By on August 28, 2017

1977 Toyota Corolla in California wrecking yard, RH front view - ©2017 Murilee Martin - The Truth About Cars
The third-generation Toyota Corolla, still on a rear-wheel-drive chassis, was a tremendous sales success in California. The cheapest model was the two-door post sedan, and these reliable commuters were seen everywhere in the Golden State well into the 1990s.

Nearly all are gone, but this ’77 stayed on its own four tires until age 40, finally wrapping up its long career in this San Francisco Bay Area self-service wrecking yard.

1977 Toyota Corolla in California wrecking yard, grille emblem - ©2017 Murilee Martin - The Truth About Cars
1975-1979 Corollas still show up in California wrecking yards now and then, though not as often as their Honda Civic contemporaries. So far in this series, we have seen just this ’75 and this ’78 prior to today’s ’77.

1977 Toyota Corolla in California wrecking yard, interior - ©2017 Murilee Martin - The Truth About Cars
During the 1980s, I had a couple of girlfriends who drove 1975-79 Corolla two-doors (along with the Dodge Colt, Ford Pinto, and Chevy Vega, this generation of Corolla was an incredibly popular parental hand-me-down car in the ’80s). One got tired of her car’s boring gray color and took it to Earl Scheib for The Very Cheapest™ paint job. This involved coating the body, tires, seat belts, door handles, and muffler with a thick, orange-peely coat of “Sun Yellow” paint, but at least the glass remained (mostly) paint-free.

1977 Toyota Corolla in California wrecking yard, gearshift - ©2017 Murilee Martin - The Truth About Cars
An optional five-speed was available, but those mostly went to the high rollers and their spendthrift Corolla hardtops and wagons. This car has the very affordable four-speed.

1977 Toyota Corolla in California wrecking yard, 2T-C engine - ©2017 Murilee Martin - The Truth About Cars
The 1,588cc 2T-C pushrod straight-four engine didn’t make much power — 75 horsepower — but it was efficient and nearly impossible to kill.

1977 Toyota Corolla in California wrecking yard, speedometer - ©2017 Murilee Martin - The Truth About Cars
Toyota went to six-digit odometers soon after this. Is this 151,584… or 651,584? The worn-out interior suggests many years of hard use.

What kind of car can four starving interns afford? This one!

In Japan, the Sprinter version of this car got semi-cloying ads.

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34 Comments on “Junkyard Find: 1977 Toyota Corolla Two-door Sedan...”

  • avatar

    This is truly a case of wear out not rust out.

    As a great lakes guy, I always marvel at the beautiful bodies on these west coast cars.

    • 0 avatar

      Indeed. One of my good friends in high school got a hand-me-down just like this one from his Mom. When we were seniors in ’87 it went to the crusher due to advanced rust, and it had been squeaked through inspection for a number of years with welding already. 10 years and DONE in Maine.

      It’s why they just never got that reliability reputation here.

  • avatar

    My father bought a used one of these after his Mustang II died. Owned nothing but Corollas ever since. (His cars before that–Beetle, Maverick, Vega, Pinto).

  • avatar

    A 40-year old car when junked, with between 151,000 and probably closer to 251,000 miles on it (I’d bet closer to even 351,000 miles on it), inexpensive to purchase, better built than anything from the Domestic Big 3 at the time (probably assembly and material quality approximately 8800% better and a component failure rate that was 88000% less than competing domestic cars), with probably 2.5 to 3x the fuel efficiency, to boot.

    This is one of the cars that highlighted how hopelessly inept General Motors, Ford and Chrysler were, as well as how antiquated and corrupt the UAW was (fat, dumb, lazy, short-sighted); a process and peek behind that disgusting curtain that they still have not recovered from.

    A competing vehicle from GM, Ford or Chrysler, if there was one that could be accurately called that of the time, would be hard-pressed to make it to 80,000 miles without catastrophic failure(s), and cost 1.8 to 2.4x as much to purchase, while costing 4x as much to maintain.

    What’s that?

    Ford is no longer really building small, reliable compact or subcompact cars, and neither is GM or FCA, in the year 2017?

