By on February 15, 2012

Jeff writes:

Hi Sajeev:

I enjoy your articles advising people on what cars to buy or avoid.  I have a bit of a different problem.

My mother recently passed away, and I inherited her 1989 Corolla down in Florida.  She bought it used down there, it has a little over 100,000 miles on it.  The car is absolutely mint, as you could imagine for a Florida car.  It runs great, the AC works well, and the body and paint are in excellent condition, as is the interior – it has been kept out of the sun.  Even the engine is in great condition – all the anodized parts still look as new.  Plus, it doesn’t even leak.  It has had regular maintenance, belts, hoses and fluids changed.

My wife and I are both taller people, and don’t fit well into the car.  Plus, it doesn’t have any safety equipment to speak of, besides seat belts.  I always get nervous driving on US 19 with all those Panthers and old people.  At some point we would like to sell it.

I really don’t want the car to go to a kid who won’t take care of it.  I would rather see it go to someone who would preserve the car, maybe a collector of Japanese cars.  It isn’t costing us much to hang onto the car, so it is not an urgent issue, but I would like it to go to a good home.

I’d appreciate your thoughts and comments.

Sajeev answers:

Oh my, that’s a sweet little runner!  And if you think my exuberance for a time capsule grade Toyota Corolla is unfounded, you haven’t spent much time back-to-back between one of these and one of the new Tupperware nightmares sold at Toyota dealerships.

And we all should love mundane, respectable yet ultimately desirable vehicles. If this was a 1986 Mercury Sable LS, I’d beg for the keys!

If a Lincoln-Mercury fan like myself exists, I am sure a Toyota nerd does too. Fingers crossed on that one. But I digress…

I understand the car needs to go, and I am sorry for your loss. I am touched that you won’t let the Corolla just go to anyone, because it’s true: they will ruin it. Even if they don’t mean to, because that’s how it works when a car this old/pristine/unloved enters the used car market. It isn’t a new car and it sure as heck isn’t a Pontiac Trans Am with T-tops, a big block and a 4-speed.

My advice? Hit the forums and ask for advice, starting with Japanese Nostalgic Car. Any and all Toyota forum is a good idea too. Place classified ads in all these forums too, they are usually free and you might meet some nice people to boot.

Put an advertisement in Hemmings or any other classic car publication you like. Be prepared to spend a ton of time and money (relatively speaking) for not much reward in the end.  But, you know the drill, it takes beaucoup patience to sell something as worthy as a honest and clean 1989 Toyota Corolla.

Send your queries to [email protected] . Spare no details and ask for a speedy resolution if you’re in a hurry.

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53 Comments on “Piston Slap: Beaucoup Patience for a Worthy Corolla?...”

  • avatar

    Seat belts are enough safety equipment. I’ll grant that side airbags are a real advance, but the dirty little secret of front airbags is that their purpose is to protect people too dumb to wear their seat belts. If you’re not one of those, the airbag may even injure you in a crash in which you otherwise would have gotten away without a scratch.

    • 0 avatar
      30-mile fetch

      What about crumple zones and a cabin that doesn’t collapse like a beer can?

      And no, airbags are designed to supplement the seat belts, not take their place. If you hit something hard enough to ignite the airbags, you will eat the steering wheel in a car without them. Where are you getting this from?

      • 0 avatar

        “If you hit something hard enough to ignite the airbags, you will eat the steering wheel in a car without them.”

        When you’re wearing your seat belt? Where are you getting THAT from? It’s nonsense.

      • 0 avatar

        I can testify to that: it happened to me,and I have the fractured cheek bone to prove it. I was wearing my seatbelt, and even occasionally cinching it up (force of habit), but when the front hit whatever it hit, my face hit the steering wheel. Self-tensioning seatbelts can help, but airbags can help even more.

      • 0 avatar
        30-mile fetch

        Oops, I misread your last sentence. But the one preceding it still doesn’t make much sense to me.

        Your face can hit the steering wheel even when wearing a seat belt. Check out crash test videos where the airbag doesn’t inflate at the proper moment, the dummy’s face passes through it and into the steering wheel hub.

        Ouch! I will gladly take the airbag, provided it works properly :)

    • 0 avatar

      Last I knew, US regulations describe a 2-stage airbag. Front airbags in the US need to be able to work in two different modes. One mode is intended for buckled up occupants, and this mostly matches the required airbag behavior in Europe, where seat belt laws are more prevalent and better enforced.
      The second mode is supposed to be appropriate for unbuckled occupants. I think this goes back to the introduction of “passive” restraint systems in the US, when cars could either include an airbag or automatic seatbelts (remember those?), suggesting that occupants would use one or the other.
      I think the second mode inflates faster and maybe larger, given the assumption that the seat belt will not be contributing to the safer deceleration rate.

