After 15 years of sales in the United States, the Corolla had become as familiar to Americans as the Nova or Dart. By 1981, Toyota had confused matters by badging the unrelated Tercel as the “Corolla Tercel,” but the actual Corolla was still selling well. With the gas lines of the 1979 energy crisis— by some measures more painful that its 1973 precursor— still fresh in car shoppers’ memories, the stingy Corolla made a lot of sense. The Corolla was getting sportier-looking as the 1980s dawned, too; compare this car to the smaller and frumpier Corollas of just five years earlier. Here’s a nice example of the Celica-influenced fourth-gen Corolla liftback, spotted last month in a California self-service yard.
Yes, Rust Belt residents, these cars are still fairly easy to find in California; they were better-built than earlier Corollas (which were only reliable when compared to the abysmal quality of most other cars of the era) and they retained their value long enough— say, well into the mid-1990s— to be worth fixing when something did break.
It’s always interesting to see factory AM/FM radios in cars of this period, because any kind of radio was an expensive option back then.
This car was pretty well used up by the time it got junked; other than a catastrophic mechanical failure, a hooptie-fied interior is the main thing that buys a Malaise Corolla that fatal ride to the junkyard.
The good old 3T-C engine, made for the California market back when there were “California” and “49-state” versions of many cars. Smog-friendly low compression kept this engine’s output down at 70 horses. It wouldn’t be many years after this car that California Corollas came with a 112-horsepower 4AGE engine, though.
I couldn’t find a Liftback-specific ’81 Corolla ad, so let’s watch this Australian Corolla-lineup ad instead.