By on March 28, 2012

I visited my old stomping grounds in California over the weekend, which means I hit a bunch of self-service junkyards in the East Bay. I was thinking about some of the cars I used to drive during the 80s as I walked the rows of this yard’s import section, when there it was: my very first car!
No, really— I was convinced I’d stumbled on the actual beige Toyota Corona with 1900 engine and 4-speed that I bought for $50 at age 15. I sold it to a classmate at 17 (he ended up going to jail for homicide a year later, but I’m pretty sure the Corona wasn’t involved in the crime) and have spent the last 29 years wondering what happened to it.
Upon closer examination, it became clear that this wasn’t my old car; the first clue was when I didn’t spot the punk door-panel murals (honoring Fang, if I recall correctly) done in sparkly nail polish applied by back-seat passengers in 1982. A look at the data plate confirmed it: Mine was a ’69 and this car is a ’70. Hey, maybe my ’69 is still out there somewhere!
So this is the second 1970 Corona I’ve seen in Northern California junkyards in recent months, after this coupe. The Corona doesn’t have much collectible value to anybody outside of Japan, so the only way an American Corona can last this long is when it never dies. Since they’re hammer-simple and have Hilux-grade R engines, this does happen… but eventually some repair will cost more than the car is worth: next stop, The Crusher!
The early Corona was the Camry of its day— homely, not very exciting to drive, and extremely reliable. I hope there are a few low-mile original ones still hidden away.

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32 Comments on “Junkyard Find: 1970 Toyota Corona Sedan...”


  • avatar
    Roberto Esponja

    “The Corona doesn’t have much collectible value to anybody outside of Japan…”

    Actually, these things sold by the jillions in Puerto Rico and are revered over there. This one looks well used but not abused, so someone would have restored it for sure.

  • avatar
    grzydj

    The good old days when cars still had rear leaf springs!

    I think the Corona is a handsome looking little car. The smog free engine bay is remarkably clean looking.

    • 0 avatar
      nikita

      Drum brakes in front, even cruder than a contemporary VW when you count the rear suspension.

      It does have air pump plumbing, but not a hundred miles of vacuum lines.

  • avatar
    VanillaDude

    There is a lot of adorable, and yet stupid, touches in old Japanese tin cars. I love the crazy door locks. The speedometer is totally cornball. The tail light design is hokey.

    I remember the seats. They were padded about as well as the dash, but covered in a vinyl that felt like soft duct tape. The doors banged shut and reminded you that there was nothing between you and the outside except a recycled Folgers coffee can. And the ash trays – the Japanese and Americans back then smoked everywhere. So you have tiny little metal ash trays in the ity-bity rear doors that tilted out, yet also threatened to pull out the vinyl door trim around the ash tray when you used them.

    If you want to still see adorable little Japanese cars, you need to rent some Miyazaki movies. That guy is obsessed with drawing every detail in old Japanese tin cars. He is obviously a car nut.

    My old Hilux, like this vehicle, had a windshield sealed with a think strip of bamboo under the rubber seals. As it aged, the rubber got stiffer and pulled back. I had to carefully shove the bamboo back to the place from where it slipped.

    No air conditioning. On summer days these little tin cars often got very warm. Many mornings I drove to work without my shirt, tie or jacket, then dressed standing next to where I could find a parking spot in the Lincoln Park garage.

    Fabulous engine. True, these little tin traps rusted, but those engines were bullet proof. By the time I started to restore it, there was nothing between me and the road except for the rubber mats and a wooden board I used as a seat brace to keep me from tilting towards the door when I drove. That engine was the reason I pop riveted, Bondo’ed, aluminum taped, and repainted and customized that old Toyota. That, and I was broke.

    Old Toyotas are memorable. Today’s are not. What made them appealing forty years ago is gone. Today’s Toyotas have no charms because charms could effect sales. Every detail in today’s vehicles has been preplanned to eliminate anything interesting which could make a retiring Kindergarten teacher possibly frown. Perhaps that is why Toyotas are often driven by old people who don’t like surprises anymore.

    I’m glad I was younger and shorter back then. These cars had no leg room for me back then, and today I would have a lot of problems folding my legs up for a long commute. But for this car – I would do it.

    • 0 avatar
      zbnutcase

      @VanillaDude; well said. Toyota has spent the last 40 years bending over backwards to engineer out every single reason we bought their products in the first place!

    • 0 avatar
      fredtal

      What I remember was that they were a little odd compared to the HUGE Amercian cars of the time, but they were reliable and economical. That’s why folks bought them and still do.

    • 0 avatar
      Slab

      I’ve been staring at those door locks and fail to see what’s “crazy” about them. They look just like the door locks we had in our ’68 Ford and Mercury.

      On second thought, you were probably talking about the lock mechanism. Never mind.

      • 0 avatar
        Geekcarlover

        On many of the early Toyotas and Datsuns you had to close the door, then lock it. If it was locked when you tried to close it, either the door would unlock or simply not close. I guess pushing the lock button down and slamming it shut is an American thing.

