(First Posted November 2, 2013) Was it rust or ricers that brought so many 1980s Corollas to their unfortunate demise here in Indiana? These cars were certainly hardy enough to endure, yet they disappeared from our roads at least 10 years ago. Except, obviously, this one.
Among late-80s Corollas, the four-door sedans and five-door hatches were overwhelmingly the popular choices here in Rustopia. Stubby little FXs were uncommon – so uncommon, I’d forgotten about them. It took me a minute to recognize what I was seeing when I came upon this one in the parking lot at my favorite big-box store.
As I circled the car with my camera, a tiny white-haired woman rolled up in a motorized shopping cart. “Are you admiring my car?” she called out. “Absolutely!” I replied. “Oh, I just love my little car. I’m turning 90 this year and I’ve been driving it for 25 years,” she said. “It’s my baby! It replaced a Dodge Dart that my idiot son ruined.” As she stood and opened the hatch to load her groceries, I saw that she was well under five feet tall. I imagined her barely being able to see over the dashboard of that Dart. The FX was just her size.
She opened the driver’s door for me. “Take a look – it has just 35,000 miles on it! I only ever drive it to the store.”
“I take good care of my car, and always park it in the garage,” she said. Yet the body showed some scrapes and the steering wheel was 90 degrees off center despite the front wheels pointing straight ahead. Then she said, “I put gas in it about twice a year. Last time was Valentine’s Day!” I wondered how well it ran on its eight-month-old fuel.
Still, at just under 35,000 miles, this Corolla isn’t even broken in yet. “I wonder what will happen to my car after I’m gone,” its owner wondered aloud. I am sure some young ricer will be thrilled to buy it, but I didn’t say that to her. I figured it would hurt her heart to know how that kid would gladly soup it up and burn it out.
No, I just smiled and said that I really loved how much she obviously enjoyed her just-her-size car.
Check out a CC on the contemporary, but much peppier, Corolla FX16 here.
These used to be everywhere! An acquaintance owned one back in the day (late 90s), several others owned the sedan or 5 door versions. But it wasn’t until I read your story that I realised they aren’t terribly common now. Funny how the motoring landscape changes without us even noticing sometimes…
Many years ago when my sister in England needed a “new” car , I found her one of these. Bright red with no scrapes – the only black mark was a long list of previous owners. These were very rare in the UK , only the 5-door liftback variant was anything like common. It really was a lovely car to drive, and gave many years of good service for little expense.
I only remember the 5 door also,the British climate is very hard to cars but Toyotas seem the sturdiest of Japanese cars
I had no idea when I started reading that this car had not yet seen 40K. Wow! One of these times when she gets to the point where she doesn’t use it anymore, someone will get a very, very nice old car. It is cars like this that always make me want to hand the owner a card with my contact info on it and say “Would you stick this in your glovebox, and if you ever get to the place where you want to sell it and want it to go to someone who will appreciate it and take good care of it, call me.”
I have done this a couple of times, but have yet to get one of those calls. 🙁
I kicked myself a little later that I didn’t give her my card. This isn’t the CC I’d pick first to own, but if this one came to me I’d certainly not turn it down.
I did that once with a gold and white 1957 Belvedere sedan that I’d missed out on. That was the only time it ever worked – the guy emailed me after he had had two wrecks in the car and had run the mileage from 30k to 200k. He wanted more for the car than he had paid. I passed….
When my ex girlfriend finished university she needed a car, so we looked for a while and scored a Ford Laser that had only 36,000km on it! It was almost 20 years old at that point, and had one owner, man, that was a tidy little car. So good to get a car with so little use.
When the younger of my two aunts gave up driving at 93, she gave her ’84 Suzuki Swift to my daughter for her first car. At 21 years old, the car had only 19,000km. two dents and a broken taillight. All the tyres needed replacing because the rubber was perishing. It’s still in the family, but now a farm runabout.
Living in Texas means I still see these from time to time. Doubt if I’ve seen one with under 40K for a long time. The tin worm may not live here but the dent monster does.
Based on my past experience, the “dent monster” must have a brother who lives in the parking lot of my local Wal-Mart!!
No matter where I park (last row, last parking spot, way way away by the overnight campers), the dent monster leaves me with a new scuff, scratch, basket ding, dimple, cracked plastic bumper, or vertical racing stripe in the shape of a passenger door frame on my driver’s door.
I now do all my grocery shopping at a local grocery store , but he still follows me!!!!
I saw one the other day on 495 in Maryland. It was red and it looked in good shape for its age. It looked like the owner was keeping it stock. It also looked to be owned by a new owner or recently moved to Maryland with its old owner as the license plates are the ugly new style with the flag on it commemorating the War of 1812(not that I am against the celebration of the War of 1812 but these plates are so damn ugly and you cannot even use most license plate brackets due to it covering up the Maryland due to it being too high on the plate. I use a plate bracket to cover up the Maryland.gov touristy BS(if Maryland wants me to advertise the touristy part of MD they need to pay me) )
This shows the car is a daily driver and not a weekend type due to it not having the historic plates that most of these cars now have.
I like the FX due to the hatch style.
Great find and story. There’s a fair number of these still around here, but undoubtedly not with such low mileage. More like with 350,000 miles.
