By on March 18, 2019

1981 Toyota Corona in Denver wrecking yard, LH front view - ©2019 Murilee Martin - The Truth About CarsBecause my very first car was a 50-buck ’69 Corona sedan in dazzling beige, I always photograph Coronas when I see them in wrecking yards. Sadly, Toyota stopped selling the Corona in North America in 1982, which means that I might see one every couple of years these days. Here’s a luxurious, fully loaded 1981 Toyota Corona wagon in a Denver self-service yard.

1981 Toyota Corona in Denver wrecking yard, RH rear view - ©2019 Murilee Martin - The Truth About CarsThe front-wheel-drive Camry replaced the rear-wheel-drive Corona in North America, while Corona production continued all the way through 2002 in Japan (where it was something of a status symbol).

1981 Toyota Corona in Denver wrecking yard, odometer - ©2019 Murilee Martin - The Truth About CarsThis car doesn’t have a stratospheric odometer reading for a Toyota of its era, but it also doesn’t appear to have spent decades abandoned in a driveway. If it spent its 38 years in uninterrupted service, it drove an average of just under 4,500 miles per year during its life.

1981 Toyota Corona in Denver wrecking yard, 22R engine - ©2019 Murilee Martin - The Truth About CarsPower came from the same engine that powered Hiluxes and Land Cruisers in war zones around the world: the legendary 22R straight-four. The 22R was neither smooth nor powerful, but you couldn’t kill it. I shot this photograph with a 1913 Kodak Hawk-Eye camera, by the way.

1981 Toyota Corona in Denver wrecking yard, automatic gearshift - ©2019 Murilee Martin - The Truth About CarsMost U.S.-market Coronas came with manual transmissions (because Corona buyers cared about fuel economy), but this one boasts an overdrive-equipped automatic.

1981 Toyota Corona in Denver wrecking yard, HVAC controls - ©2019 Murilee Martin - The Truth About CarsAir conditioning! The radio is an aftermarket unit, but I’ll bet the original one was the pricey AM/FM stereo.

1981 Toyota Corona in Denver wrecking yard, driver's seat - ©2019 Murilee Martin - The Truth About CarsThe sun is hard on car upholstery in Colorado, so the owner of this Corona repaired the driver’s seat with duct tape.

1981 Toyota Corona in Denver wrecking yard, side glass - ©2019 Murilee Martin - The Truth About CarsFrom a distance, the paint appears to be gray primer. Up close, you can see that it’s just very weathered factory gray paint. Toyota left the frivolous paint colors to Mitsubishi and Subaru back then.

1981 Toyota Corona in Denver wrecking yard, sticker - ©2019 Murilee Martin - The Truth About CarsA 22R-powered rear-wheel-drive Toyota would be a good vehicle to have during a zombie apocalypse.

Toyota had just about given up on marketing the Corona in North America by the early 1980s, but Australians still loved their Coronas.

Here’s a U.S.-market ad for the previous-generation Corona wagon, powered by the 20R engine. Such jocularity!

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36 Comments on “Junkyard Find: 1981 Toyota Corona Wagon...”

  • avatar

    OMG you’re into ancient cameras?! What’s the format on your old Kodak, 6×9 cm?

    This implies that you also do your own developing and printing. So very cool in this age of phone pix.

    • 0 avatar

      Oh… I followed your links and now see the depth of your knowledge and interest in legacy photographica.

      I just hope poring over your photos doesn’t rekindle my old obsession.

    • 0 avatar

      It’s pretty hard to beat the resolution of a nice big sheet of photo film.

      I am curious how the images were digitized, as the results are very nice.

      • 0 avatar

        Amen. Even am image from the simplest, uncoated triplet lens of the era could have astonishing resolution and contrast when the negative was large.

        My interest in cameras precipitously dropped from obsession to meh with the advent of digital. The palpability of fine B&W photography went away with all the arts of film and paper.

  • avatar

    ” while Corona production continued all the way through 2002 in Japan (where it was something of a status symbol).”

    In Japan the FWD Corona was size-wise and price-wise in between a Corolla and a Camry/Vista, hardly a “status symbol” IMO. The continuation of the basic larger RWD I6 powered sedan/wagon went from Corona->Cressida->Lexus GS in the US. In Japan the sportier/lux RWD sedan continued on in Toyota Chaser/Mark II and later Mark X form (X80/X90/X100/X110).

  • avatar

    The 22R, unkillable? Yes, unless you try to race them, like in the 24 Hours of LeMons series. They’re not rev-happy at all.