    Just wait to gas prices rise to $3.50 or $4.50 again. The domestic 2.5 will be seen swimming naked – AGAIN – as they were in the 90s and mid 2000s – without a single profitable non-SUV or non-pickup truck on hand.

    They never learn.

    • 0 avatar

      Thus Spake DW:Just wait to gas prices rise to $3.50 or $4.50 again.

      I hear it rained in Texas….

    • 0 avatar

      Up to the early 1970s, the strength of “Detroit” was full-size, BOF, RWD, big block V8s, and turbo-hydramatic and Torqueflite automatic transmissions that were bulletproof drivetrains.

      They were designed for the era of cheap gas, rendered expensive to run by the Arab oil embargo of 1974, and made inefficient by imposition of emissions controls added on with a front loader in too short an amount of time for Detroit to adjust.

      The government even penalized Detroit by preventing cooperation in developing smog controls, forcing each maker to come up with its own system – and driving car owners and their mechanics batty at excessive expense.

      By the mid-1970s, the advantage in small engines in small cars went to foreign makers, especially the Japanese, and it took Detroit two decades to catch up.

      Today, even high volume small cars are a low revenue business, and Detroit is making its money with full size, BOF, RWD, V8s with automatic transmissions – pickup trucks.

      Young and skinny people may like those small cars, and they’re not as punishing as the econoboxes of old, but as more and more chicken nuggets are sold, the average American will want something bigger, if not a pickup then a SUV/CUV, or as I call them, tall wagons.

      Complain all you like, but Americans don’t want to be stuffed into those small boxes, and will always choose more car with more hip and thigh room for the money.

      As for gasoline, the average price in 1964 was 28 cents per gallon for most cars that got 12 MPG. That was the last year our coins were made of silver, and today the silver content of a 1964 dime is worth about a buck and a quarter – 12-1/2 times face value. That’s the true inflation rate, not the rigged BLS rate.

      What’s 28 cents times 12.5? $3.50. That’s still cheaper with vehicles that now get more than 12 mpg, so don’t hold your breath waiting for a rush to small cars.

  • avatar

    I have owned and driven many, many cars over >30 years from US, German and Asian makes, from a lowly Chevy Chevette to a 450HP/420Tq AMG Mercedes-Benz, with every kind of US muscle in between from the 70’s to the present. The C7 Stingray was probably the fastest, but my brother would beg to differ with his 1970 Dodge Demon Grand Spaulding GSS drag car. There were cars and trucks, SUVs and CUVs, a host of BMW performance sedans starting with the E30, and even one vehicle that was both GM and Honda at the same time. My current ride is a 2011 E90 M3 6MT with the Competition Package. Yet, after all of that I can say with honesty that my favorite car that I ever owned was a 1978 Toyota Corolla SR5 Liftback 5-speed in ugly orange (looked exactly like this: I bought the car nearly used up for $325 in the early 1990’s, and proceeded to hoon the thing every single day. You could tach it until the valves floated with no engine damage, and a surprisingly well-balanced chassis made it a delight on back/dirt roads, where you could hang out the tail without risking your life. I even took her off road, but that is a story for another time. Unfortunately, as was common to those vehicles in the Snow Belt, the cancer of rust finally did it in a couple of years later around 180K miles. I drove her to the junk yard, and said goodbye with my thanks for many happy memories.

    • 0 avatar

      Wow. If it wasn’t for the color, I would have asked you if you bought my Dad’s car. I basically grew up in his burgundy ’78 Corolla SR5 LiftBack. He bought it slightly used in Charleston, SC in 1979, just before getting out of the Navy. And yes, it replaced a Pinto. He drove it for 12 years and 120k miles or so. By the early ’90s, we’d been living in Buffalo for 5 years, and rust had started to take its toll. One day he was underneath it doing something, and a piece of the frame came off in his hand.
      He sold it for something around $300 at that time, so your story really caught my eye.
      That old Corolla was my dad’s last manual-transmission vehicle due to my mom’s bad knee, and I think that car was what led me to be a disciple of rowing my own. Every time I see one come up for sale on CL in some southwestern state, I send him the link.