My roommate just bought an 87 FX here in Eugene off Craigslist for $300 with only 165K. It was listed as undriveable with a stuck clutch. He drove it home and put a new slave cylinder on it and voila, good to go. I might wind up with it soon.
Great find and an even better story, Jim.
So I wound up owning the 87 FX for five years. Great little car! Zippy, good mileage, could shift gears as fast as you could move. And then last summer it was stolen, so I’m left with my 06 5-speed Matrix.
Probably never reached full operating temperature, nor ever drove faster than 50 mph.
I bought a used automatic NUMMI/Toyota FX in 1995 for my wife to learn to drive. It’s an honest and unpetentious car. The clean design of the dashboard and the quality of the cloth seats were good. But the chopped-off rear end made me wonder “were is the rest of it?”.
Nice low mileage find! The regular FX was kind of a lame car though, the FX-16 was the hot ride. Different engine, gearbox, suspension, nicer seats… changed the entire character of the car.
There may still be a pretty battered FX floating around my ‘hood, though I haven’t seen it in several weeks (along with an early 80’s Subaru wagon that is in much nicer shape).
The ‘yota has a big, nasty ouch on the passenger side, I even got pictures of this poor thing too.
This photo was taken back in September, just a couple of blocks north of my apartment.
Ib just sold a five door Corolla this model with 340,000kms on it. It has since been called “Dave the red minion” as there are so many still driving in HawkesBay and FX GTs are still common here, NZ Skyliner comes from a wealthier part of Godzone where these are becoming scarce. not here bro, this one is in the next street to me.
I always thought this second generation FX was better looking than the first.
We never got the later ones but I’ve had a couple of the Tamiya model kits.
What a touching story. I wonder what botched repair caused the steering wheel to be 90 degrees off on such low mileage car?
Take a look at the pictures the wheels are not straight ahead they are turned to the left just a bit so I bet that the steering wheel is right when going straight down the road.
+1. A slow steering ratio (and/or a hard yank to lock the wheel) explains the seemingly off-center kilter.
Eh? Those front wheels are only a hair off center. I don’t get why that would translate to a steering wheel at 90 degrees.
I’m with the others. This probably doesn’t have power steering, and a slow enough ratio for this to be normal. A quarter turn isn’t really all that much, and it’s hard to perfectly judge the angle of the front wheels from the camera angle.
Wow never seen one of these before. I think with the oversized styling on most modern cars she’d have a tough time finding an equivalent that she can easily see out of all the way around. Nice find!
Given that she’s almost 90, I’m betting she’s not worrying at all about ever buying another car!
Those Toyota Corolla FX/FX16s were 2-year wonders and I believe they were built at the NUMMI plant in Fremont. Toyota had three lines of Corollas in 87: the FX/FX16, the 4-door sedan/hatchback and the rear-drive SR5/GTS. In 88, the Corolla sedans and SR5/GTS coupes were redesigned and a station wagon returned to the lineup powered by a 1.6 liter dual-cam engine with 16 valves. Surprisingly, that engine used a carburetor when it went into Corolla sedans, wagons and SR5 coupes.
Like a lot of older individuals I know, she appears to be a ‘two-footer’. Just check out the brake pedal wear! Nothing wrong with driving that way as long as you don’t ride the brakes…
Reminds me of a Gremlin from the rear quarter shot 😉
Nice car, the don’t build ’em like that no more!
Never thought I’d say that about a car like this…
A friend of mine owned an ’87 FX 3 door. Ohio rust rendered it unsafe to drive at age 20, but it ran perfectly on the way to the junkyard.
Tengo un FX 88 en venta motor recién arreglado y corre de maravilla
I now own this exact car and it surprised me to see this article on my car but the person who we bought it from had bought from this lady but he had crashed it by using it on his job here is picture of it now it also only has 51’369 miles
It is being restored as,we speak and I am sorry about being blunt but I showed it to a family member and they pointed out that I forgot to mention that and I made it sound like it was totaled forever… I apologize for my misendeavors on the car.
I have a one of these for sale for friend.
low miles under 70k.
Located in Oakland ca, anyone know of someone looking to buy?
Loved this story and pictures, Jim. Thanks for the writeup.
This was a fun car to have. I loved them. All the good things of a Corolla, without the stodgy dullness of a Corolla. The twin-cam 16 valve option made it a great little car.
During these years, there were many fun little four seat hatchbacks available from many makes. This was one of them!
And now these are becoming scare quite likely due to the cost of keeping them on the road the one I sold mentioned in an earlier comment met its death due to the price of headlights and a new windscreen required to pass inspection, they were valued at far more than the car and unavaileable used.
With only 35,000 on the odometer that little gem is good for 300-400,000 miles. The Toyota FX 16V was comparable to VW’s GTI, except the Toyota FX way outshined the VW GTI in terms of reliability, build quality, refinement and comfort. The mid 80’s to the late 90’s was definately Toyota’s high water mark.
I always loved the FX because it was certainly mistaken for a Tercel. But with the FX-16 model, it was stealthy fast. I was about to buy one till I called State Farm to find out if it, or the GTI was cheaper to insure. It was the GTI. I was young, shocked and headed for the GTI after that. Wound up with a Golf GL and a sour look on my face.