And Then There's Corolla Dependable

Joe Chiaramonte
by Joe Chiaramonte
and then there s corolla dependable

I was making my way through my morning paper recently when my progress was interrupted by a paean to perfection by automotive journalist Matt Nauman. Normally, I don’t pay much attention to the local paper’s car reviews or features; thanks to wall-to-wall dealer ads, these syndicated features are about as independent-minded and critical as a stage mother watching her daughter perform Grease on a high school proscenium. Of course, pistonhead that I am, I still scan them. And Nauman’s work stopped me in my tracks. The subject of his unadulterated adulation, you see, was the Toyota Corolla.

It’s easy to understand the car hack’s choice of subject matter. After 40 years of incredibly humble service, the lowly Corolla is the far-and-away sales champ of all time. With 31.6 million cars sold worldwide it’s The Car That Just Won’t Go Away. More Corollas have occupied our streets than all of the Golf/Rabbits, VW Beetles, Ford Escorts, Honda Civics or Model T’s produced by hand of man.

Although Nauman’s mechanical hagiography matched the vehicle in question for overall excitement, his article was not without insight. His pat-on-the-back interviews, for example, included Keith Byrd. For over eleven years, Mr. Byrd has been one of the thousands of gainfully employed autoworkers who've helped breed 2.5 million Corollas at the Toyota plant in NUMMI in Fremont, California. Byrd described what has become his life’s work with a librarian’s passion. “It’s kind of like water. When you want to get a drink, you know it’s refreshing, but you don’t talk about it all the time.”

Cupid’s automotive arrow also whizzed straight past David Zatz. The man whose surname Dr. Seuss would adore runs the Toyota Corolla fan site (which admonishes its readers to pronounce it “Corolla-Land” even though they couldn't quite swing the domain with the "a" in it). “You’ve got good trunk space," Zatz effused. "It’s quiet inside. It corners well enough.” Ernest Bastien, Vice President of Toyota USA’s Vehicle Operations Group added his faint praise to Nauman’s Corolla love-in. “It’s a car that meets the needs of most consumers on an everyday basis.”

[Fair disclosure: I’m guilty of participating in this conspiracy to numb American motorists’ hearts and stultify their minds. My first new car was a shiny 1979 Toyota Corolla SR-5 Liftback, a green machine that tried hard to suggest “sportiness,” but instead delivered just enough utility and economy to keep me driving it for six years. I have served my penance and have emerged on the Other Side.]

The Corolla’s greatest sin– perhaps its only sin– is boredom. Toyota exec Bastien is right: in its many ancient and modern forms, the Corolla has and will continue transport its passengers from A to B with little cost and intrusion. But it will also generate the least desire to stare at the keys and wonder where to take her next. This is precisely why enthusiasts will gleefully deride such a vehicle on these e-pages. This is why sister Camry, venerable and useful as it might be, nearly made it onto the TWAT list.

Too right too. The Corolla is as sexy as Aunt Bea, dressed in steel, plastic, rubber and glass. It’s the automotive equivalent definition of “wallflower.” The Corolla is a shaped box on four wheels. It turns as sharply as cheese. It screams to speed as quickly as Ol’ Paint. It whirs and hums and wheezes. It is to exciting transportation what Slim Jims are to fine cuisine. On any pistonheads’ automotive wish list, the Corolla fits just above moped and girl’s bike.

For enthusiasts, driving a Corolla is living death. Sure, Toyota tuners will argue that the humble Corolla can be modded and prodded into a speed-mobile that can kick serious Civic backside. My question to them would be: why? Is there a reason – any reason – to expend a serious number of Franklins on a vehicle that will still be, in the final analysis, your mother’s car?

In the Corolla's defense, the model was offering five-speeds and DOHC engines back in the ‘70’s, when Detroit was hard-pressed to give motorists four-speeds and SOHC four-cylinder engines. The Corolla offered– offers the two characteristics people look for in a car: economy and reliability. It set the standards for other small cars… which they singularly failed to achieve.

Yes, well, great. Meanwhile, the Corolla is the match to the enthusiast's fuse. One is always sedately lumbering along (safely below the speed limit) ahead of us and a line of others when we…want…to drive. We shake our heads, never quite understanding why buyers choose to make the public statement, “I really don’t care what my car drives like, handles like, or says to the world. And, when it breaks, I’ll get another one.”

Been there done that. Get the damn thing out of my way.

