It was high noon in the sweltering humidity of the city of Tokyo (or was it Bangkok?). I trundled along, whistling a merry tune (sweating so much I could barely keep my feet in my flip-flops) and came across a lovely (God-awful) early model Toyota Corona T130. Here it was, a grey sedan (green Liftback), nicely tucked away in a parking lot (parked sideways on the street). What a sight (for sore eyes).
I won’t keep this double-narrative thing going longer, to everyone’s relief. I simply have far more pictures of the Bangkok wreck than of the Tokyo minter. C’est la vie. Still, it’s an occasion for me to re-acquaint myself with my old stomping grounds, where complete write-offs could just be left in the street to rust. Unimaginable in Japan.
Just for the sake of contrast, here’s the Tokyo sedan again. It’s had a few minor mods – most notably, all the rear badges have been taken off, so I cannot say for sure what its trim or engine is. It seems like the JDM Corona had the full polyurethane bumpers on the 2-litre models only, so it might be one of those. The Thai Liftback, unsurprisingly, is a 1600 and has the botox bumpers. They always did have their way of doing things down in Southeast Asia…
Here’s the full Corona T130 range, in JDM spec. The sedan, wagon/van and coupé debuted in September 1978. The novel Liftback arrived a month later (the one shown here is a post-August 1980 facelift model). Though it kept the previous generations’ engines and general RWD layout, the T130 Corona was a completely new platform, but still a fairly conservative car in all respects.
Suspensions were standard Toyota fare for the ‘70s – MacPherson struts at the front and a five-link coil-sprung live axle at the back, except the wagon and taxi models, which kept the cart springs. Front disc brakes were fitted to all cars except the taxis; the fancier models got rear discs as well. In Japan, your choice of a 1.6, a 1.8 or a 2-litre engine could be mated with anything from a 3-speed manual (on the tree, for the base-spec 1600 only) to a 5-speed floor shift (standard on the 2000), as well as 3- or 4-speed auto. Australian-made Coronas got a Holden-sourced 1.9 instead of a Toyota mill, just to add a touch of local discolour.
This unfortunate Liftback was sitting near Bangkok’s main train station, in the old town. It’s not an area I frequented all that much when I lived there, but seeing a rusty wreck in Bangkok is not unusual. I had the occasion to spot a fair few, but they were usually stashed in tiny side alleys or hiding under overpasses. This one was just sprawled on a large street, which was a bit strange.
It sure didn’t look like it had just appeared there overnight. I was tempted to dial the phone number and ask something along the lines of “Dude, what happened?” In fairness, this car’s sorry state could be the result of being in Bangkok for 40 years. Six months of monsoon and six months of unrelenting sunshine – that takes its toll after a few decades. You should see what it does to humans.
But this Corona also more than its fair share of blunt force trauma. The front end had a nasty run-in with something that didn’t agree with it. But a more unusual battle scar was on the roof, which had a puddle on it, for crying out loud. That wasn’t on the factory options list as far as I know, but here we are. Moonroof? Try poolroof. That’s foolproof.
The interior, as you’d expect, has seen better days. Perhaps the cheapo sports steering wheel and the bottle of Leo beer on the floor give us an indication of how it came to be parked this way. This seems to be a pretty low-spec car: wind-up windows, big horizontal tach, manual transmission, no radio, probably no A/C, 1.6 litre engine. Almost certainly bought new in Thailand.
The contrast with the Tokyo car is pretty radical. Acres of plastic wood, lashings of round dials, non-original seats, two sets of music playing devices (not that this is the original set-up, but still nice that the owner kept the old radio when he put in a CD player). And there are similarities, such as the aftermarket wheel and manual transmission – only this one is a 5-speed. I’d call it a spotless interior, but that leopard print carpet… ugh…
I captured this Corona a few paces away from the ’58 Datsun I posted a few days ago. As was the case with that one, this Toyota was parked pretty tightly and hard to access. It was impossible for me to get a decent shot of the front – this is all I could manage.
Our sedan is a drifter’s car, clearly. These Coronas are good candidates for this sort of hobby. I imagine this one, with its pristine yet discreet exterior, must have a few modifications underneath and/or under the hood, too. At least it doesn’t have a stupid-looking exhaust like that unloved Thai rustback.
The rear end reminded me of the Peugeot 604 I was ferried in as a kid. The Hofmeisteresque kink in the rear door gave this car a bit of a BMW E12 vibe as well, in ¾ rear view. Boxy, conservative and slightly derivative though it may be, this generation of Coronas is still a pretty decent stab at a world car – infinitely more successful than its arch-rival the Nissan Bluebird, in any case.
Speaking of which, I caught this Corona at the same time as I bagged the bronze 811 Bluebird I wrote about a few weeks ago. There was also a Mitsuoka Galue I on that blessed parking lot, which has also graced this website with its disturbing presence. With the Datsun 1000, that made for four CCs in one go. I know the Japanese are nothing if not efficient, but this was crazy. Do CCs come in batches? The answer is yes, if you’re lucky.
The Liftback was not lucky, though. It seems it didn’t do all that well in the marketplace, either. When Toyota introduced the new generation T140 Corona in January 1982, the lineup was down to three body styles – sedan, hardtop coupé and wagon. The T130 was the last Corona to be sold in the US, where it lasted until the end of 1982, and was built for a bit longer in Australia. It was also assembled in Indonesia for a while, but instead of switching to the T140, the local Toyota branch made do with the X60 Mark IIs until the new FWD Corona T150 platform arrived in 1983.
The T140 and T150 overlapped for several model years on the JDM, so the mid-‘80s Corona became a strange mixture of RWD and FWD cars that looked nothing alike. Corollas were also in the process of evolving to a front-drive layout in that period, and the switch was just as confusing, with coupés clinging to RWD while sedans went FWD. I don’t know if Toyota thought this made sense to anyone in Japan, but it certainly didn’t make for a very clear strategy from an outsider’s perspective.
It’s like Toyota’s branding policy at the time: no “Toyota” logo as such, but one emblem for each model. Creating an emblem with a “C” was not the cleverest idea when your lineup includes the Crown, the Corona, the Corona Mark II, the Cresta, the Chaser, the Century and the Corolla, if you C what I mean.
Of course, they put “Corona” scripts on the cars as well, but I’m still not convinced by their strategy, assuming they ever had one. This kind of model emblem weirdness continues to this day on the JDM, too, though it’s become less consistent – nowadays, some Toyota domestic models wear the global corporate badge, but certainly not all.
But at least the T130 was the first to abandon the ridiculous “Toyopet” moniker that had been on the JDM Coronas since the ‘50s. And it was the last straightforwardly RWD generation of Corona, unlike the subsequent T140 / T150 double act. Too bad the owner of the green Liftback likely didn’t appreciate his decrepit banger’s place within Toyota’s history. The guy who owns the Tokyo drifter, on the other hand, certainly seems more mindful of this 40-year-old dame’s hidden potential.
CC Capsule: 1979 Toyota Corona – When RWD Still Ruled, by Matt Spencer
CC Capsule: 1979-83 Toyota Corona (T130) Wagon – Mint Mediocrity, by William Stopford