Curbside Classic: 1974 Toyota Corona Station Wagon – Giving Some Love To The Little Hauler

How much love do these little haulers get? From the looks of this one, quite some. A good thing, as there’s nothing like them nowadays; most makes have moved away from the station wagon, and while the argument can be made crossovers and SUVs are a modern take on the concept, for those who loved these little haulers there’s no substitute. They’re compact, easy to park, versatile and practical; a modern small crossovers sort of fits the bill, but what with all those gun-slit windows and cavernous cabins? It’s a whole different experience, for sure.

The Corona’s fourth generation (T80/90), launched in 1970, has already been covered a few times at CC (here and here). The Corona’s previous generation (T40/50) finally turned Toyota into Japan’s number 1, and started the brand’s ascendance elsewhere. Toyota’s styling had started to coalesce with the T40/50 and by the time the T80/90 arrived, the company’s design themes were becoming ever clearer, even anticipating the design of their upcoming S60/70 Crown. In Don Andreina’s post on the S60/70 he referred to its body styling as the “hollow-section extrusion effect,” defined as so: “The body appears to have been extruded lengthways, and then the front end is sliced off cleanly and a grille applied to fill the hollow-section cavity.” His post explores the American influences on Toyota’s Crown, mainly from the ’67 Thunderbird.

Unlike the rest of Japanese makes, Toyota’s styling efforts had been going solo since the start, though with its share of influences from elsewhere. As said above, Toyota predated the S60/70 Crown’s lines with the T80 Corona, and Don’s Thunderbird reference is not without merit. In Japanese advertising and promos the Corona was described as possessing ‘thunder wave’ styling (if we’re to believe Google Translator). Hard to tell by the stodgy looks of this Corona, but the sci-fi intents of Toyota were better materialized on the soon to be launched Crown (That model’s adventurous styling was cooly received in its home market, and sent Toyota back to safer styling grounds).

The ’67 Thunderbird was at the tail end of America’s era of airplane-influenced design obsession, and Ford’s ‘Bird mixed a jet-intake grille opening with brougham cues that would soon be the norm. The T80’s discrete jet cues can be better appreciated on the sedan; while lacking fins and winglets, the enveloped body around the enclosed grille does look like the squashed jet intake of an F-100 Super Sabre. Hard to think of aeronautics and the ‘future’ by looking at this Corona, but its clean and undisturbed profile did seem to speak ‘modernity’ to Japan’s consumers.

Japanese makes had the advantage of working on small vehicles, there was no need for extraneous protrusions or elaborate side-body detailing. While Bill Mitchell allegedly complained that styling a small car was like ‘tailoring a dwarf,’ working around tiny dimensions had advantages too. Their sedans’ reduced dimensions meant Toyota’s designers needed not to worry of a too-slab-sided look; and a subtle hip line was all that was added to the Corona’s otherwise plain profile.

The Japanese wave of imports that arrived to Central America in the 60’s and 70’s is loved in ways that can only compare to Ford’s Model A (or to the Tin Lizzy) in the US. Here were cars that offered reliable transport and attractive options all within reach of the emerging middle class. These vehicles placed locals on wheels and such a feat leaves indelible marks on a population’s psyche. After their arrival, GM, Ford and Chrysler would reassess their practices, and by the mid 70’s started selling rebadged Isuzus, Mazdas and Mitsubishis in order to keep a presence on the market.

Locally there seems to be an emerging movement of restoring, or at least up keeping, these 70’s vehicles, and the present example has gotten some love in that regard. While most of my finds seem to be in a purgatory of sorts, these few are indeed moving up to ‘curbside heaven,’ or ‘show car heaven,’ as it’s probably the case.

The love of this station wagon’s owner isn’t unconditional however, as the vehicle is currently on sale at the Marketplace. On the positive side, I got a glimpse of that interior; impossible to shoot through those blackened windows (which project a somewhat incongruous menacing look). As we can see on the Marketplace shots, originality hasn’t been this project’s raison d’etre; I know that steering wheel from my previous dull-driving of an ’87 Corolla, and that foot pedal would look better on a ’66 flower-painted Beetle. Those points aside, the vehicle is otherwise rather original and wouldn’t take a lot of work to bring close to spec condition.

As told in various CC posts no one did grilles quite like the Japanese, and Toyota generally kept its extroverted touches reserved for these. In this case it’s a rather restrained effort, but no one would confuse it for anything but Nippon in origin. Another quirky bit, the hood latch mechanism seems shot and a cobbled-together contraption has been hastened, for a lowly Yale lock seems to keep it in place. I doubt Toyota’s engineers would approve and considering local junkyards have a few of these, it just seems like a lazy go-around. That said, if parts availability was truly an issue with a ’74 Toyota, a trip to Varosha in Cyprus could be in order…

Cyprus, you ask? Yes, indeed; for up until recent it was the location for a ‘frozen in time’ Toyota dealer, shut back in 1974 after Turkey invaded the northern part of the island. After takeover the Varosha beaches were placed off limits by Turkey’s military, and behind the cordoned-off area a Toyota dealer filled with ’73-’74 models remained. While I’m not a huge Toyota fan, I better keep to myself the ideas that cross my mind with all those abandoned bodies; Rated-R definitely. No idea if those vehicles are still around, as the region has been partially opened to tourism and the forlorn dealer is now hidden behind planks. If you wish to see it, it’s here.

Period testimony commends the Corona as an above average performer in its class, but as we know Toyota rose on the heels of dependability, not corner carving. The brand also rose by providing customers what they were looking for; after the botched launch of the first and second generation Coronas, Toyota established a dealer feedback system to assess the needs and desires of car shoppers. Indeed, our T80/90 was a delayed model, as the intended T40/50 replacement became the Corona Mark II in ’68, once research showed a market slot existed between the Corona and Crown. At least in the Japanese market (and South America), said research proved correct. That Toyota stuck to this feedback system while GM market-researched itself to death shows that while the principle is the same, one must be very careful on how to interpret ‘client desires.’

The T80/90 had a slightly shorter run than previous Coronas; with new pollution laws going into effect in Japan, Toyota hastened the fifth generation’s development and launched it in mid ’73. Thus the T80/90’s run was 3 1/2 years, against the 4 year cycle Japanese makes were establishing. Never mind, the 4th generation Corona kept Toyota’s rising tide in motion and while the nameplate eventually died out, the make is doing rather well. Now, about our little wagon, while the current owner is selling, we can all be pretty sure it’s bound to find love soon enough.

More on the Corona:

Cohort Capsule: 1973 Toyota Corona – Rare Survivor

CC Capsule: 1973 Toyopet Corona Deluxe – Year Of The ‘Rona

Curbside Classic: 1969 Toyota Corona – It All Started Here

Curbside Classic: 1970 Toyota Corona Mark II – Stodgy, Thy Name Is Toyota