In a number of ways Toyota was the most “American” of Japanese manufacturers. Once on their feet in the U.S. market in the early 70’s, they fielded a line up not dissimilar, albeit smaller and far more efficient, than Detroit rivals.
Mainstream models came in sizes small (Corolla), medium (Corona) and large (Crown/Cressida). There was a “pony” car (Celica) to boot. That’s no different than Ford in the 1960’s minus a halo coupe once you think about it.We’ve made friends with the 3rd Generation car. Today we see what the 5th generation had to offer when you opted for the wagon version.
Like Detroit Iron, the Corona got progressively larger each generation. Although still drastically smaller than most American competitors from a price standpoint, it had grown from subcompact ranks to nearly compact size. Although the wheelbase remained a stubby 98.4 inches no matter which model you went with, the nearly 177 inch length of the wagon nearly matched the size of the original Ford Falcon Sedans.
That span was also more or less 10 inches longer than the 4th generation wagons offered at the turn of the decade. Although more and more competitors in this segment of the market moved to front wheel layouts for more space efficiency, the upright stance of the Corona still offered room and comfort that rivaled American compact offerings that verged on intermediate dimensions in more rational vehicular times.
Of course, the wagon body style offered an extra layer of room and versatility to the package. Also, the stout rear wheel drive layout offered a layer of durability, matched with ever increasing care in terms of material quality that brought many a loyal American customer back to Toyota showrooms.
Sitting between the field cluttered with rusting and head gasket exploding Vegas and overweight, thirsty and cramped Novas and Mavericks, the Corona seemed the perfect ‘step up’ model for first wave adopters of Toyota Corollas, if they hadn’t been charmed by the 3rd and 4th generation offerings.
By 1977, The Corona’s 2.2 SOHC 20R engine gave at least 90 horsepower in California (96 horses in other states). This was in an era which saw relatively huge V8s like Chevrolet’s 262 V8 produce a measly 110 horsepower moving around 3,500lb hunks of steel like the Chevrolet Nova.
Only fighting 2,500-2,700 worth of sheetmetal, the Corona’s drivetrain proved the thrill of continuing to do more with less. While domestic rivals suffered a fall from grace in terms of spotty and anemic performance, a Corona could be a comparative thrill to drive. 0-60 times in the 13-16 second range with more efficiency were another draw for those becoming ever more loyal to their treasures from the other side of the Pacific Rim.
Within that, the Corona proved to be fast fading a relic into Toyota’s stringent conservatism as well. First the Volkswagen Rabbit and Passat/Dasher, then the Honda Accord and tragically, the Chevrolet Citation showed that the future for smaller mainstream sedans lied in moving away from the Front Engine-Rear Drive dynamic that put the world on wheels at the turn of the first decade of the century.
There’d be one more generation of Corona offered in the United States before Toyota belatedly offered a more modern compact sedan with Front wheel drive in the United States. We all know, love or mock the Camry and its vanilla character, but Vanilla, whether we like to admit it or not, is possibly the safest pleasant taste we all know. We can thank Toyota for offering a variation of it for more than 50 years.