      • 0 avatar
        fredtal

        GeekCarLover, as someone who parked cars, you can imagine the trouble we had when a customer left the car running and locked the doors and closed the doors. I got pretty good with the slim jim.

      • 0 avatar

        The late-60s Corona was remarkably similar to the early-60s Fairlane. Sort of a 2/3 scale version.

      • 0 avatar
        dtremit

        @GeekCarLover — that was common on Japanese cars at least through 1990 or so. As I recall, on many of the later ones, the trick was to lock the door, then hold the door handle up while closing the door.

      • 0 avatar
        ciddyguy

        Greekcarlover and Dtremit,

        Honda was a little different. They required you shut the door and then lock it with the key, but a little known trick, pull the inside door handle and then slide the lock (manual locks) or push the power lock switch down to lock all doors and then shut the door.

        However, as I found out, you can still lock the keys inside, as I did just that with my ’83 Civic. the passenger door was locked, so I went to lock the driver’s door, but before I did, placed my keys, my fanny pack etc on the driver’s seat, pulled the inside door handle, slid the button to lock and slammed the door shut, and just as it closed, I realized what’d I’d just done, and said, oh sh*t under my breath.

        This was around 10pm at night, parents were gone on a trip and had to get the spare house key and call the locksmith as I didn’t have a spare key to the car at the time. $45 later I had the car door opened, much to my chagrin. I was tired and had just come home from night classes in Seattle and had driven an hour’s drive back to my parent’s place in Tacoma when I did that, in the driveway too.

      • 0 avatar
        Dr.Fine

        When I started driving, most cars required you to hold the outside push button in while you closed the locked door. When I did that on my Peugeot, the button bolted back out and damned near broke my thumb!

        My sister had a ’69 Corona almost identical to this one. When she came by to show it off, we took it to the quik stop to get a big bottle of Pepsi. She grabbed the neck of the bottle, standing on the floor, and thought she had yanked the gearshift loose.

  • avatar
    Silence

    I had one of these in high school that I used as a pseudo rally car at a gigantic gravel pit near a friend’s house.

    That car got the complete tar beat out of it for months and never gave up…and it was pretty well worn out when I bought it.

  • avatar
    Zackman

    Well, while these are not at all interesting to me, there was one thing they did well – they sipped gas and they ran. And ran. And ran…

  • avatar
    ciddyguy

    Very cool and I remember seeing these back in the day, along with the early Corollas. I’ve always liked these little boxy sedans/coupes.

    The oldest daughter of old church friends (now deceased) had a 2 door corona or similar model, I think a ’72 that she probably bought new and it was red and remember riding in it once. She drove it for years, finally replacing it I think in the 1980′s.

    I know I won’t ever see my first car again as the last time I saw it, I had driven it to the junkyard, now gone in the summer of ’83 to be junked and getting I think $50 for it as it got there under it’s own power though with dented front door and bad front disc brakes (a rare option for a ’68 Chrysler Newport).

  • avatar
    Ryoku75

    Whats that all over the wheel drums?

  • avatar
    millmech

    We had a 1966 Corona, RT-43/LV-A, for quite a few years. All-synchro 3-speed on the column, Alfin front drum brakes, bench front seat, 3-RB 1900 engine. Quite a good & reliable car.
    I have to wonder what the Toyota people were thinking; 66 dash had the same layout, but had cast aluminum (!!!) dashboard, as opposed to what may be the worst attempt @ wood-grain I’ve ever seen. They decided that Americans WANTED crappy fake-wood?
    Door handles & locks were very much American-pattern, as opposed to this later example.
    It had a little droplight that plugged into a socket in the glove box. There were some nice little things about it.
    I noticed that the front seat went back pretty far, far enough that someone in the front seat would have a left or right view of the B-pillar + there wasn’t much room left in the back.
    The whole chassis was much like a small 1957 Chevy.
    Daughter went on to Volvo 140/240s afterward.

  • avatar
    Volt 230

    This WAS the predecessor to the Camry, which was quite a step up in just about facet completely opposite from the GM X-cars which were a step down from the ones they replaced.

  • avatar
    fredtal

    There are some folks here in the USA who value these older Japanese cars. If you want to get in at the bottom here’s your chance.

  • avatar
    tonyola

    If this car is a ’70, then it’s one of the early ones and one of the last of this generation of Corona. Sometime in the early spring, Toyota introduced an all-new generation of Corona, also sold as a ’70 model.
    http://farm8.staticflickr.com/7160/6747631935_c514f01910.jpg

  • avatar
    zbnutcase

    Murilee, please keep your eyes peeled for my first car, ’70 Toyota Corona Mark II 2 door hardtop! ( ok any 69-72 Mark II hardtop will suffice!)OHC 8R-C 108hp ripper! Yet another bullitproof member of the “R” family….

    • 0 avatar
      Hezz

      My first car was a ’72 Corona Mk II 2 door. Great engine, great 4 speed, overall a fantastic car. Would probably still be driving it had I not fallen asleep and rolled/launched it into a hay field.

