Junkyard Find: 1981 Toyota Corolla SR-5 Liftback

Murilee Martin
by Murilee Martin
junkyard find 1981 toyota corolla sr 5 liftback

These days, plenty of tuner kids want to get a E70 Corolla and turn it into a sick drift machine … but then reality sets in and they end up commuting to work in a 15-year-old Kia Rio instead. Meanwhile, the abandoned drift-project TE72 wagons become 24 Hours of LeMons cars, if they’re lucky, and the rusty SR-5s just get scrapped once something costing more than $19 breaks.

This ’81 Corolla two-door SR-5 liftback gave its all in the service of its owners, and now it awaits parts buyers in a Denver self-service yard.

The 3T-C pushrod engine has a cult following today, thanks to its ability to withstand horrific abuse when force-fed lots of boost. In this car, it was good for 75 horsepower, or three less than the allegedly intolerable 2016 Mitsubishi Mirage, which weighs 2,073 pounds versus 2,310 for the ’81 Corolla SR-5 Liftback.

There’s rust and plenty of it, so there’s a good chance that corrosion was why this car’s final owner gave up on it. Maybe it was still driving just fine at the end.

A factory AM/FM radio would set you back real money during the early 1980s.

This car came loaded with air conditioning to go with that fancy radio. The main power switch on my Junkyard Boogaloo Boombox is the same Corolla unit.

Toyota ought to bring back this emblem for its U.S.-market Corollas. Such style!

In Australia, the Corolla was “Something Special.”

On these shores, we got the slo-mo-leap “Oh, what a feeling” ads.

Sporty new slipstream styling!

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2 of 43 comments
  • Dave M. Dave M. on May 27, 2016

    I bought the slick new 1981.5 Corolla SR-5 Coupe - a great looking car for it's time. Didn't realize it only got 75 hp out of the 3TC engine; I had the 5 speed. After moving to Texas I added the a/c - the little sucker dove to both coasts twice as I adventured around on my summer breaks from teaching. I eventually bought a house in the late '80s and needed a pickup for all those trips to Home Depot, so I gave the car to my dad to zip around in back home. Despite his advanced size and age he loved that little "sportster". Alas it got stolen and stripped a few years later...

  • Bobmaxed Bobmaxed on Jun 02, 2016

    ah yes 80's Toyotas I had a step up from this an 81 Celica GT. No not a Supra as I had to tell every car insurance salesman who wanted to double my rates for having a fast car. I had the notchback coupe. Prettiest car I ever owned. Gas milage would plummet to 18mpg in the winter. My first Toyota and I was amazed at how little maintenance it needed.

  • Arthur Dailey So how much more unreliable is a 50 year old Italian made vehicle in comparison to a 5 year old Italian made vehicle? After 50 years wouldn't most of the parts and areas most prone to failure have been fixed, replaced and/or addressed?Asking for a friend? ;-)
  • Pig_Iron This is happy news for everyone in the industry. 🙂
  • Dukeisduke Globally-speaking, in August, BYD was the fourth best-selling brand name. They pushed Ford (which had been fourth) to sixth, behind Hyundai.
  • 2ACL Some of the reported issues sound expensive for all but the most committed wrenchers. Scant documentation on some of the previous work is also a minus. I wouldn't mind something like this, but whereas the seller is trying to make room, I don't have any for something this intensive.
  • Merc190 Any Alfa has a unique character built in, so there's that, once you get it running properly, until it doesn't...