Curbside Classic: 1976-79 Toyota Corolla Liftback- A Time Machine for Dave

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Over the past month, I’ve traveled far and wide in search of Curbside Classics. In December, I spent a long weekend in Colorado, and found this ’76 to ’79 Corolla SR-5 Liftback. Paul has already written up a similar car, but it is rare to find seventies era Japanese cars, and I bought a car very similar to this one as my first car. Besides, Paul’s find was a washed out orange-ish color, and this blue looks much better.

This generation Corolla came out in 1975, but did not offer this body style until 1976. Toyota’s initial 1975 model year offerings include a two-door sedan, four-door sedan and wagon, and a two-door sport coupe. In the fall of ’75, they offered two more models: this two-door liftback and another two-door sport coupe that shared its front sheet metal.

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It was a bit confusing, but here’s a collage of all six models. The red four-door, yellow coupe, and green wagon pictures do not include US bumpers or trim, but trust me, all six were offered in the US from 1976 to ’79. Driveline choices included two engine and four transmission options (1200 4-speed, 1600 4-speed, 1600 5-speed and 1600 automatic). Throw in a couple trim lines for each body style, and you’re looking at the most complex product lineup offered in its class.3 face

Here’s a better shot of that unique front sheet metal. Back when the new coupe and liftback came out, I preferred this clip to the original coupe. The regular coupe appeared unfinished around the grill and headlights, but this look provided a sheet metal panel to fill the joints between the parts. Back in the day, I heard a rumor that this sheet metal was shared with the Japanese market Toyota Sprinter. Thirty-eight years later, I can check that rumor using the internet.

4a Sprinter

Nope–as you can see, the Japanese market Sprinter used yet another clip, although it shared the same body from the A pillar back. I do enjoy the lower picture where the Sprinter driver demonstrates his reverse heel and toe method to the young lady. If you listen closely, you can hear him explaining the proper steering wheel grip: “Place both your hands at the twelve o’clock position. This gives you maximum leverage in decreasing radius turns!”

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The liftback body received praise for its clean design, but a close look shows there’s still quite a bit of fussy detailing. The tail lights have ribs running across their face, two license plate lights extend from the body, and the bumper includes several caps, rub strips and over-riders. Still, for 1976 Japan, it’s a pretty smooth look (especially compared to the other five Corolla body styles).

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I love how original and complete this car is. Those little stickers in the quarter glass were designed to help the dealer lot attendants quickly identify the features on the car. They should have been removed prior to delivery, and yet here they are, thirty-eight years later. Half the plastic drip rail trim didn’t fare so well, but it’s been exposed to the Colorado elements for almost four decades, so I can cut it a little slack.

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The interior appears equally complete. Since this car is an SR-5, it would have come with: a leatherette shift knob and steering wheel cover, tachometer, clock, AM/FM radio (with sliding volume control knob), and an overhead console with map light and additional warning lights. The dash has a bunch of gauge openings and a fancy warning light panel, so it appears to be a proper SR-5.  However, looking back at this time machine, it’s clear that the phrase “upgraded interior” had a different meaning back in 1977.

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Well, a lot of things were different back then. As we say goodbye to this little blue liftback, I don’t mind telling you I feel a big wave of nostalgia. The first car I bought was a 1973 Toyota Corolla Sport Coupe (with 5-speed). While my ’73 was a previous generation model, it allowed me to spend many happy days buzzing around Denver in a car very similar to this one.

Thinking back, my high school Driver’s Education car was the coupe version of this liftback. At the time, I was one of the few students willing to drive a stick, so I gained more seat time in a Corolla. Hmmm, even more nostalgia. Thirty years later, my daughter is spending seat time in our Miata, learning to drive a stick.

In fact, the Miata also has a 1600 cc four, smooth shifting 5-speed transmission, and a small, light rear wheel drive platform. I hope my kid has as much fun running around town in our Miata as I did in that little Corolla Coupe!