      • 0 avatar

        My Dad’s was a white 75 with a 4 speed. He loved that car. I was supposed to inherit it, but it never happened. I was allowed to drive the Corvette (a 1975 165 hp auto trans dog), but couldn’t touch that Corolla. That was the baby. It pretty much stole the show from the Corvette.

  • avatar

    The very car I took my driving test in. The manual part was easy….and parallel parking mom’s 77 Grand Prix would have been a LOT more difficult, if only for the massive C pillars and opera windows…..I recall thinking how much better built it was, more solid, than the GP….

    On another tack, I notice that whenever I visit a place on an island, or Central America, where roads are rutted and occasionally paved, Toyota is by and far the most common car on the road……and much closer to this than what they sell in the big PX.

  • avatar

    A friend of mine had one of these, and the best feature was that the entire interior was either vinyl or rubber (no carpeting); therefore, when a girl named Missy (yes, that was her legal name) decided to down about 30% of a bottle of Smirnoff to celebrate junior-year “graduation,” the subsequent projectile vomiting was a hose-out job.

    • 0 avatar

      Hopefully he was rewarded appropriately for his efforts. ;-)

      • 0 avatar

        So NOT happening with this girl…but that’s another story.

        She passed out after she vomited and when we got her home, her parents weren’t there, and the house was locked up. We carried her onto the rocking sofa on her front porch and left her there. What the f*ck else were we gonna do – we couldn’t very well take her to one of our houses, right?

        Her mom, who was a major league harpy, was none too pleased by that, threatened to sue all our parents, etc., in a midnight call. My mom’s classic line: “it’s a warm night – she’s fine.”

        Like I said…so NOT happening, in so many ways…

        • 0 avatar

          You’re right: that was the safest option in a no-win situation. If you’d brought her to one of your own houses, she would have accused you of raping her and your parents covering it up.

          Raises the question as to why her parents left her without a key to get in.

          • 0 avatar

            There was another girl with us that evening. No chance of that happening…and no chance that either of us would have done that to her in the first place even if that other girl wouldn’t have been there.

            (Turns out she had a key in her pocket all along…)

  • avatar

    My family had this exact car, in the Mustard yellow from the ad. Originally a Cali car, it was transplanted to Ithaca NY where it started to rust rapidly. My dad bought it as a second car (to commute the several miles to work) from a coworker for $1, as my mom started to drive. Much more similar to a Soviet Lada in construction and how it drove compared to the FWD Hondas we were acquiring a taste for. A very rugged and somewhat crude beast with manual steering, 4spd manual, solid rear axle, vinyl seats, rusty floorpans. I remember driving through a puddle and feeling my foot lift up as water moved the rubber/vinyl floor cover underneath. My dad bought bright yellow Rustoleum to spray on the patches of rust on the body, it ended up being comically ugly: Mustard yellow with bright yellow leopard spots. We had it for a few years before it failed NYS inspection: started to bend in half on the lift. Sold it to the mechanic for $1, he sold it to some kid for $50 as a field car.

  • avatar

    Nothing but love for this generation of Corolla! Ours was a ’79 wagon in gold. That car ran like a champ and kept looking good. Nothing EVER broke. The vinyl seats looked as good after 7 years as they did new. The wagon was awesome in the snow too! Side note: I ended up with a new Yaris rental car a few weeks ago. It reminded me of our old Corolla and was perfectly fine for running about on vacation. Turning radius of about 8 feet!

  • avatar

    In Alabama, where rust is less common and there are no car inspection laws, you’ll occasionally see this generation Corolla still on the road. There’s a wood paneled station wagon that I see occasionally and as recently as this month.

  • avatar

    I never really looked at them twice when they were common, but I wonder why anyone would junk a 40-year-old classic car with such little body damage.

  • avatar

    Bought my first car in ’78 – a GM product. Sure wish I’d bought one of these instead. It’s hard to conceive of today how much better these were than the small cars Detroit was making.
    My next car was another GM – with a pathetically gutless 305 V8. It’s crankshaft snout SNAPPED OFF, when I went over a bump – like it was made of pot metal (maybe it was). That was the end of GM for me.