    • 0 avatar

      Definitely more of a workhorse truck motor IMO. per wiki, swapping over a 20R head gives a compression bump and it flows better for higher RPM applications.

    • 0 avatar

      Funny how so many engines with great reliability records (22R, slant six, SBC to name a few) fare so poorly when subjected to continual high rpm use.

      • 0 avatar

        I think a lot of them are overbuilt in terms of the rotating mass of things, the crank, pistons, etc. The same thing that gives them that great reputation for longevity in workhorse applications works against them at high engine speeds.

        Speaking of long-lived SBCs, I popped a new Delco water pump on my buddy’s 210k mile K1500 this weekend, to solve a persistent leak. Really easy vehicle to wrench on, although that cast iron pump body must weigh 20 lbs easily! It barely gets driven at all so the engine oil looked like it had a lot of moisture in it (but not coolant), did a quick spill and fill. A small part of me is a bit suspicious of the condition of the intake gaskets…

      • 0 avatar

        The slant/6 was such a dominant racing engine that it killed a racing series the first year it competed. Maybe the reason they’re failing in clunker enduros is because they’re twenty years older than the cars they’re competing with and most of them were used in the sort of sound, utilitarian cars that are sought out and used up by people on low budgets. This could be the same reason 22Rs don’t do that well compared to Miatas and BMWs too.

      • 0 avatar

        That is how they differ from German engines which are designed to run for hours on autobahn.

  • avatar

    This might sound crazy to the youngsters who should turn down that music and git offa ma lawn, but I have a distinct memory of being impressed by the six digit odo in my friend’s Cressida.

  • avatar

    When this car was new the 22R engine wasn’t considered buzzy nor low power….


  • avatar
    A Scientist

    Never knew about the Corona. My first car was a 1982 Corolla wagon my dad bought me from my grandfather for $500. Reddish-brown, 5-speed, RWD: in other words, true Jalop special. The A/C even still worked (this was the mid 1990s), although forget going up any hills with it on. Outstanding little car really, completely unkillable. The guy I eventually sold it to literally rolled the damn thing and it still kept going.

    • 0 avatar

      Our emigre friends had an ’82 Corolla sedan in the early 90s, we have photos of taking a short road trip up to Fair Haven State Park, us in our brown ’82 Civic Sedan. They later bought a new ’95 Hyundai Elantra as I recall, and had the thing shipped to the UK when they moved there. We ended up getting a ’77 Corolla 2dr sedan (bare bones 4spd) for a symbolic $1 from a coworker of my father’s a few years later once my mom started driving. She took over our newer ’90 Civic Sedan (automatic and power steering) of course, my dad commuted in the manual-steering manual transmission Corolla. We had it for a few years before terminal body rot compromised the unibody (accord to my dad it literally started to bend in half on the lift). I remember driving through a puddle and feeling my feet getting lifted up off the floorboard.
      Sold it to our mechanic for $1, who sold it to some local farm kid to use as a field car for $50.

  • avatar
    Arthur Dailey

    The history of this vehicle could be interesting. Relatively low mileage for its age. Front seat, is shot. But the back seats look pristine. Yet wagons were intended for family use.

    So a grandparents vehicle?
    A vehicle used by a business for short run deliveries?
    I might have guessed a grocery getter, 2nd car but know very that would be acceptable for that sort of use with a driver’s seat in that condition.

  • avatar

    I’m amazed at the clean lines on this. With a different grille, I would have thought it was a 1991, or maybe even a 1996.

  • avatar

    In Europe Corona was known as Toyota Carina and size wise it was in between Corolla and Camry. It would not sell well in US for exactly same reasons why Ford Mondeo did not sell. I owned second generation ’90 Toyota Carina and it had 1.6L I4 4AFE with 105 hp. It was okay but no comparison to German cars (including Ford of course). Engine did not have low end torque so to start moving I had to ramp engine up to 3000 rpm before engaging clutch. But it consumed 7L/100 km on average in highway city drive cycle.

    • 0 avatar

      “so to start moving I had to ramp engine up to 3000 rpm before engaging clutch”

      Might want to learn driving stick shift a bit better lol

      • 0 avatar

        I had a taxi driver in Italy do that in a Fiat 127 in 1979. It was apparently “the other way” to accelerate from a standing stop and merge into traffic quickly. I’m glad I was young and had sphincter control.

  • avatar

    Zombie Apocalypse is real – take a cruise through a cubicle farm.

  • avatar

    We have a beautiful 1981 Corona Hatchback that belonged to my father. My mother has been trying to sell it for over two yrs but sadly here in CT, USA not many people know about Coronas.

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