      Remember that Mercedes Benz was an early proponent of airbags, and they pretty much expect everybody inside to wear seat belts.

      When properly designed, airbags provide tremendous protection in frontal crashes whether the occupant is belted or not.

    • 0 avatar

      Frontal airbags cause more injuries than they prevent in moderate-speed accidents, and (putting tinfoil hat on) there seems to be a coverup going on if you try to find any statistics on airbag injuries. And in high-speed head-on accidents, the airbag doesn’t help because the sudden deceleration will kill you anyways, belted/airbags or not.

      The carmakers LOVE airbags, because their deployment often tips the scales on whether a car is repaired or replaced (dual frontal airbag deployment can cost $4K to fix).

      Front airbag injuries include facial lacerations/fractures/burns, eye damage, permanent hearing loss, and all sorts of hand and arm fractures/burns if you don’t have your hands in the correct places when the airbag deploys.

      And God help you if you are short in stature and your head is just inches away from the airbag.

      I’m a huge proponent of side-curtain airbags as they definitely reduce head injuries in side-impact crashes.

  • avatar
    Educator(of teachers)Dan

    Good luck on finding an enthusiast for these cars, they must exsist out there somewhere. To me it’s about as desireable as a dirty gym sock.

    • 0 avatar

      Dan! I’m dissappointed in you. :-)

      • 0 avatar
        Educator(of teachers)Dan

        Sorry I get worked up about American cars mostly save the Japanese sports cars of the 70s, 80s, and 90s. Nissan Z, Mazda RX, that I can get worked up about. Yes I love American vanilla sedans but for the Japanese equivellent, it doesn’t do anything for me.

        There are enthusiast for these cars and god bless ’em. This car deserves one of those owners.

    • 0 avatar
      Volt 230

      Hey if you don’t want that car, I’ll take it in a jiffy, it’s much, much better built than the crap being produced nowadays!

  • avatar

    I always thought these Corollas were the greatest, especially in style, even if the back wheels are tucked under a bit too far forward. Other than that, this is a great looking car just the same.

    True, these and most other Japanese cars of that era were tight – especially in the back seat, but this needs to go to a deserving home – like mine IF I were in the market!

    My sympathy for your loss and hope you find a deserving buyer.

    EDIT: I hate Toyota, so if I were in the market, I still wouldn’t buy it! I shoulda clarified that.

  • avatar

    Sorry, but I don’t see much reason to save this car. If it were a Civic sedan, there might be a reason as it had some sporting pretensions (especially the ’90/’91 EX which got the D16A6 16V engine of the Si models.)

    But, outside of it’s reliability (for the time), this car had few redeeming qualities to make someone want it.

    • 0 avatar

      Yeah, personally I don’t get the appeal. Toyota stamped out a crapton of these things, so it’s not like it’s interesting from a rarity standpoint. Not sporty, not fast, not even a unique body style. I can think of a lot of cars from the ’80s that are interesting worth saving, but the Corolla isn’t on my list.

      Then again, it has nostalgic appeal to the OP. And it is very well preserved. And the possibility of driving a 23-year old mint daily driver is interesting just as a car guy. And objectively speaking, it’s an attractive car in a utilitarian sort of way.

      So in conclusion, I agree with Sajeev. :)

  • avatar

    How tall is ‘taller’? I’ve logged quite a few miles in a ’93 Corolla. I’m not short, but I’m not Manute Bol, either. Also have been in a bad wreck in that same car, and came out just fine. They’re good cars.

    • 0 avatar

      The new generation Corolla/Prizm introduced in ’93 was considerably larger than car shown – particularly on the interior. I’m 6 feet tall and drove a ’90 Prizm way back when and had no issues with interior space, but each successive generation got taller and taller with corresponding headroom.

  • avatar

    Holy crap! Just what my (very responsible) 49 year old sister would LOVE to have down in Orlando. We bought a 1997 Tercel together years ago that now has 197,000 on it and resides in Colorado Springs with my son at USAFA. She’d love to have a reliable, inexpensive and well-cared for older Toyota as a nice DD. There is a market for well-taken care of older cars out there…and people who are willing to look after them appropriately

  • avatar

    Holy crap! That was my first car! Same year, color and everything. I was just thinking the other day about what a good little car that was. If I lived anywhere near you I’d seriously consider taking it off your hands…

  • avatar

    For me, this was the height of Toyota. A mix of rock-solid quality, reliability, and a down-to-earth authenticity in design and execution. While its overall aesthetic might not have wowed anyone, it still had a distinct silhouette and clean design that made sense (unlike a lot of cars today which feel over designed yet indistinguishable). We had one of these back in the mid 90s, and there was just a really great sense of honesty about this car that somehow was lost over the years. Every time I see one drive by, I want it.


