino in a very fetching shade of red has caused me to mollify my position.
Sometimes, all it takes is finding a particular model of car in the right kind of light and in better nick than the previous time. This happened to me several times – most recently with the “Pagoda” Benz. Happening upon this Sprinter Marino similarly made me re-assess my position about this curious and curvaceous JDM-only sub-breed of the Corolla E100.
There are a few minute differences in trim between the Corolla Ceres and the Sprinter Marino. One of those is the taillights: the Ceres’s are plain, whereas this Marino’s stripy items give the rear end a little more character. This went away with the late ’94 facelift, so it’s really lucky this particular car and I crossed paths.
The Ceres / Marino twins were launched in the spring of 1992, just as the Japanese economy imploded. As such, they were planned during a time of plenty but actually had their career during a major downturn. One hears echoes of the grand 8- and 12-cyl. cars that appeared in 1930-32 on both sides of the Atlantic and flopped majestically, for the most part, leaving a trail of dead carmakers in their wake…
The Ceres / Marino isn’t quite that egregious a mistiming, to be honest. The cars, built by the exclusive Kanto Auto Works (makers of the Century, among other Toyota specials), were peddled throughout the ‘90s (until October 1998 for the Marino; the Ceres stocks took an extra 14 months (!) to be cleared), during which time sales went from bad to worse. But at least they were based off of the Corolla, i.e. Toyota’s perennial best-seller, even during hard times. Make that especially during hard times.
The Ceres and Marino combined only tallied 220,000 units. The 1991-95 Corolla E100 saloons, as seen above, clocked in at 677,000. That’s just the Corolla version’s domestic sales – the Sprinter saloons would have probably scored similar results. Even the van/wagon version of the E100 Corolla, which had an extremely long life (until 2002) did very well also, as it became the default Japanese family and business hauler.
When the next generation Corolla/Sprinter saloon took over in 1995, the Ceres/Marino merely received updated engine options, including the 165hp “black top” 1.6 litre 4AGE that was exclusive to the 1997-98 Marino, but did nothing to prevent the nameplate’s demise. Too little, too late, not to mention too expensive and too cramped.
Never mind, I was going to take a positive tack on this car. There’s that nice rotund rear end again. This blobby shape is sort of growing on me with time. Must have that looked at.
The real eye-catching feature here is that maroon paint job. Far too many JDM cars from that era were either white or gray – anything that deviates from the norm is a good thing. And this rather pointless (but interesting) “hardtop” definitely was a deviation from the Corolla bread-and-butter four-doors that came before, during and after it.