By on August 11, 2011

I don’t know where all these Malaise Era Japanese econoboxes have been hiding prior to showing up in Denver-area junkyards, but they sure haven’t been on the street. Under tarps, forgotten in back yards and driveways? A ’74 Datsun B210 fastback the other day, and now I find this ’78 Corolla at a yard about five miles away.
These things were once among the most common motor vehicles on American streets; they were cheap, simple, and weren’t very thirsty for go-go juice. Toyota’s reputation for build quality hadn’t really taken firm hold as of the late 70s, and the Corollas of this era were much flakier than those built in subsequent decades, but they were pretty decent little cars by the low standards of the time.
The Malaise Corollas were underpowered, cramped, and noisy, but keep in mind that they were competing with the likes of the Chevy Chevette, Dodge Colt, Fiat 128, and Mazda GLC.
Were I sent back to 1978 with enough money to buy a new subcompact, I’d skip the Corolla and head right to the Honda showroom for a Civic. Still, I hope at least a few of these Corollas manage to evade The Crusher’s jaws.

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26 Comments on “Junkyard Find: 1978 Toyota Corolla...”

  • avatar

    My ex-wife drove one of these during the latter half of the 1980’s. It was a wagon with a 1.8L and 4 speed manual. The rear wheel drive Corolla of this era was a great car, very Spartan, yet it had an AC that would freeze you out of the car.

    At the time I would of preferred a Corona wagon, which had a tad more space inside – but it this particular Corolla wagon was available at a price that was too good to pass up.

  • avatar

    I remember these things having an affinity for rusting quickly in the benign DFW climate. I know they all did that back then, but even my admittedly rust-prone 76 Chevy Chevelle was just starting to rust the trunk floor through enough to require repair at 24 years of age, and it sat outside 24×7 for 24 years.

    The small Japanese cars were never really popular in Dallas. I hardly ever saw them when I was more cognizant of cars in the mid to late 80s. They were more popular in Houston, though the Gulf coast weather really worked on them, and all the rest of the cars.

  • avatar

    if you could keep the tin worm away – and you couldn’t – they would run forever.

    • 0 avatar

      All my formative Malaise Corolla experience was in coastal California, so I didn’t realize they like to rust. The only cars that rusted readily in that climate were air-cooled VWs, because they leak so much during the rainy season that the pans rusted out.

      • 0 avatar

        VW pans rusted, because the lead acid battery was on the floor under the rear seat, not because of leaked water. Plus, the older lead acid batteries were not sealed, which gave one the option by carelessnes of overfilling them.

        Once the tin worm began, it was a matter of time before it spread.

  • avatar

    We had a ’76 wagon. Yellow. Honda didn’t offer a wagon back then, IIRC. Came with the ‘Woody’ kit, but my mom told the dealer “uh, don’t bother.” Ran pretty well for 6 years, and sold for OK cash. That was the car I took my drivers test in.

    We thought the build quality was impressive, but what did we know? It was 1976, and the previous car was a ’68 Type III.

  • avatar

    This was one of the cars that helped Toyota become a superpower in the US.

    My friend’s father had a 76. I was amazed at its durability.

    As for the choice between the Corolla and the Civic – the Civic was prettier but much more complex under the hood. I think the Corolla would have been the better choice.

    • 0 avatar

      The Civic was orders of magnitude more fun to drive. I’ve owned several mid-70s Civics and driven many Corollas of similar vintage, and the Civic definitely had Soichiro Honda’s touch.

      I recall being horrified at how much quicker and generally superior the Civics of this era were compared to my allegedly sporty chrome-bumper MGBs. One of the factors that turned me into a Civic fan.

      • 0 avatar

        Pretty hard to catch a well driven Civic in a topless Morris Oxford but these Corollas rusted like mad as did Hondas but the rust king was Datsun those were nearly as bad as Fiats in the wrong climate

      • 0 avatar

        I don’t think anyone can really comment on those Gen-I Civics because they rusted so fast, engineering durability was a moot issue.

        I was twentysomething in Northeastern Ohio in 1982. Had a job driving a tow truck, and no car…I needed something. The local Pontiac-Honda dealer had about thirty old rusty Civics parked in the back lot. I made inquiries.

        They weren’t for sale, I was told. Honda had bought them back to get them off the streets. I wasn’t told if that was the result of a lawsuit or borne of Japanese desire to save face; but they repurchased and scrapped thousands of those rust-buckets.

        In 1977, with a middling job, I was shopping for a new car. I struck out, with a Chevette; but the bullet I dodged was that Honda had completely sold out its Civic inventory for the forseeable future.

        If Toyota has come a long way, and it his, Honda has come farther still.

  • avatar
    Volt 230

    Man, if I knew then what I know now, I would have gone to my local Toyota dealer for one of these instead of the god-awful GM X-car Buick I ended up getting, I would have saved a bunch of dough and aggravation.

  • avatar

    Want to know where they go? I did too, then I found out. Overseas and to Latin America. There’s tons of them there, still running, with stickers on the back bumper from U.S. dealerships.

    • 0 avatar
      Volt 230

      Agree with Detroit X Ive seen it first hand all over Latin America my local junkyards have almost zero Toyotas for parts available.

    • 0 avatar

      I live in Honduras, where the Japanese have dominiated for a long time. You see 70′s Japanese iron EVERYWHERE, held together by duct tape and bailing wire. In my town, there are about 200 Izuzu I-Mark diesels, all taxis. None of them can go over 40 without shaking violently. One of my friends who drives a Jeep Cherokee hit one and broke it in half. There are plenty of old 4-door mini pickups that we never got in the States.

