If it were an ice cream flavor it would be vanilla. If it were a member of the Avengers it would be Hawkeye. If it were a Neil Gaiman book it would be The Ocean at the End of the Lane. If it were a Supreme Court Justice it would be Anthony Kennedy. If it were a snack food it would be Rold Gold pretzels. If it were an order at Starbucks it would be a “small dark roast, with room for milk and that’s all, thank you.” This is a 1980 Toyota Corolla.
Do you see what I’m getting at with those drawn-out metaphors? The Corolla, as a cultural item, has become synonymous with the middle ground. The center. The compromise. It is the vehicular equivalent of sitting out of your turn in The Game of Life so you can buy homeowner’s insurance. It isn’t bad, necessarily, but it’s far from the most exciting move you could make. The Corolla isn’t the worst car in its segment, but it’s not anyone’s favorite either. Buying a Corolla has, in 2017, become a means by which to tell the world that you really couldn’t care less about cars. And that’s fine- most people don’t care much about their cars. But it does beg the question: why is this one here? In a space that supposedly trumpets “everything odd, influential, and off-the-beaten-path in the car world.” Well, the chassis code for this particular Corolla is called the E70. And that means it’s no ordinary swatch of beige paint.
Now, normally when I say stuff like that on this blog, it means this is a super-obscure, limited run, extra special version of the car in question that not only has an engine that runs on magic and good vibes but also calls you sweetie and makes you breakfast. But not this time. Nope- this is a bog-standard, run-of-the-mill Corolla. It’s even a sedan, which was far from the most interesting bodystyle you could have selected. Rather, E70 denotes a generation of Corolla: the fourth, to be specific (for reference, the current, eleventh generation Corolla goes by “E170”). And what a special generation it was. See, the E70 was parked on a major temporal shift in what defined the second-littlest Toyota (the smallest was the Corolla Tercel, which despite the name was a different animal entirely). The E70 was the last time that the Corolla was rear-wheel-drive.
That’s a big deal. When we looked at the BMW 3.0 last week, we talked about oversteer and understeer (here’s a refresher in case you forgot) in the context of suspension systems. But the driven wheels- that is, if the car is being pulled by its front wheels or pushed by its rear ones- are equally important. If the engine sends all its power to the rear wheels, that makes it easy to induce oversteer, which in car geek-dom is a Very Good Thing. It’s what makes drifting possible. Much of this scene would not have happened were it not for the glories of rear wheel drive. And here was Toyota offering it on one of their most popular cars, for anyone to buy. This garnered the E70 a small but loyal following among enthusiasts, which persists even today. The 1.3 liter inline four cylinder engine that came with the E70 was only good for about 74 horsepower or so. Which is why a popular modification among E70 owners is to switch in more powerful engines from later Corollas, such as the Twin Cam from the fifth generation “AE86” Corolla.
After the E70, most Corollas transitioned to front wheel drive, with a couple of notable exceptions like that AE86 from the last paragraph. Gone was the tail-happy, rear-wheel-drive personality. In its place sat the economical, but milquetoast, front-wheel-drive Corollas. The transition, for me, marked the beginning of the end of the Corolla’s greatness. The E70 was the last time someone could say they purchased a Corolla as an emotional choice rather than a logical one. They were always cheap, but they stopped being fun right here. So let’s take a moment to honor the Toyota Corolla: the elevator music of cars. It wasn’t always that way.
- The 10 millionth (yes you read that right) Corolla that rolled off the assembly line was a fourth generation in 1983
- Many people will tell you that the Toyota Corolla is the best selling car in the world, with over 40 million sold in total. That’s not wrong exactly, but it is a little misleading. “Corolla” is the best selling nameplate in the world, but that encompasses all different sorts of bodystyles, platforms and drivetrains. This is as much a Corolla as this is, for example.