Lost on Dekalb Ave: 1977 Toyota Corolla

When I’m getting that money and living the life of a thousandaire, I’m sure that a Toyota from the company’s transition years from rear wheel drive to front wheel drive would be high on my list of transportational fantasies to play out with my pocketbook. First-gen Tercels, Starlets, and Corollas. Especially Corollas. 

The styling was, in its time, conservative. Toyota was out for high volume sales in the United States and though the car was itself looking to appeal to as many different automotive tastes as possible, the past four decades have turned the Corolla’s moderation into extremism.

But you know what, I love plain oatmeal in the morning. And I love plain oatmeal cars. This Corolla is wonderful in that it is both wild and ordinary. Forty years ago, if you needed a four-wheeled conveyance but you didn’t give two shits about cars, a Corolla probably would have been  fine purchase.

Now if I were to buy and daily-drive a Corolla like this, it would be immediately clear that I was deep in my tutelage of oldparkedcars, working my way towards being a Nostalgic Hero. And I’m fine with that, because I bet that this car delivers on all the points that make me love a car. Let me count the ways:

It’s a 5-speed. That term used to directly communicate a car’s sporting abilities. Five speeds was somewhere near the cutting edge in the 1970s, and I don’t care if that fifth gear is an economy-run highway gear. The mechanical interaction of shifting gears is just a pleasure in its own right. Even if my fantasy Corolla isn’t lowered on Watanbes, I know it will be a joy to drive, with all the shakes and rattles and scares that denote an old rear wheel drive automobile.

It has cool functional details. The glaring headlights were just a cheap way of making light come out the front of your car back then. The rear vent was just a good way of keeping a car ventilated before complex aerodynamic modeling made such additions obsolete. people walking by this car were happy to turn an eye towards it and say that cars of yesteryear had so much more style than those of today. These little additions make up a lot of what they were referring to.

It has tidy dimensions. I see people cruising past in a Mustang or a Fiesta, and though they are not perceived as large cars, the driver inside always looks dwarfed by the car’s lofty dimensions. This Corolla doesn’t have that problem, with its narrow, low shape.

It has huge bumpers. If somebody drove into me, or if I hit something around town, Ineedn’t pay it no mind. cars today have carefully engineered aerodynamic front and rear body moldings that cut drag, but dent and break easily in low-speed collisions. Not a problem with this car’s early attempt at compliance with American safety regulations.

If I have to drive a car, and I have the money to be a chooser and not just a beggar, the classic Toyota look will be clouding my vision while I preen the local craigslist. Corolla here I come!

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4 Responses to Lost on Dekalb Ave: 1977 Toyota Corolla

  1. very nice post! nice car too. i see a little bit of uk-spec mk1 escort from the rear.

    • Raphael Orlove says:

      there’s a definite “international” feel to the look of this car, and I wouldn’t be surprised if it was intentional on behalf of the design team. But maybe I have some old Ford pictures to dig up…quick, to the escort archives!

  2. there’s a definite “international” feel to the look of this car, and I wouldn’t be surprised if it was intentional on behalf of the design team.

    at the risk of painting with too broad a brush, that is one characteristic of the japanese way, no?

    • Raphael Orlove says:

      I mean, there is something definitely different in the look of R30 Skylines, VIP Cedrics, and 1970s Toyota Crowns that shows there are plenty of automotive “looks” that anyone can recognize as being uniquely Japanese. But ambiguous design is certainly a facet of japanese car styling, especially as Japanese car firms were concerned with breaking into the huge American market.

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