Think of this as the reverse side of my beige Fiat Panda story from a few weeks ago. This is a close as I can get to a model of the car that I was driving at the time - a fourth generation E70 Corolla.
Now mine wasn’t the fancy 4-door, 1600GT. Nope - it was the far more prosaic “DX” version with a 1300cc “4K” engine, producing a hardly earth shattering 58hp. And it looked a lot like the one below, in that colour - but with pin-striping. This was the 80s, and you had to have pin-striping.
Now - this was hardly an exciting looking car - and I’ll be the first to admit that things got only worse on the inside. I mean, everything was where it should be and all, but it hardly got the blood pumping, if you know what I mean.
And that beige / brown colour - yes, mine was like that too. But once you looked past all the beige blandness, and actually starting driving, things did definitely look up.
If you drove this car with any enthusiasm, you pretty soon found out that it actually had pretty entertaining handling. These things were really really tail happy, especially in the wet and on loose surfaces. Quite similar to, say, a MkI Ford Escort. The reason was that Toyota had given the E70s a new rear suspension - a coil sprung five-link rear end with a Panhard rod. And that really worked.
With the standard 1300cc engine, it was hard to break traction on dry roads, but as soon as it got slippery, the game was on. I did my share of sliding that car through some unpaved roads in the woods of Southern Germany, once re-shaping a front fender on a tree - I ran out of talent and road. It happens.
And so, Toyota did the same thing to the Corolla that Ford did to the Escort - give it a decent motor. And that was 1600GT with the “2T-GEU” engine - a DOHC unit with about 115hp. Plenty to have some fun with. Of course, that engine also came in some of the sportier body versions of the E70 Corolla. This Tomica Limited Vintage casting comes in addition to earlier versions of the E71 Liftback Coupe that was available in the regular line-up.
And then Toyota almost spoiled the fun by converting the Corolla line-up to FWD. But they had the good sense to keep the sportier body styles RWD for a while longer, thus giving birth to the AE85 and more importantly the AE86 models. I told you that rear suspension was good fun!
I think what really spoiled the reputation of these cars was the fact that most of them (at least in Australia and the US) were delivered with automatic transmissions. I drove a friend’s automatic version once, and it couldn’t have been more different from my manual one. That slush box blunted any hint of performance and handling. It was sluggish, the steering heavy, and there was no way to get the back end to step out. It was just boring and slow.
As for me, my only regret is that I couldn’t afford a 1600GT at the time. Bummer.