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Hagerty
Hagerty Employee

Before the GR, the tepid Corolla had several sizzling moments

Toyota's new max-attack GR Corolla has many performance enthusiasts simultaneously slavering and cocking their heads in excited confusion, much like Labrador retrievers. Three hundred horsepower of forced-induction, three-pistoned, rally-bred fury? Good! All-wheel drive with locking differentials and adjustability for rear bias? Great! A manual transmission and a proper handbrake instead of an electronic switch?
https://www.hagerty.com/media/automotive-history/before-the-gr-the-tepid-corolla-had-several-sizzlin...
9 REPLIES 9
tmkreutzer
Detailer

After discovering and enjoying Initial D, I asked myself why I had missed the 80s Corollas when I was a young speed demon. Then I looked at the horsepower ratings and, rear wheel drive handling not withstanding, understood why. They just didn't make enough power.

Us all-American guys who wanted to buy a brand new go-fast car on a budget in the '80s had three real options, the Camaro, the Mustang or one of the Turbo Dodges. The weakest of these three were the Dodges but even in their cheapest iterations they still out gunned the 115 HP Corolla by around 30 horses. Sure they were front wheel drive, but they were light and fast on the freeway which is where most of us in the United States went fast anyhow. And once you learned how to row the gears to manage your boost, you could keep up with damn near anyone.

That's not to say the Corolla, the 200SX and the other mid-range Japanese cars of the '80s weren't fun. They were wonderful cars in their own right, but if you wanted to go fast in a Japanese car back then, you were paying all the money for a "real" performance car, not a hotted up economy model. But I do miss those times, when every manufacturer had something fun in almost every price range but I think the import craze has people looking back at these particular cars through glasses that have too much rose colored tint.

BrendanMc
Intermediate Driver

The turbo Dodges were great, and I do wish Dodge had been able to make a go of the Dart. A Dart SRT-4 would probably undercut the Civic Si in price, but eat it for lunch in terms of performance, certainly in a straight line.

I will just note that the Corollas were really light, hundreds of pounds less than the Mopars, and you could always engine-swap 'em. The pictured one is about 2100 lbs, and has a later 20v engine good for 165 hp at 8200 rpm. Not really a highway car, as you say, but if you happened to live close to some PNW version of Mount Akina...
tmkreutzer
Detailer

I should have said at the beginning of my other comment that this is a fun article that brought back some good memories. When I went back to school in the early 90s, I made friends with a Japanese exchange student from Hokkaido who was really into the tuning scene. I remember looking at the magazines he brought with him and staring at the horsepower numbers they were claiming some of these cars made. Clearly there was an entire scene going on that we had no idea of until the Fast and the Furious hit.

I wish I could say I was part of the import scene back in the day. Although I did end up with a JDM '86 Supra Turbo when I lived in Kyoto and got a '84 200SX Turbo when I came back home, I was much more into bikes at the time - driven that way by the rising cost of classic American muscle cars.

And don't get me started on the Dart. So much wasted potential there...
Punk
Instructor

At age 15, having saved my whole life for my first car, I still needed to borrow half from dad. He had a 240Z so we looked at the Datsun B-210. So slow, but still fun and nimble. We looked at the Corolla, but honestly I couldn't tell any difference between the way it drove and the Datsun, and the Datsun in hatchback form looked much better. And since dad preferred Datsuns that was that. This was 1975. Road and Track or Motor Trend, can't recall which, tested the Corolla and the 210 against each other. In reviewing the SR 5 Corolla, they said they actually preferred the standard Corolla because it promised less than the SR 5 so you weren't as disappointed when it failed to deliver. Ouch! Serious slam for the day! When I traded my '75 in on a 200 SX in 1981, the leap up was massive! Now there was a fun car! Still prefer Nissans to Toyotas. Guess it was inherited.
AH3K
Intermediate Driver

You forgot the FIRST iteration... the Corolla Sprinter. 1076cc of rompin-stompin raw-gut power... laid upon the tarmac by 12" tires. I owned one and while not exactly a B-Sports racer, it afforded MANY fun-filled miles. Mine actually went 287,000 miles (with me) and several more with a buddy in KC. Biggest problem was finding a new shift lever (it broke), and a water-pump gasket (not avail)... I made one from an unwrapped Pillsbury biscuit can (cardboard, sandwiched between aluminum... worked fine).
Gary_Bechtold
Specialist

The sporty Corolla's especially the 1983–1987 AE86 GT-S are remembered fondly as an average car everyone could own. Never thought of them as sports cars but did remember various people I have known who owned them and thought they were fun cars. I admittedly preferred and paid closer attention to MR2's, Celica's or Supra's from Toyota.
TG
Gearhead

My mother bought an FX-16 new back in the day, and I always thought about getting one for nostalgia purposes... but good luck finding one
redptc01
New Driver

I've still got my FX16 GTS that I bought new in 1987. I smile every time I get behind the wheel and I'm aware of it. Fortunately it's never seen road salt and still runs and looks great at 185,000 miles. Now I mostly use it for autocross, factory stock except 15" wheels. The government hasn't printed enough money yet to make me sell it.
Canucklehead
Pit Crew

Liked the ‘83 - ‘87 GT-S’s but especially liked the style of the ‘88 - ‘92 models. The ‘05 -‘06 XRS shown is just pure bland to me and once upon a time anything with 4 doors excited me not all, no matter how much HP they had, those were cars my grandparents bought. Toyota’s styling today does nothing for me. (I drive plenty of them as company cars/SUVs/vans.) They need to look at what they were once capable of style wise. They have the power.