Curbside Classic: 1983 Toyota Carina (A60) ST – Folding To The Origami

It’s a great learning experience for a European such as yours truly to discover the many older JDM models that crop up randomly around Japan, as many are completely new to me. Take this humble Carina saloon, for instance. These were distributed in Europe back in the day, but I cannot recall ever seeing one before I found this saloon a few weeks ago. Perhaps some of you are discovering it too. As luck would have it, it also happens to be a rather nice car, if you appreciate ‘80s styling.

There was a time when all of Toyota’s car names started with a “C.” Your Crowns, your Coronas, Corollas, Celicas and so on. At the tail end of this alarmingly alliterative period came the Carina, which could be defined as the sedan/coupé/wagon version of the Celica, or a sporty version of the Corona.

The first generation Carina (A10/A30; top line, 1971-78) made it to North America, but only lasted a couple of years there. Carina the second (A40/A50; middle line, 1977-81) was markedly squarer and still shared its platform with the Celica, along with the Supra and the Camry. The third generation (A60; bottom line, 1981-88) was a continuation of the previous two – so much so that the difference between the A60 and its immediate predecessor, irrespective of body style, is pretty hard to make out.

The A60 Carina lasted a long time because the nameplate was transitioning to FWD. For a long while, i.e. five years, the Celica/Supra-based RWD Carina A60 saloon and van/wagon was sold directly alongside the Corona-based front-drive Carina T150 saloon (1984-88). It seems Toyota were doing this slow RWD fade-out in many segments in the ‘80s – the Corolla and the Corona certainly followed the same game plan.

The multiple trim levels available on the A60 were as mind-numbing as anything, but it was noted that the liftback coupé, which was the nameplate’s last foray into the sporty two-door body style, had even more trim options than the saloon. Our feature car wears its “ST” badging proudly, so we’re looking at a fairly high end Carina. Apparently, the ST was fitted with either an OHC 1.5 or a fuel-injected OHV 1.8, on the Japanese market, but which one is in our feature car is unclear.

Let us glance at the 1982 Carina JDM brochure to get at least a partial sense of the model’s various trim levels. There were additional ones available, including the 1600GT with the twin cam found in contemporary AE86s, as well as a 1.8 Diesel. The base-model vans, for their part, made do with a single-carb OHV 1.6. Lucky they didn’t export any of those “STDs” to English-speaking countries, eh?

I think my tastes might be changing, in my old age. As my avatar sort of hints at, I have a thing for the streamline modern era – the automobiles of late ‘30s and ‘40s have a special place in my fantasy garage, followed by the mid-’60s. And in said garage, the square-cut ‘80s boxes do not feature very prominently, if at all. But you know, a well-balanced (if boxy) design is still a good design and can look attractive, especially when it feels unfamiliar.

That said, the unfamiliarity also brings forth comparisons to similar shapes. In the case of this Carina, my first thought went to Talbot – somewhere between the Tagora and the Solara, to be more precise. Particularly that rear end, as well as the greenhouse, give me strong Talbot vibes. On the other hand, later A60 saloons (from spring 1984 onwards) switched to colour-coded bumpers, which would have changed the overall personality of this Carina pretty dramatically and would give it more of a Volvo feel.

The interior, on the other hand, is pretty far from the brittle ‘80s Talbots of my youth. Yet even in this supposed higher trim (not highest trim, though), you still had keep-fit windows and a manual transmission. The houndstooth-like upholstery is very period correct…

Now I know I’m only eyeballing this, that this photo isn’t angled all that well and the seats my well be pulled all the way back for whatever reason, but the rear legroom is downright stingy in this Carina, especially when factoring in the floor hump. But kudos for hitting 40 (soon) and looking this clean inside. Most of us can only look in envy…

These last RWD Carinas are definitely tastier than their bland successors, which still lasted for another four generations, all the way to 2001. It’s designs like this A60 Carina, the X70 Mark II / Cresta / Chaser or the Nissan Cedric / Gloria Y30 that might end up making yours truly reconsider his position vis-à-vis the straight-edge late ‘70s / early ‘80s origami school of automotive styling. Not quite there yet, but one day, as I discover more Carina-like designs, I could see myself folding.