Curbside Classic: 1973-74 Toyota Corolla – Appearances are Deceiving

Aren’t Corollas of this vintage getting awfully thin on the ground? The 2nd generation Corolla, from upstart Toyota, slowly and unexpectedly ascended to worldwide dominance. Who could have seen it coming? Had we taken bets, most would have lost their shirt in the process. In the US the Beetle’s days as #1 import were numbered. Obviously some European brand with lots of tradition was ready to take the mantle. Or not.

This model has been covered on CC a few times already, and Paul’s post belabors the point of Toyota’s newcomer taking over the import game. This particular Corolla seems to be of similar vintage than the one in Paul’s post; the softer grille 1970 model has yet to properly make it to these pages. Some are in town. Maybe I’ll get lucky next time?

I had forgotten how small and low these were. As I shot the vehicle from my height, the car looked in pretty straight condition; the yellow paint looking fairly shiny, with no major dents on the body. Then again, appearances can be deceiving; when at home, on my computer monitor all the tin worm at the car’s bottom became evident. On closer inspection, rust damage is noticeable on every panel. How come I didn’t notice? I did take the photos in a rush -that security guard didn’t seem too friendly as I shot away. Regrettably our Corolla seems to be on borrowed time.

Toyota’s styling at the time was still eclectic, to say the least. While not an unattractive vehicle, it gathers ideas from different schools of design: coke bottle styling on the profile with the tidy proportions of a BMC product, sprinkled with some American inspired plastic trim. The front grille is probably the most Japanese element, as if a menacing kabuki/samurai mask had served as inspiration. Japan’s small vehicles of this period had a fondness for these rather fierce facials. Placed on small cars like these, the vehicles seem to resemble little bulldogs ready to bite at stablished Europeans.

The world should have paid more attention to those tiny fierce faces, as they conveyed their warrior will in plain sight. This analogy is not gratuitous; it has been documented as such during the rise of Japanese industry after the debacle of WWII. Japan’s professionals were bent on rebuilding their nation, and with armistice in place, took to industry with the same zeal they once had towards martial endeavors. As example, at Mazda, the team behind the rotary Cosmo vehicle went by “47 Ronins.” Through iron will, research, and willingness to receive feedback, the small fighters took over the automotive world.

Back to our present example. Such rust damage is very rare on this tropical nation. Also, what’s the story behind the shiny repaint over such rusted mechanicals? Did an overzealous owner get the car resprayed, with the local paint shop not knowing how to do a proper job? Or was said owner not able to afford to do it properly, with the paint shop performing anyway at client’s request? Hard to tell. Last, the car has US spec bumpers. Is it a grey import? Would that explain the rust?

Unlike later Toyotas these early Corollas had some zip to them. While no sport car, its small size and decent -though not groundbreaking- mechanicals could be pushed to provide some satisfying driving. Better not tell that to this example’s current owner, for I worry the car could split in half during hard breaking; with the upper half flying away in cartoon like manner. Then again, that would be quite a sight.

In any case, the Corolla seems to be in loving -if ill-advised- hands. The car may be in terminal condition, rotten in its foundations. But looks like this fruit will stay on the counter, proudly in display, for some time to come.

More on the Corolla:

1971 Corolla – Small Car Comparison #3

Vintage Review – 1971 Corona, Corolla, Celica