By on February 14, 2022

1991 Toyota Corolla station wagon in Colorado junkyard, LH front view — ©2022 Murilee Martin - The Truth About CarsI always look for two kinds of Toyotas when I’m walking the rows of a Ewe Pullet-type yard: Newish Camrys with manual transmissions and odometers showing better than 300,000 miles. Generally, Corolla wagons in junkyards are either mercilessly thrashed hoopties, assaulted-with-glue-gun art cars, or fastidiously-maintained trade-ins, few of which reach the magical 300k-mile mark. When I saw a fairly straight late-production AE92 Corolla in lurid, backyard-applied purple house paint and snowboard-culture decals, I expected to see Grandma’s hand-me-down church-on-Sundays-only wagon that had 120,000 miles when its keys were pressed into the grandbaby’s eager hands… and 127,000 miles when it took that final tow-truck ride to Pick Your Part.

1991 Toyota Corolla station wagon in Colorado junkyard, speedometer — ©2022 Murilee Martin - The Truth About CarsSuch was not the case here! This car averaged more than 10,000 miles for each of its 31 years on the road, which means it got proper maintenance for all (or nearly all) of its long and productive life.

The handcrafted Sculpey mirror-hangers show an artistic sensibility that differs from the colored-duct-tape-and-manga-stickers and chug-a-beer-while-dabbing decor so prevalent on Denver-area junkyard station wagons. Sculpey is amazing stuff; I know someone who made a reasonably convincing new Sculpey tooth when her British bridgework fell out.

It’s noteworthy that there are no stickers from breweries or cannabis dispensaries on this car. Skateboard-wear stickers, sure, but no wastoid stuff.

1991 Toyota Corolla station wagon in Colorado junkyard, RH rear view — ©2022 Murilee Martin - The Truth About CarsA closer look at the homemade purple paint job offered more clues. Note the lack of overspray on the weatherstripping and plastic cladding, the lights, and door handles that were carefully masked off.

1991 Toyota Corolla station wagon in Colorado junkyard, interior — ©2022 Murilee Martin - The Truth About CarsThe interior is faded but not abused. The last owner of this car wanted it to be personalized but still wanted to drive it for a good long time. This is in stark contrast to what happens to cars whose owners know they’ll be the very last.

1991 Toyota Corolla station wagon in Colorado junkyard, engine — ©2022 Murilee Martin - The Truth About CarsUnder the hood, we see the venerable A engine, in this case, a 4A-FE rated at 102 horsepower.

1991 Toyota Corolla station wagon in Colorado junkyard, interior — ©2022 Murilee Martin - The Truth About CarsThe transmission is a five-speed manual, a transmission still (barely) available in new U.S.-market cars right now. This rig certainly helped with longevity, though I’ll bet it needed at least one clutch job during its career.

1991 Toyota Corolla station wagon in Colorado junkyard, mirror charms — ©2022 Murilee Martin - The Truth About CarsI happened to have an East German 35mm film camera on hand, because who doesn’t carry Warsaw Pact photographic equipment to the junkyard these days?

[Images courtesy the author]

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20 Comments on “Junkyard Find: 1991 Toyota Corolla Wagon with 315,406 Miles...”

  • avatar
    Jeff S

    Great catch. This wagon looks well maintained. I drove my father’s red 62 Chevy II 300 sedan from high school thru sophomore in college. I maintained the car waxing it every couple of months. The cloth ceiling was stained and rotting so I painted it with Rustoleum paint and glued Happy Faces on it left from material from a dress my mother made for my younger sister. Did the cardboard visors over in red and white contact paper and painted the worn plastic chrome on the dash with silver paint. It looked good and added to the character of the car. I loved that car but my father sold it when I was away at college. Being a Texas car the car had a near perfect body with original paint and a straight 194 cu inch straight six with Powerglide. Not the fastest car but I loved it. I am sure it is long gone but it would have made a great junkyard find story.