    • 0 avatar

      +1, These were the cars that made my family a Toyota family for years to come (well beyond, in fact, the point where Toyotas started to become the dreary barges they are today).

      • 0 avatar

        There is nothing different about this Corolla than the Corolla of today. That is to say, this ’89 is a dreary land barge.

        All cars have gotten larger, just as the Corolla has, but the modern Corolla offers the same basic functionality as this “vintage” example does.

        Toyota hasn’t changed much over the years, just our perspective of them as a company has.

        Obligatory mention of the word Panther.

    • 0 avatar
      30-mile fetch

      Our family had a Camry of this vintage in which I learned to drive stick. That was a good, solid, honest car that put our 91 Olds Cutlass Ciera to absolute shame. These Toyotas were a bit spartan, but the quality was immediately evident. Something that can’t be said now.

    • 0 avatar

      Honest, sensible, and practical styling has largely vanished in favor of bizarre big-lip and mustache cars.

      Sometimes I think that silly modern styling is simply to cover-up the too often so-so driving dynamics of modern cars, even small hatchbacks aren’t as fun as they once were.

    • 0 avatar
      Athos Nobile

      “For me, this was the height of Toyota.”

      Corolla-wise, for me, it’s the one that followed, the 93-97 one, known in my country as baby-Camry.

      Those got the bigger engine, airbags, Lexus-like noise insulation, MUCH nicer cabin.

      The they did what they did on the 98-02 (round headlamps), and then they removed the IRS, and…

  • avatar

    I wish I had room in the garage, I’d take it off your hands…

  • avatar

    “If this was a 1986 Mercury Sable LS, I’d beg for the keys!”

    It’s funny you mention this.
    My grandmother recently passed away as well. She left behind….
    an 86 Mercury Sable. I haven’t seen this car since it’s in Arkansas, but I am told that all it needs is tires (dry). I remember when my grandparents bought this car new in 1986. I’m quite sure it never went anywhere. Nobody else in my family wants anything to do with an old car.

    • 0 avatar
      Educator(of teachers)Dan

      And Sajeev is emailing you in 3… 2… 1…

    • 0 avatar

      If this is a nicely loaded LS like I remember from my childhood, I am game. Email me with photos, if your family really wants someone who might be able to save it. Yes, I am serious.

    • 0 avatar

      A 1986 Mercury Sable LS was the first car I picked out myself (rather than getting from a family member about to unload it). It was one of my favorite cars, and the best highway car ever.

      The Vulcan had decent power for passing on a two lane, yet (until the torque converter quit locking) hit 30mpg easy. It was so slippery that crosswinds rarely upset it at all. Its split bench seats were the best long-haul seats of any car I have ever owned or ridden in. It would run 400+ miles on a tank of gas no problem, which was roughly the distance between college and home, a run where the huge trunk came in very handy. It could haul four adults for hours in complete comfort yet wasn’t too big to make parking or city work a chore. Visibility was excellent thanks to great glass area and huge side mirrors. Compared to my previous cars (’75 Chevelle, ’79 Zephyr Wagon, ’80 Skylark) the steering and braking were a revelation.

      Also, and I know this is weird, but I loved the fact that when the “Washer Fluid” light came on, the tank would hold a FULL BOTTLE of washer fluid. No bottles with 2″ in the bottom all over the garage anymore. Light comes on, buy bottle, pour in, throw away empty. Come to think of it, I think it also took an even 5 quarts of oil too. Surprise! Delight!

      It did have one strange characteristic, though – with a .29 Cd, it’s bow wake didn’t push enough air up to lift birds trying to get out of the way over the roof. They would impact the upper left or right corner of the windshield. Killed a lot of birds with that car. LOTTA birds. That was also surprising, but not delightful.

  • avatar

    My first car was a ’91 Corolla with 5spd manual transmission. What a great car. The 1.6L fuel injected engine (pre 1990’s had carburated engines) is quite zippy and economical when mated to a manual transmission. It’s very smooth and unbelievably reliable. My Corolla had 265,000km on it at the time it got hit by another car. The engine ran like new. Didn’t burn oil, didn’t make any noises. Still pulled great. I miss that little car.

  • avatar

    Add me to the list of people who had one of these too. Interestingly I had an LE version but it still was 5sp., 2bbl carb, no power anything. My best guess was the LE package got me a remotely placed tape deck above the ash tray and tachometer, hahahaha. I was getting a honest 40mpg at 70 mph one the highway.

    I affectionately used to call it my rolling classroom because all most everything I learned about cars I learned on this car. This car spoiled me to think all cars are built this good. Needless to say as I get older I am learning differently.

    If you can keep it as a spare you should.

