'The 2017 Corolla is a nicely understated car with a good feel about it'
The Toyota Corolla is half a century old. Campbell Spray, who has been driving almost that long, celebrates its appeal
Next year it will be 50 years since I passed my driving test and soon afterwards a 10-year-old Ford Thames van was bought for £27, 10 shillings.
That van, complete with mattress and old seats in the back, gave me good service for the next two years. In time, I progressed through a Standard 8, Mini Minor, Mini and then onto my beloved Saab 94s and 95s. Sixteen years after passing my test, I became a motoring correspondent for the first time, and tested my first Toyota Corolla, although the name and variant had been first used 17 years earlier in 1966, the year before I passed the test.
Strangely, it was a car that changed many conceptions about motoring in this country. It became front-wheel drive in 1983 and soon was on course to become the nation's favourite, and then the world's favourite, car with more than 44 million sold over the last 50 years through its 11 generations, some of them what Toyota like to call Minor Changes, other times they were more radical.
In my old van, a heater was optional, as was a passenger door mirror and windscreen wiper. Yet when Toyota arrived here, these things and even a radio started to become standard. This helped build up the brand's popularity, where it took a much larger proportion of the market than in the UK, where for some time there remained a rather anti-Japanese attitude because "of the war, dear boy, because of the war".
A Toyota came into the household in the 1980s when my then-wife slipped on a wet floor at the annual Press Ball while dancing and broke her leg. The compensation meant that she could say goodbye to her old Fiat and buy a nearly new three-door Corolla. That was followed by a four-door saloon and then the Carina E, probably one of the best cars Toyota ever made.
Fast forward many years and the 2017 Corolla is a nicely understated car with a good feel about it. It is very much a traditional saloon at a time when all the movement is in the SUV/Crossover sector. Yet for what it is, and with prices starting at €21,995, the Corolla offers great value especially as it stresses that it has best-in-class standard safety features and room. Its lines have been tweaked to make more of an impact but it still would be at the blander end of the Toyota range, which is now beginning to look very sharp indeed, especially with the introduction of the new C-HR Crossover.
I once described the Corolla as like a sewing-machine. It just goes along at its own pace, doing its job quietly and without fuss. You forget about the Corolla the minute it is gone. Inside it is rather lacklustre and could do with a real freshening up. Too much road noise mars the driving experience, especially on motorways. But if you want a traditional car that just keeps on going and will keep your family safe then, just like 44 million people already, you can't go far wrong with this workhorse.
I was privileged to go on Ryan Tubridy's programme last Monday on Radio One to talk about my lovely son Daniel and his demons. What a wonderful bunch they are on that show. They welcomed me in like a very warm family and made the whole rather traumatic process relatively easy. Special thanks to Ryan and researcher Susan O'Loghlin. Happy Christmas to them and you all.