  • avatar

    Equipped with the ultra-desirable Barney Edition package, no less!

  • avatar
    Arthur Dailey

    This is my favourite type of Junkyard Find. A ‘pedestrian’ vehicle that sold in relatively large numbers, is not collectible but was well loved and in return provided decades of probably reliable service. The exotic and luxury and specialty vehicles are the ones in museums and in demand at auctions but it is vehicles like this that families and society depended upon.

    • 0 avatar

      I second that. Always fun to see these old affordable workhorses. Being in California I probably see more of them still on the road that you do though the vast majority are sedans, not wagons.

  • avatar
    Jeff S

    @Arthur–Here’s a link from Bill of Curious Cars on a review of a pristine 1980 Toyota Corolla wagon.

  • avatar

    What did the spokesman from GM say when Toyota took over as the #1 selling automaker in the USA: “In 2022, we plan to take advantage of the strong economy and anticipated improved semiconductor supplies to grow our sales and share. Pure Manure.” Nothing about improving quality. Please use this Corolla as an example.

    The used car market is not kind to GM, but very kind to Toyota. This is why. They may vote for Biden, but when it comes to their money, they know where to put it for transportation.

    GM killed off all of their high mileage models who would go-and-go w/o major driveline repairs. Non DOD V-8 P/Us, Caprices & 3800 powered sedans.

    Here on the Front Range other than Duramaxs, every GM I see is purchased by old, white, retired types. Not a good demographic for growth. They drive less that 3K miles per year and will trade off in 3 years or it will be their last car. When the kids take the keys away, it’s off to the Toyota, Honda or KIA dealership for a quick tradeoff.

    • 0 avatar

      I think Toyota quality is a bit overhyped these days, personally.

      I see plenty of non retired folks in GM vehicles around Denver. In a sense, though, I agree with you – when they abandoned sedans and compacts, they flipped the bird at the younger, first-time-buyer market. But given that the company posted record profits last year, was that a bad move? Good question.

      • 0 avatar
        Jeff S

        Agree Freed Mike GM has gone much further by making more expensive vehicles which cut off most young and first time buyers who usually will be more loyal to the brand they first buy. For now the big trucks, crossovers, and CUVs are money makers but eventually many will tire of them and go on to something else. Little hard to get excited about a vehicle priced out of the affordability of most young buyers. Also the tendency of the next generation usually not picking the same type of vehicle their parents had ie station wagons, next generation mini vans, and the next generation crossover and cuvs. For now the Big 2 and 1/2 are making money selling trucks, suvs, and crossovers but things change and nothing ever stays exactly the same.

        • 0 avatar

          The decision to not make smaller vehicles isn’t irreversible. GM, Ford and Stellantis all compacts internationally that could be adapted for this market fairly easily.

          • 0 avatar
            Jeff S

            Yes but knowing GM it would take years even with South Korean and Chinese models that could be imported. GM is incapable of making timely decisions. I waiting to see when and if GM will introduce a competitor to the Maverick which GM has a compact truck in Brazil. I guess I am really down on GM but GM does not have the greatest management.

      • 0 avatar
        Tele Vision

        @ FreedMike

        Toyota quality may be overhyped these days but we’ll have to wait and see, obviously. That said, when a localish 2003 4Runner SR5 popped up for sale on the online two years ago for CDN$11,000 I jumped on it and had it registered and insured mere hours later. The seller stated that it had 91,000 miles on it, as it was originally a Boston, MA, car that had been imported into Canada. That made it a good deal. Someone had changed the odometer and speedometer readings to Metric along the way but said seller didn’t seem to know that, which made it an amazing deal. As such we got a 2003 4.0L V6 SR5 with just 56,000 miles on it. Other than front shocks and O2s and an alternator ( all done in my driveway ) it needed nothing.

