Saturday 25 February 2017

50

Now in its 50th year - spanning 11 generations and record sales of 44 million - the humble Corolla has taken every accolade in the motoring world, writes Brian Twomey

You don't have to be an enthusiast to appreciate the Toyota Corolla. Indeed, you don't even have to like cars to appreciate the Toyota Corolla because more than any other car the Corolla is all about blending in.

Since its introduction in 1966, the Corolla has been quietly toiling away as a taxi both in your local rank and in downtown Mosul. Hail a cab in Baghdad and an elderly Corolla will roll up.

Consistently one of the world's best sellers, the Corolla gets the crummy jobs; police car, the learner driver's car, family hack, rental car. So, to mark its 50th anniversary let's bring the Corolla out from the shadows and let it take a bow.

The vast majority of Corolla models, from the original E10 in 1966 to today's E170 model, were designed to be easy to use and easy to keep.

While all modern cars, including the Corolla, can no longer lay claim to being mechanically simple, most Corollas were about as technically complicated as a shovel.

It was 1983 before Toyota rolled out a front-wheel-drive Corolla, three years after the Escort and nearly a decade after the original Golf. While it did conspire against the Corolla in certain regards, the 1974 E30, in particular, was often panned for being crude and cramped, this mechanical simplicity meant it was easy to assemble and easy to repair as well as being cheap to build.

It wasn't all conservatism though as Toyota was a relatively early and enthusiastic adopter of diesel technology which suited its rugged simplicity.

Like the VW Beetle and the Model T, the Corolla was built around the world in a bewildering array of locations. Indonesia, Bangladesh, United States, Colombia, Canada, Thailand, Pakistan, India, Australia, New Zealand, Turkey, Venezuela and South Africa have all manufactured Corollas in their thousands.

In the US it was even built and re-badged as a Chevrolet Nova and sold with some success for four years from 1984.

In a bizarre rebranding exercise GM then sold Corollas under the Geo nameplate. In the late 1980s and early 1990s GM's Australian division had a similar arrangement with the Holden Nova although, unlike the Americans, Australians were not fooled and just bought Corollas in their thousands.

Between February 1974 to December 1983, Toyota assembled Corollas on the Long Mile Road in Dublin in an operation that encompassed the E20, E30 and E70 models and helped Toyota gain a hold on the Irish market. The Corolla's strength was appreciated by both Irish drivers and Japanese engineers as the company used Connemara roads to test the suspension of Corolla prototypes.

Simplicity also made it reliable and the Corolla was a trailblazing Japanese car that didn't break and didn't guzzle fuel; it just didn't necessarily feel trailblazing.

Naturally, a career as long as the Corolla means it wasn't all dull reliability. The most revered Corolla is the AE86. More commonly referred to by teenagers as the Twin-Cam, the AE86 utilised the powerful 1.6 4A-GE engine and unlike the rest of the E80 range this sporty coupe retained rear-wheel-drive. In keeping with Toyota's habit of producing a coupe version of each Corolla, the AE86 was something of an oddity in 1983 when coupe icons like the Ford Capri and Opel Manta were in the twilight of their careers, the AE86 was a lower-cost, driver-focused coupe to counter the increasingly luxurious and expensive Celica.

The result was a range of fastback and notchback coupes that have retained a fanatical following ever since, as well as success in both rallying and touring cars and numerous appearances in strange anime comics.

This was not the only sporty Corolla though; the 1989 Corolla GTI again utilised the 4A-GE engine to great effect. While largely forgotten now Toyota's attempt to cash in on the 80s hot-hatch craze produced a credible performance car with 125hp and fine dynamics.

The 1995 E110 model, originally with an Impreza resembling bug eye appearance, spawned a rally car that was hugely successful, winning the 1998 Monte Carlo and New Zealand rallies with Carlos Sainz before dramatically conking out 300 metres from the end of the last stage of that year's Rally GB denying Sainz the title. Luis Moya, Sainz's long-standing co-driver, threw his crash helmet through the back window in what was not the Corolla's finest hour.

The 2006 E140 model represented an upheaval for the Corolla. The hatchback lost the Corolla name and became the Auris while the Japanese domestic model was actually a significantly different design than the Camry-esque car we got by being narrower and more sober in appearance.

Such changes did little to quell the popularity of brand. So in its 50th year the Corolla can take a modest bow. Flamboyant it might never have been but few cars have had an appeal as Toyota's best seller.

Sunday Independent

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