(first posted 10/27/2017) I had a friend who was a real wine connoisseur. One of the best pieces of information I remember him giving me about purchasing fermented grape juice was to always avoid exported Italian wine because, according to him, “They keep all the good stuff and drink it.” There are exceptions of course, but by and large, I have found this to be pretty sound advice. Likewise, one could argue that Toyota kept all the good stuff for the Japanese Domestic Market. This Corona hardtop coupé is a case (of wine) in point.
Just look at it! It’s got one of the sharpest suits this side of the Adriatic and a 130 PS twin cam 4-cyl. with a five-speed manual driving the rear wheels. Chrome has not been completely eradicated yet, and the C-pillar’s not clad with plastic – it’s the early ‘80s at their best, the last wild designs before conformity set in, the final fling with flair, the one for the road.
Angular? No, gaijin-san, those are the dying embers of the disco era’s passion for the wedge and the straight line, but with a hint of curves still bending a corner here and there. The bouquet is fragrant, with spicy notes – vanilla is already present in this vintage, but not overpowering. Drink young, perhaps with one companion, but not more, as they won’t fit in the back seat.
Surely you know the Corona T140. You, reading this in Australia, Brazil, Germany or the US, you remember the last RWD Coronas – but they were never like this. They were as boring as the Italian wine you bought at the supermarket the other day. Capable cars, yes, but devoid of style, a million miles form this classy JDM coupé. Coronas of that generation, as far as you were concerned, were wagons or saloons – something like this:
So you do remember. When did you see one last? You might not remember that, as few are still around – though one was featured on CC a while back, and another one quite recently, hidden amongst a herd of Corollas. The crafty product planners at Toyota must have gathered after hours at a smoke-filled salary-man watering hole in Nagoya, saying something like: “Let’s give these poor saps the Corona saloon and wagon, as they are used to them and will buy them in droves, though they are turkeys. But let us keep the hardtop coupes for ourselves. It is too good for this world. Only our fellow citizens will be allowed to partake in this final RWD Corona coupé, for it is only reserved for decent people.” And Mr Toyoda smiled and replied: “Let it be so. Kampai!”
OK, that might be a slight exaggeration, or even complete BS, but still. Need I remind you of the countless times Toyota kept all the nice stuff and wouldn’t share? The 2000 GT, the Century, the Chaser, the Mark X, the Crown Comfort, the Crown Athlete, the Crown Majesta, the Progrès, the Sera, the Sports 800… It’s a long list. What’s the deal, Toyota? We lesser peoples of the world are not fit to buy your best products?
So we non-Japanese had to make do with the frumpy Corona saloon instead of the stylish Corona hardtop coupé. We got Sonny instead of Cher. We bought Duchamp’s urinal but were left without a pot to piss in. We were sold oregano when we wanted chronic. We had the fava beans but not the nice Chianti. It always comes back to the vino, doesn’t it?
But was the Corona hardtop coupé all that good? Perhaps not. After all, it had the same shortcomings as the saloon it came from. A solid rear axle that looked pretty dated by the time it came out. A boring dashboard and absolutely no legroom at the rear. An afterthought rear windscreen wiper that could have been dispensed with, had the aerodynamics been better. Not to mention our CC’s aftermarket wheels… And look – no cupholders. You mean they want you to drink or drive? But then every car has its bad points.
The Corona T140 debuted in Japan in January 1982 and the JDM-only hardtop coupé came about six months later. But it, much like Roger Moore, went off the radar after 1985, replaced by an anonymous-looking FWD two-door that ushered in the blandness years for Toyota, as was the case practically everywhere else. I remember the late ‘80s / early ‘90s. I was there, though I was well below drinking age. It was dreadful. The cars were all lookalikes. I think that’s what drove me to drink. After all, I was below driving age, too.
So I’d like to propose a toast, to the Toyota Corona 1600 GT Hardtop Coupé – the loveliest Corona we never got to know because they wouldn’t let us. It may not have been a great car underneath, but skin-deep and with beer goggles, it was one of the best Toyotas of the ‘80s. Hip, hip, hurray! Oh darn, my glass is empty. And so is the bottle. Never mind, I think I’ll have a Corona.