  • avatar
    bill mcgee

    I always thought that this generation of Coronas was Toyota’s breakthrough car at least in this area (Texas ) . Before these a toyota was a very rare sight- Datsuns became popular a little sooner . Once these came out though it seemed that they quickly became popular and also brought in the reputation for reliability .

  • avatar
    beach cruiser

    That car was also my wife’s first car. Her parents bought it new and gave it to her when she graduated high school in 1971. It was a color called rose beige I think. Anyway, we married in 1978 and she was still driving it daily for her long work commute. It was a dead reliable car. In 1980 the original timing belt broke at just over 200,000 miles and that was it. Sold it for $200 to a toyota mechanic. We bought a 1979 Honda Civic to replace it and have been buying Honda’s ever since. She still has pictures of it when it was new and has never taken a picture of any of the many Hondas we have owned. Sometimes the first one is the one you always remember the most.

  • avatar
    chicagoland

    Now Toyota adds chrome to appeal to “retired teachers”. But they are also dumping into rental fleets. I see many shiny chrome trimmed Corollas at O’Hare airport lots.

  • avatar

    I remember these very well, Toyota’s first big seller in our part of the U.S.

    A local pharmacy bought a pair of them for delivery cars (with automatics, “Toyoglide” if memory serves, a two-speed auto like a Powerglide). Indestructible, even with my teen-peer drivers wringing them out constantly. Those delivery vehicles sold a lot of Toyotas in Kansas City; they visited a lot of homes, and folks noted how well they were holding up with delivery “boys” behind the wheel.

  • avatar
    Lokki

    Probably not exactly on point, but the first time I ever heard of a Toyota was in 1972. My girlfriend’s sister had purchased one for her first car out of college. My girlfriend was amused by how tiny it was… and quoted her brother’s comment that “it has the same size tires as a forklift” he was driving for his summer job.

    It left an impression on me, obviously, as I still remember that.

  • avatar
    primerdust360

    Nice Fang reference. I just forwarded this to Sammy! My grandfather bought my mom one of the early Toyota Coronas imported to the US when she was leaving for college. I think it was a ’66 or ’67? My mom grew up in San Diego, CA and my dad grew up in Yuma, AZ. They met at ASU. Back then my dad had just sold his ’59 Plymouth Sport Fury to buy a used ’64 Valiant slant 6 car. Fast-forward to 1981, when I was 5 we were living in Davis, CA. We had a 1973 Dart 4-door for my mom to haul us kids around in. It was a slant 6 car with 9″ drums. It was gold with a black vinyl roof and houndstooth cloth seat inserts. My dad rode his bicycle to work at UC Davis (It being Davis and all.) My mom was always worried about him during the winter months as the central valley can get quite foggy. My dad found a ’72 Corolla 4 door with a cracked head in a West Sacramento trailer park. Every panel on that car was dented. I remember him getting it running and doing a bunch of bodywork before taking it Earl Schieb’s and having it painted BRIGHT YELLOW (he wanted it to stand out in the fog) In 1987 my brother and my dad replaced the little 1.6 Hemi attached to the Toyoglide and in ’88 my brother got his license and it became his car. EVERYONE made fun of it, but it got him through college and into his first real job, where he bought a 1995 Dodge Avenger ES. It actually got stolen from him when he was in college, and recovered with an empty gas tank. Eventually the Corolla was gifted to one of my cousins who learned how to drive on it and later gifted to another cousin of mine. In 1999 it was T-boned and put to sleep. What’s funny is when I turned 16 in 1992 rather than getting stuck with a free 70′s Toyota I’d already purchased a 318 V8 disc-brake ’73 Duster for $900. I’d be damned if I too, was going to be stuck with a small Toyota. These days every time I see an old 70′s Toyota, be it a Celica, Corolla, Corona… I always think about saving it, adding dual Webers and a turbo to a little 4 cylinder Hemi and having way too much fun with it.

  • avatar
    throwbackguy76

    One of these 1970 Corona 4 door MkIIs was my sister’s first car which she named Benny. It was white and with a little over 100K miles my dad decided to rebuild the engine. When he got it torn down most if not all of the tolerances were within spec! He was used to Ford V8s being worn out at this mileage. After he got the engine rebuilt my sister rear-ended a school bus. Needless to say the bumpers did not line up very well and the front of this car was beyond backyard mechanic repair. Being resourceful and having the recently rebuilt motor, my dad found a same year pale blue body donor with a blown motor. I remember the terror I experienced piloting it as it was chain towed at highway speed behind my dad’s 65 Fairlane. (No running engine = no working defroster). The transplant was complicated by the fact that the donor body had a manual trans and for some reason the auto trans engine would not mate to the manual transmission (flex plate/flywheel issue?) so the automatic transmission also had to be installed with the engine. I remember a lot of hammering of the transmission tunnel but when done it did work. I still remember the sad sight of the engineless and transmissionless flattened face hulk of Benny riding high in the front before we scrapped it. As for the pale blue replacement, it met an ignoble and untimely end in New Orleans East not too long after.


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