        One age-related issue popped up last Summer, though: the brake booster/brake master/ABS block failed. It’s one unit and not rebuildable so that was a fair hit – but I’m in no way upside down on this truck. I still have the core on my workbench, just in case i want to tear into it or sell it.

        I’m banking on 2000s Toyota reliability with my wallet…

        • 0 avatar
          Jeff S

          You made a good choice. Maybe the new Toyota’s are not as good as the older ones but they are still much better than GM, Ford, and Stellantis. I would take a new Toyota, Honda, or Mazda over those.

          • 0 avatar
            Tele Vision

            @ Jeff S

            It was a lucky find made better by the poor seller’s ignorance about cars. It was worth a lot more than he sold it for and, as a bonus, he was fastidious about the interior. The thing is new inside.

            My 2010 F-150 5.4L has the dreaded cam phaser rattle happening but I have a guy who can fix it for CDN$2800, which is half the price that a local dealer would charge. It’s otherwise a great truck with lots of power. Maybe I’ll block the phasers myself once the weather is nice enough for my CTS-V.

            Some colleagues have newer Ford trucks and they’re in for warranty work quite frequently for things that have never gone wrong on my 12 year-old truck: blown turbos; shattered rear windows; exhaust manifold leaks; fried front differential; leaking sunroofs; and, of course, cam phasers.

            The Dodge truck guys I know all run older Cummins trucks with the ‘one wire’ engine. They’re fine.

            The Chevy truck guys I know don’t seem terribly interested in cars at all – they all have dead-reliable 5.3L V8s that never break down.

      • 0 avatar
        Dave M.

        Here in west Houston you’ll see a lot of gussied out GM pickups, and quite a few Tahoes, Yukons and Escalades. So here they still have the upper middle class demographic. But the recent Impalas, Malibus and Buicks remain BHPH future fodder. Their sedans have become the new Mitsubishi.

        Maybe it’s my decades-long anti-GM stubbornness, but in ’24 when it’s time for a new vehicle, I still won’t consider them. Too many decades of shit products in my lifetime. I am a rabid fan of Japanese engineered vehicles, having owned 4 that have served long and well.

    • 0 avatar

      You do realize EVERYONE gets old, and skin colour doesn’t matter, right?
      Older folks generally have more money.
      More money=more potential to sell higher dollar, higher luxury products.

  • avatar

    “The handcrafted Sculpey mirror-hangers”

    If your approach to life is more functional, check out sugru (room temperature curing silicone):

  • avatar
    MRF 95 T-Bird

    There was the Corolla All-trac version of this wagon aka Sprinter Carib in other markets that was sold here. It was a replacement for the Tercel wagon. I’m sure there must have been a fair number sold in the Colorado market.

  • avatar

    OMG, it is the same 1.6L 4AFE engine with the same sweet 5 speed MT I had under hood of my Carina II in Russia time in my life when I liked to take cars apart just to see what is inside. But to get moving you had to spin engine to over 3000rpm before applying clutch.

  • avatar

    I had a 1990 Corolla in red, my little red wagon. I drove it through grad school, then sold it when me and my wife moved to DC, with a minimal 100K on it. Having said that, the 3 speed automatic meant that you were flogging it pretty hard on the Beltway driving to work.

  • avatar

    Build quality is a very intentional thing. I’m currently taking apart a 1995 SC400 for lemons use. I am floored with the quality of every single part, even though the car has enough hooptie going that it’s no longer a restorable for normal people street car. I can see why normal-person usable ones are still going for 10K with 200k miles. I’ve had Fords disintegrate, kept VW and BMW running, even a Caddy, and it all comes down to the parts bin….some are horrid (GM), I’m used to the middle class Bosch parts (VW, SAAB), and so far, Benz has been good although M276 is a mature engine. Taking apart this lexus, admittedly peak Japanese, and related to the famous million mile LS400, shows that cars don’t have to be built like crap. We might even find a nice SC400 for DD use when this is done. There is a reason Toyota holds resale but Cadillac drops like a stone.

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