Junkyard Find: 1970 Toyota Corona Sedan

Murilee Martin
by Murilee Martin

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.

Murilee Martin
Murilee Martin

Murilee Martin is the pen name of Phil Greden, a writer who has lived in Minnesota, California, Georgia and (now) Colorado. He has toiled at copywriting, technical writing, junkmail writing, fiction writing and now automotive writing. He has owned many terrible vehicles and some good ones. He spends a great deal of time in self-service junkyards. These days, he writes for publications including Autoweek, Autoblog, Hagerty, The Truth About Cars and Capital One.

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  • Primerdust360 Primerdust360 on Apr 16, 2012

    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.

  • Throwbackguy76 Throwbackguy76 on Sep 22, 2013

    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.

  • Grg I am not sure that this would hold up in snow country. It used to be that people in snow country would not be caught dead in a white car. Now that white cars have become popular in the north, I can't tell you how many times I have seen white cars driving in the snow without lights. Almost all cars are less visible in a snow storm, or for that matter, rain storm, without lights. White ones become nearly invisible.
  • Douglas I have a 2018 BMW 740e PHEV, and love it. It has a modest electric only range compared to newer PHEV's (about 18 miles), but that gets me to the office and back each day. It has a small gas tank to make room for the battery, so only holds about 11 gallons. I easily go 600 or more miles per tank. I love it, and being able to take long road trips without having to plug in (it just operates like a regular Hybrid if you never plug it in). It charges in 75 minutes in my garage from a Level 2 charger I bought on Amazon for $350. Had an electrician add a dryer outlet beside the breaker box. It's the best of both worlds and I would definitely want a PHEV for my next car. 104,000 miles and ZERO problems with the powertrain components (so far).
  • Panther Platform I had a 98 Lincoln Mark VIII so I have a soft spot for this. The Mark VIII styling was not appreciated by all.
  • Grant P Farrell Oh no the dealership kept the car for hours on two occasions before giving me a loaner for two months while they supposedly replaced the ECU. I hate cords so I've only connected it wirelessly. Next I'm gonna try using the usb-c in the center console and leaving the phone plugged in in there, not as convenient but it might lower my blood pressure.
  • Jeff Tiny electrical parts are ruining today's cars! What can they ...