Sunday, June 29, 2014


Sometimes a once-common car will reappear in mint condition decades after most of them have been lost to history and it surprises you. Behold the 1981 Toyota Corolla SR-5 Liftback:
Obviously the Corolla has been enormously popular forever. Either you had one, or knew somebody who had one, or just didn't realize it while dozens of your friends & family had them. They've been in constant production from 1966 through to the present day, and their basic tenet hasn't changed at all; small, thrifty, reliable, and affordable. 
The fact that this otherwise totally disposable and very rust-prone car from 33 years ago was parked in Gowanus looking like it came from the dealership the week before is astonishing! Usually if you run across one it's seriously customized or beat up at this point.
This is from the very boxy era of the early '80s when most cars were designed with rulers and t-squares. The only curves on this car are the wheels and the Os in the name Toyota. Even the rims look like the designers tried to fit a square peg in a round hole as if they couldn't bear the roundness of the tires! '81 is also the first year for the square headlights; the 1980 model was just as boxy but had 4 round headlights in the grill.
The VW Beetle was as popular a car and came in basically 4 body styles (regular, convertible, Karmann Ghia, and The Thing). In 1981 the Corolla was available in a whopping 7 different body styles, as well as several trim levels. This example is the SR-5 Liftback which means it has more of a 2-door station wagon rear than a traditional sloped hatchback (which was also available). 
This color is Dark Blue Metallic which, while offered in name in years before and since, only looked like this for '81.
The 1.8 liter 4 cylinder was the only engine available in 1981, which was perfectly adequate to slowly drive around getting mpg in the mid-30s.
Just to show my own affection for these funky little econoboxes I thought I'd close out this post with a couple shots of my own recently sold Corolla; this one a 1983 wagon.
This car was hilariously rusty under that YELLOW paint, as well as being one of the slowest cars I've ever driven. It did make it up to Providence and Boston as well as the Catskills several times. I drove this car ruthlessly for a year between the Lower East Side and Brooklyn, parking on the streets and cutting through traffic with the reassurance that it was extremely visible. Finally a truck backed into it while it was parked in Bushwick, tearing a hole in the side and breaking the spell for me. It sold almost immediately for a low cash price to a guy who promised to fix it up. I once did a Carfax on it and found that it had changed hands legally 13 times and always lived in NYC! If I needed proof of the reliability and absolute refusal to die of these cars that was it. RIP lil' Yeller!
*Not only is the car gone, but that row of 6 buildings behind it have now been leveled to make way for a new mid-rise. And so it goes in NYC as it has forever.

1 comment:

  1. Google Translate: "I shows the return of Sunday and car beauty of the blue!" Hahaha!