Vintage R&T Review: 1971 Corolla 1600 – The Fun Hemi-Powered Toyota

The arrival of the T40 Corona in 1964 placed Toyota in the eye of many, and the E20 1970 Corolla established the carmaker for good in the world scene. Conservative Toyota was finding its method of careful progression, all in accordance with a conscientious approach to market needs. With the Corolla 1600, Toyota delivered a model that addressed shortcomings often found in economy sedans. And while the word fun is not really associated with the brand nowadays, the reviews of the time -from press and buyers- suggest otherwise.

As stated in R&T’s review, one thing that had not been a feature of little sedans was sparkling performance, and Toyota just changed all that by offering a new 102-bhp engine in the Corolla as an option. To put matters in perspective, the Corolla 1200 reached 0-60 in 19 sec., while the 1600 did so in 12 sec.; all while achieving a very thrifty 26.6mpg. Numbers which placed it ahead of its class competitors.

The 1600’s extra power was courtesy of a new 1588 cc 4-cyl. pushrod engine developed for the then-upcoming Celica. It was an iron block, topped by an aluminum head with a crossflow design and hemispherical chambers. The mill’s 102 bhp was produced at 6000 rpm, and delivered 101 lb-ft torque at 3800 rpm. A new transmission, attuned to the 1600 engine, gave the Corolla a more relaxed gait at freeway speeds.

As far as handling, the review states ‘ a well-balanced car is always fun to drive and the Corolla 1600 is no exception; the model is extremely maneuverable, responsive and fun to drive. A good gearbox and precise shifter add to the fun.’ Pedal location was considered excellent, and in regards to brakes, Toyota had ‘done good with them.’

Interior accommodations were deemed comfortable and while the appointments were inexpensive, they didn’t feel cheap. Rear seat was limited of course, and there were some quibbles with interior ventilation, but testers admitted ‘a small inexpensive car can’t do everything.’

These ’70s Corollas are mostly gone nowadays, a result of rust issues and being easy to acquire. Once worn out, not many bothered to save them; the curse of the economy class. That said, they offered a lot for the money, and those who purchased one liked what they got. A good number of those buyers remained in Toyota’s fold for many years to come.

Regardless of how one may feel about the early Corollas, one can’t argue with Toyota’s rise. I do remember when these Corollas started to show up as a trickle, and a decade later the nameplate was ever-present, with Toyota being a worldwide player. How did they do it? It was partly due to cars like the Corolla 1600, which ‘changed the standard for low-cost import sedans.’


Further reading:

Curbside Classic: Toyota Corolla – 1971 Small Car Comparison