As Takahiro Fujimoto put it, the trend towards higher quality production cars within Toyota led the firm to great success in the early 1980s, when Toyota was increasing market share, the Japanese economy was doing well, and the value of the yen made vehicle pricing more favorable to Japanese firms.¹ L.J.K. Setright praised the first-generation Camry for the “fat” product Toyota was making at the time.
For years the Japanese had been doing things like installing bolts with head uppermost so that even if the securing nut came off the bolt would stay in place; now Toyota had created an engine bay that was a model of intelligibility and accessibility, with all pipework neatly arrayed and readily identified, and with all servicing points arranged in the top stratum of the compartment. The car was the Camry, a well-finished and well-found middle -class saloon in which comfort and serenity were prioritised to good effect.²
By the early 1990s, however, Toyota was overspending on their cars thanks to these kinds of priorities (as well as an assortment of other reasons discussed in Takahiro Fujimoto’s aforementioned book) and went on a process of “decontenting” their cars. This Corolla, however, shows some signs of a vehicle planning process that still spent big on small niches.
The body wasn’t shared with any other car in the Toyota lineup, but most of what’s underneath was. It’s still a Corolla under the skin, albeit with a coupe body, a bodykit, and some mechanical performance add-ons.
I’m happy that Toyota splurged on building cars like these, because I love going over the now nostalgic design. Toyota’s sporty styling was a little strange back then, and I love the exaggerated false headlamps on this car. The main illumination was done by the pop up lights, but the designers’ dreams of high-power, LED-thin lighting was put on full display here, even if reality hadn’t quite caught up yet.
Did you know the contemporary Celica liftback was styled after the 1960s Panhard 24CT?³ So rad! This era still had some signs of ‘weird’ Toyota, just as the contemporary Chevrolets still had some remnants of their 1960s design heyday.
This Corolla GT-S then, was a design statement with some performance to back up the looks. It was expensive when new, but today I’m sure it’s an affordable car. Moreover, it straddles the gap between the more out-there MR2 and the more mundane four-door Corolla, all of which were related mechanically. The success of the Camry and the increasingly plain-jane Corolla had not wiped the kind of variety shown in this GT-S off of the product lineup, even if it was for some pursuit of complete coverage of all sales opportunities.
But that is more than enough rumination about this car in its contemporary lineup. It’s a cool looking car today, well-kept and probably a blast to drive, so I will happily idolize it in writing and with my camera.
1. Fujimoto, Takahiro. The Evolution of a Manufacturing System at Toyota. New York; Oxford University Press, 1999. pg. 212-216.
2. Setright, L.J.K. Drive on! A Social History of the Motor Car. London; Granta Publications. 2002. pg. 141-142.
3. Richard Bremner. “Rear-Guard Action,” CAR Magazine, January 1988, pg. 114-115. This article can be found here.