    • 0 avatar

      I agree that the car deserves a good home. I’ll add my reminiscence:

      My wife had one of these when we met, a ’91 stick, totally base car with no A/C. This generation of Corolla may have been the most reliable car ever built. And no matter how we feel about driving it, I think we can all respect a car that does *something* better than nearly any other. But this was a very light car with thin doors that would be appalling to our modern sense of how cars are supposed to be constructed. As I recall, it ran on 155mm wide tires. My wheelbarrow teased them about how skinny they were.

      When our first kid arrived in ’03, we needed something with a little more space and safety. I was too attached to my ’92 Civic hatch, so the wife’s Corolla got replaced by the obligatory Volvo. I never liked the Volvo nearly as much as the old tin-can Corolla.

  • avatar

    My first new car out of Ga Tech as my Lieutenant mobile in the USMC was an ’89 Corolla SR5 with the pop up headlights. This was about when Toyota peaked with reliability, quality, content, and fun. It had the 1.6 4A-F engine, a carb – the last year, and a 5 speed stick. I put 150k on it and sold it in ’94 when I moved to Kingman, AZ. Same metallic blue as this one. I loved the little air filter; it looked like a miniature flying saucer. Ah nostalgia. That’s why my ’06 Corolla is so disappointing compared to this one – the bland grey boring-mobile.

  • avatar

    I would give ebay a shot with a somewhat aggressive reserve price. You may not hit the price but you’ll be able to weed out the cheepo’s from someone who will appreciate the time capsule aspect.

  • avatar

    What kind of MPG will it knock down? If it’s a MPG queen then you may find some loving buyers for it but if it’s just mediocre then there’s not much going for it unless that just happens to be your dream car for some weird reason.

    I see several very well cared for Tercels and Geos from that era still plying the roads on the daily commute driven by normal adults with jobs and ties and everything – not beaters driven by college kid. I’m not sure how they ended up where they are now – were they grandma’s hand-me-downs or did they seek them out – but the combination of no car payment, some basic durability, easy and cheap maintenance and very high MPGs make them an asset worth preserving to the right kind of person. I like to imagine them getting pelted with coins flying out of the vents like in that commercial.

  • avatar

    Jeff may be in luck. I ran across an interesting and relevant article in the NY Times:

    “Bargain-price Japanese cars from the ’70s and ’80s are being revisited by a generation of enthusiasts who grew up riding in the back seats.”

    They won’t fetch the price of traditional classic collector cars, but they are priced relatively high compared to their original sticker price.

  • avatar

    I’d be interested in a car like this if it were a 5-speed, but I’m guessing this example is sporting an auto.

  • avatar

    Set it free! Sell it!

    I would list a “no reserve” eBay auction and start the bidding at $1.00 Make sure to use 2048 x 1536 or better resolution pictures. Post as many pictures as possible including engine, interior, and under carriage shots.

    The real enthusiasts (if there are any) will be looking regularly. If they don’t bid on it they will write about it on the forums.

    Simple and fast. The car is quickly sold at market value and the buyer is potentially an ethusiast.

  • avatar

    My mother used to have one of these Corollas back in the islands (an E90 according to Wiki) and before that an E70 and before that an E30. These were rock solid and I have many memories being driven around in them (still can’t place my utter loathing for Toyota despite my family having owned generations of these appliances….wait, that’s it!!).

    Anyway, this example looks very well maintained and being a car guy, I feel your anxiety in having to part with it (especially not knowing if the next owner will take equally good care of it). I agree with Sajeev in finding the perfect home for this vintage metal. I see a lot of them on the road but the few really well maintained and showroom-quality Corollas I’ve seen on the road always catch my eye.

  • avatar

    Seat belts, as far as I am aware of and from experience, are (were?) designed to stretch slightly so that the material they are created from assist in preventing injury.

    My nose barely touched the semi’s metal dash before the stretched seat belt material yanked me forcibly backwards.


  • avatar

    Wow, my mom’s previous car was an ’89 Corolla. bought new in Dec 1988, sold in 2005 with 150k miles to be replaced by a used E46. White, LE, with all the options. She ended up getting $2k for it on CL.

    Can’t say the car was all that reliable or well built though.

  • avatar

    Back in 1989, I believe the 5mph bumper rule was still in force. So this car is tougher than the letter writer assumes. The bumper regulation was relaxed to 2.5mph from 1990 and on (hence the ‘euro’ bumper on the E30 BMW’s)

  • avatar


    Please forward my email to the OP, or send his email to me, thanks.

    Very interested in this car. Very. We’re building a garage this summer, so we will have beaucoup spot for storage and maintenance. A great little car, not yet a collector, yet obviously has sentimental value for a lot of people, judging by the above posts.

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