  • avatar

    Actually, the reliability of the Corolla was fairly well established by 1978. Consumer Reports reliability charts usually had the Corolla infused with solid red dots–with the exception of the auto trans. CR always used to count the number of sample defects for each car they tested, and Toyota usually had the fewest–even less than the Mercedes 240D.

    • 0 avatar

      I always found it funny that CR would count things like tire balance and alignments against the mfr. I’ve learned over the years that most cars could be balanced and aligned perfectly on one machine, and then moved to another machine and it’ll be off a bit. Not enough to warrant a re-do on the job but just the tolerance on the machine.

      But yes these were reasonably reliable automobile.

  • avatar

    Summer of 1980, and we were freshly graduated from high school. In that brief summer pause between working hard to prepare to go to college, and to begin working hard to prepare ourselves for careers and families, we were still able to enjoy life on the dime of our parents… meaning that we had to borrow our parent’s wheels if we were going to do something with a bit of a distance to it.

    Dave Lambert’s dad had a Corolla just like the one in this piece, except his was blue and I think the rear taillight surrounds were black rubber or plastic.

    So as Dave, Rick Mara, and I piled into the car, I asked Dave about it, because in Detroit, such a car was a bit of an oddity … Dave said that his dad had been a loyal buyer of VW beetles which he used for his down-town commutes … until he bought this car (even though VW had more modern alternatives, Jim Gilson’s dad bought a pretty dark red Dasher – but this seemed more of an Audi really, like my sister’s Audi Fox.)

    Later, at the drive-in, watching the movie Airplane, I reached forward from the back-seat to try and adjust the rear-view mirror so I could see the screen, and as I did so, the mirror popped off… to which Dave, justifyably, freaked-out a little, thinking I was destroying his dad’s car … fortunately, if memory serves, I was able to snap the mirror back on and all was good.

    Anyhow, replacing beetles, and acceptable for showing-up at an all-american drive-in (in suburban Detroit), is proof-positive, that by the summer of 1980, it was no longer Corvette Summer, but Corolla Summer, and Toyota had arrived to stay.

  • avatar


    NOTHING rusts in Denver. When I moved there from the northeast in 91, I was shocked to see late seventies Dodge Aspens, already a rusted out memory in NH, in pristine condition about the town.

    I’m back in Maine now and have been for six years, where our 2000 Chevy Venture soldiers on carrying our six kids here and there, with nary a rust mark upon it despite the lack of wash and wax, and my 97 Audi A8 is still a decade or two from corrosion in our salty, cold, mushy winters. With the 3k bill from the local repair shop, including a variety of timing belts, brake lines, and water pumps, my 7 year old will use it for his prom car much like my 15 year old will in two years. And it still might be the best driver there.

    I do miss the dry, sunny Denver climate, though I have to admire Maine’s 52 distinct seasons. Each week here is an adventure different from the previous, and is shockingly consistent from year to year.

  • avatar

    Tend to agree on the fun factor of those early Civics. I a 1983 3 door Civic hatch back in the 1990’s and it was hella fun to drive and drive it I did. Put around 70K miles on it in 6 years with most of those miles accrued over a short period in that time.

    I’ve ridden in the back seat of a good friend’s ’79 civic that didn’t look like much as the original silver metallic paint was badly oxidized to the point that a rattle can layer of silver paint to the hood and roof helped keep the rust at bay. it was the CVCC version as it had the black painted wheels.

    I remember seeing these old Corollas everywhere up here in Seattle and still do see one occasionally of this vintage but I definitely see many of the later versions however.

  • avatar

    This is worth far more than the entire GDP of Detroit.

  • avatar

    Is that a 6-door limo in the background?

  • avatar
    MRF 95 T-Bird

    My sister bought one of these in the mid-80’s for a mear $200 w/86k on the clock. A 77 2 dr base model no carpets, rubber mats, The only option was an AM/FM radio. The base 1200cc 4spd with of all things a manual choke that functioned very well. She got a few years normal maintenance and 150k out of it before an upgrade and sold it for $500.

  • avatar

    Yellow 1979 Corolla SR-5 Liftback (I think it was Liftback that Toyota called it). That eng ran so sweet! Calipers and brake proportioning valve at 110k miles and also a wheel bearing and fuel pump ($17) along the way. I could drive this car anywhere. I sold it in 1988, with a banged up RF fender, 124k miles, for $900. It had very minimal rust for living in WI. I bought a 1985 Mazda 626 LX Touring Sedan w/digital dash. The Mazda was years ahead of Honda, Toyota and pretty much anything else of the time. Except for the carbed engine,the 626 got FI the next year. Selling the Mazda was one of the dumbest things I’ve ever done.

  • avatar

    My stepdad’s Corolla SR-5 Liftback, ditto. Royal non-metallic blue with the upmarket steel wheels that looked like alloys. RWD but hatchback, very practical, silly good mileage, a 5-speed that shifted well, and like all these cars, it would have rusted to a pile of brown oxide powder and the engine would have sat in the middle of the pile, still running. When my late-model car would quit, his old beater with over 100k on the clock would still get me there, no questions asked.

  • avatar

    where i can buy the hood !!! i really need it !! thx !!

  • avatar

    need a 78 corolla (te31) hood , if somebody have one for sell contact me asap ! thx !!

    [email protected]

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