  • avatar

    My younger brother had a ’77 wagon with the 2-TC and a 5-speed. It was the first car he owned (after a ’68 Buick Electra 225 and a ’70 Olds 98 LS) that he couldn’t manage to kill. The 5-speed was incredibly noisy (bearings) when he first got it, but a rebuild at a local clutch and gear shop fixed that.

  • avatar

    My first car memory of any kind was one of these, which my dad had when we still lived in Japan in the late 70s. It was a 4dr sedan, which seems really rare in the US. Our family’s legally authorized parking space (yes, that’s a thing there to this day) was at a gas station down the street, so a car trip involved walking down the street a ways first.

  • avatar
    SCE to AUX

    My high school friend drove his father’s 76 Corolla in the mustard gold color, but it was an automatic IIRC.

    The car was indestructible, except for the Pittsburgh area rust demon.

    In terms of reliability, I don’t think any generation of Corolla has a blemish.

    • 0 avatar

      “In terms of reliability, I don’t think any generation of Corolla has a blemish.”

      The first 1zz 1.8L timing chain motors are known oil burners as they get up in miles, and I think the mid 2000s manual transmissions (as seen in Vibes/Matrixes as well) are trouble prone. But yeah, in general they are quite impeccable and overbuilt.

  • avatar

    Has that thing got a hemi?

  • avatar
    MRF 95 T-Bird

    My sister owned a 76 Corolla like this one in the 80’s. It was also the base model in grey with steelies, a black vinyl interior and black painted bumpers. Powered by the 1200cc motor and the 4 speed with a very efficient manual choke.Probably one of the last vehicles besides British Leyland to have one. The only options it had were a AM/FM radio and a black vinyl roof. Very reliable the only reason why she got rid of it at 160k was the tinworm was getting to it and a upgrade to a 80 Civic LE 5speed hatch with A/C.

    • 0 avatar

      The brand new Lada 2107 my family rented in Novosibirsk in 2006 had a manual choke! Even stalwarts back home are finally coming around to fuel injection. Our retired cabbie family friend traded in his rusty and trusty 2105 on a throttle body injected 2107 and has been enjoying the smooth and easy starts and even idle right after start.

  • avatar

    had a 78 4 speed $250 cuz the engine was bad according to some expert compression was fine i put kyb struts and shocks
    on it great sports and rally car beat many a jeep down a
    jeep road

  • avatar

    Ah, great memories like many of these posts. I found a brown 76 wagon (4 speed) for college for about $750. I think it had AM/FM and rear defrost but not sure anymore. Unfortunately, I was hit by a drunk driver and it was totaled after less than 2 years (broken nose for me, pre seat-belt days). A fun, thrashable car and the wagon was very practical.

  • avatar

    A car of my youth. My dad had a black on black example of this car. I remember it revving super high to get to “freeway speed” which my dad would go 70 in this height of the malaise era compact death trap. I was often scared by how fast my dad drove and his aggressive shifting of the 4 speed manual. This was back when my dad was a drinker so he would often be blaring Pat Benatar at unreasonably loud levels through the 8 track tape deck that he installed from CMC car stereo. This unit was his second one as he happened to let the smoke out of the first one whist “bench testing” it. My last memory of this vehicle is a private sale through the Houston Chronicle classified ads section. A group of people came and test drove the vehicle and promptly said the car was worth 500 dollars. I think my parents agreed and took this as a down payment on their brand new for ’84 Plymouth Voyager minivan.

  • avatar

    Ugh. We had the Datsun 210s as Driver’s Ed cars in 1992ish. Yes, competent and reliable, but designed without a whit of style, luxury, fashion, or desireability. Ugly toad shaped proletariat tin cans filled with cheap plastic. Designed to be supremely functional, like an orthopedic shoe, and not one tiny bit better. By the way, we also had a coeval Malibu of the same generation as a driver’s ed car and it was an infinitely better driving car, smooth and velvety, with some verve and style. I can understand why GM thought the Japanese didn’t pose a real threat; sure the Vega was awful, but for not much more you could get a Malibu/Impala which was infinitely better than anything the Japanese were making.

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