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  • Saabnut Saabnut on Oct 28, 2008

    Saabs more expensive? No saabs will go to silly mileages if properly maintained - i am ofcourse referring to real Saabs made in Sweden and not cars badged as Saab afterthoughts. The guy who bought one for his daughter good on you pal - the safety and tank like build way and above justify the tinkering. Saab is Swedish for Safe As A Brick. 10 years top safety record in Sweden and the States. Don't think Toyota is in that category, wouldn't like to be a crash test dummy in one either. Would take my chances in an old Saab any day. If a car ain't a lemon from the factory then it should go to silly mileages if properly maintained goes for Mercs, Bimmers and Toyotas. Are Toyotas fun or simple cars with simple personalies for simple people??? I think very simply engineered cars with no passion. I have a 1997 Saab 9000 LPT (light pressure turbo) at 150bhp, doing around 32mpg around town and 44mpg at a steady 80mph. My LPT is now 225bhp and still returns 30 mpg around town - this ugrade cost @ 300USD. Why because i can and more importantly it can ! Amazing tolerances on gearboxes and engines. Some quirkiness here and there but thats passion and personality. Yes it fastidiously needs synthetic every 6k . But even the second hand parts were so well made that i've run it on a shoestring budget for 3 years. 0-100km is around 6 seconds oh and can take a hefty payload when required. Oh those red faced bimmer and TT drivers... Would i buy new parts for an old Toyota - what do you think?? I do not care what my neighbours or other drivers think, but its nice to see them in the rear view - way back! Then they re-assess. Toyotas are passionless but reliable. Not many forums dedicated to Toyota different matter with Saab. My car expresses my sensible reserved personality with all its individual quirks. What does a Toyota really say. 'Bought it off my aunt who didn't want it any more....' Only one life to live, fun can be sensible but should NEVER be boring!!! How many hours are spent in a lifetime in cars - why spend it in a Toyota....dignified yes, but so is a coffin, no fun in there though. Also why buy Toyota (coffin) after Toyota(coffin) after Toyota (coffin) - Hope you guys get the point. None of us is non-descript - why buy a non-descript car. Think coffins are non-descript though !!! Historically - Toyotas are not really first and foremost performance orientated - thats BS - Toyota the word itself has no meaning in Japanese but is a relation to Toyoda a sewing machine manufacturer that started making Toyota branded cars and wanted a non descript name for superstitious reasons. The first cars were re-jigged copies of either European or American designs. When they got a little better and because of the OIL crisis in circa '73 they then invaded the US sector. Oh and those 70's muscle cars are all now classics, those 70's Toyotas are junk. Toyota started making performance cars very late in the day - Saab virtually invented the Turbo and were Euro rally kings for their efforts. 'Only bought cos it did great mileage but didn't survive that crash but was very reliable', just hope that's not an epitaph....PASSION makes us all who we are, or NOT. OH BTW Saab make fighter jets (The Viggen) Toyota also make sewing machines - nuff said me thinks. I have never had a Toyota and never will - EVER, except when I am 6 feet under and I don't ever intend to take up sewing either, but am a virtual fighter pilot when i drive at least.

  • Scary Scott Scary Scott on Oct 25, 2010

    Am I too late to the Party? Yes, Does that matter to me? No. I have to say, that Im kinda tenderhearted by some of the comments about the corolla here, Just.. In general, like the ones that say they are no fun, bland dull and boring. I just want to say that I am the PROUD owner of a 78 Corolla 2 door sedan. Stock motor, everything stock from the factory, EXCEPT for the rims tires and sound system. I have never had an issue with the car, and the engine has over 300,000 miles on it, I drive the hell out of it! yes my dad gave it to me, for, Pretty much free, and It is my first car, but I have drove some others, Like a ford Pinto, and a brand new Chevrolet Impala, and a Honda Accord, and some others from other people, but the toyota is MINE. Let me state that it is a Rear wheel drive, Manual Transmission, I have and can accelerate with quite a bit of pick up that always surprises my passengers in the car, the seats are pretty comfy but falling apart due to age and abuse from the previous owner, and I have personally taken the car as fast as I dared to on a public road (Started to slow down for fear of a ticket!) and had taken the speedometer all the way around back to 10! (thats around 145 to 150 MPH!) as for cornering Its all about the tires, I have newer tires on there, with rims that are a little wider and bigger than the normal stock set, Grips like a champ, the breaks have never failed me, and I can stop within a relative short distance. Would I say on a dime? only if I knew that the dime was there, The only downside is that the corolla is considered to be a bland car, but many do not even try to unlock the potential, or even really test out what it can do. A stock 2TC is a fun little engine, and Im sure that if you go into one with an open mind you would be surprised. But alas the issue isn't what I think when it comes to the car, but that OTHERS find it bland, dull stock looking, Hell All I would need to do is paint it any other color than the stock color, (white) fix around the interior and tint the windows and it would look much better and WAY less bland, Ive seen some corollas out there that REALLY nice looking, go ahead and look up the KE30 or the TE31 for some real neat racing car corollas. Well this is my piece of mind, im out.