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History of the Toyota Corolla

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The Toyota Corolla has been around since 1966, which should tell you something about its success and popularity across time.Toyota has built its customer base over many years based on reputation and loyalty, and the story of the car is fascinating if you want to learn more about how certain models manage to sustain themselves while others seem to drop entirely off the face of the Earth. We'll take you into a land of manufacturing, marketing and makeovers in the search to better understand a car that's lived in garages of Americans for 50 years.

1968 - 1970

Just one other car (the Land Cruiser) was made for the US before the Corolla got its day. After a two-year head start of manufacturing and selling in Japan, Americans got their first look at the car in 1968, and it wasn't particularly sexy (and really, it never would be.) What it was though was exceptionally simple with a unibody design, leaf springs in the rear and a strut suspension up front. There was the two-door wagon, the two-door coupe and the four-door sedan all on a 90-inch wheelbase, with 60-horsepower and a standard transmission. What Toyota seemed to have struck gold on was the austere nature of the car made it affordable at under $1,700, though it had to an uphill battle in terms of getting the public to be excited about their new car. People had less-than-stellar impressions of Japanese cars, and the demand wasn't overwhelming at the time. It was only after continued perseverance that the Corolla started to see more success, changing up the game in 1970 with its second generation.

1970 - 1974

For it's next round of models from 1970 to 1974, Toyota upped the horsepower to 73, added a 3-speed automatic option and increased the wheelbase by almost 2 inches which actually made for a more comfy ride. Now both new and experienced drivers alike could feel more confident behind the wheel, and it was the second generation that bumped the car up to the second best selling car throughout the world, even if it still wasn't capturing people's hearts through it's sense of style in the looks department. In 1971 it bumped up to a 1.6 liter engine ad 102 horsepower, and it even got a sportier SR5 5-speed model.

1975 - 1978

The third generation in 1975 saw an odd aesthetic change to make it look rather angular, but it also saw 5 models on the line for the Corolla, and a three-door version (Liftback) that had some sporty characteristics, but still had a decent amount of room to take the family for car trips they didn't ask to go on. The Liftback didn't see the sales the team was hoping for though, and the attractive quotient didn't necessarily improve. While these were somewhat lost years for the Corolla, there was one thing that couldn't be denied by this point: Toyota's cars were like Energizer batteries in that they just kept going.

1979 - 1983

From 1979 to 1984, the company got a little wiser with its fourth generation. The car was dare we say, cuter than in the past - less of a boat and more of a compact box. They got rid of the leaf spring suspension in favor of a coil spring in the coupes and sedans, and gave it a 1.8 liter engine with roughly the same horsepower. People might have assumed just by looking at the car that the owner paid a bundle, but it was still as reasonably priced as ever. In 1982, the company came out with a 4-speed automatic transmission, which for a car in its class was kind of a big deal. In 1883, the car got a 1.6 overhead cam engine for a smoother ride.

1984 - 1987

In 1984, there were front-drive options available for the first time, and the GT-S was introduced on the market which was powerful for a Corolla at 124 horsepower. The GT-S is still beloved by people who appreciate a little excitement in their ride. Corolla took a page from Volkswagon's playbook by creating the FX which looked an awful lot like the Rabbit hatchback in 1987. Plus, Toyota saw that American drivers were definitely sticking with them throughout all their changes, meaning they could start increasing their presence here both in manufacturing and in marketing.

1988 - 1992

Their sixth generation saw some aesthetic and internal improvements. Some of these changes worked out for them, like the GT-S increasing its horsepower to 130 in 1990. However some of its other decisions, like the All-Trak sedan model, didn't wind up going the distance. Plus, the Corolla was still operating on its less is more campaign. If you wanted a car with a radio in 1992, that was still considered a luxury to Toyota as the base model didn't have it.

1993 - 1997

The EPA would now see the seventh generation Corollas as subcompact cars rather than compact, and the company was sticking to the sedan version of their car on an independent suspension and a DX and LE model for those who had caviar dreams. Cars had drum brakes at the time, and ABS was an option. Seatbelts could now be adjusted according to height and both driver and passenger got their own airbags. The sound system got better as the emission standards got stricter. Toyota had steadily been making changes to comply with the EPA all along, and in 1995, they had to ditch some horsepower from the 1.8 liter engine. Bottom line is this generation looked a little better and handled a little easier, and in 1997, Toyota was leading the pack at number one in sales. (Now, technically that record was for the Camry, but the lesson was that that their efforts were paying off.)

1998 - 2002

In 1998, Corollas could now boast better fuel economy after shedding some pounds, and introducing a better DOHC 4-cylinder engine that got 38 MPG on the highway. Now the public had options for a CD player and side airbags for better safety, and an even more attractive exterior in both their regular versions and their S models. In 2003, Toyota targeted the youth of America, and improved upon its already comfortable driving experience to give people more breathing room while still remaining compact. The quality continued to remain excellent with the drive being easy and even fun. Toyota knew it had stumbled on the right path here, so changes were a bit rare.

2003 - Now

With a 1.8 liter engine and 132 horsepower, there are only so many notable mentions of changes for the Corolla from 2009 to today. Though people have criticized it for poor steering control and a somewhat cheap interior, it has remained a household name and a strong contender when people try to decide which car to buy. As you might expect the base model features did increase, with air conditioning and a CD player now standard on their lowest models. For a car that started with such stark original options, it certainly came a long way.

Challengers: Then and Now As long as Toyota can stay on track with what they've been doing, there is no doubt that they'll continue to remain strong in a competitive market. However, that doesn't mean they don't face their own set of concerns. Companies that may have been in their infancy when Toyota was crushing the market were starting to notice how to make improvements of their own, and they worked fast to deliver them to the public. Juggernauts like Honda were already posing some stiff competition, and now even the once considered second-rate manufacturers like Hyundai or Kia were starting to grab their fair share. Still, it should be noted that in 2015, Toyota led the pack in sales at more than 10 million vehicles sold. Of course, Toyota isn't necessarily all caught up in being number one - they never have been (even if they're certainly not going to turn down the honor.) Their entire premise, and a successful one at that, was tied up in providing people with a car that would run and run and run, and have an easy enough driving experience that you would be comfortable passing the car down to your 16-year old enough daughter.

Specs

  • MSRP: Starts at $17,300
  • Horsepower: 132 to 140
  • MPG: Up to 30 city / 42 highway
  • Dimensions: 183" L x 70" W x 57" H
  • Engine: 1.8 L 4-cylinder
  • Weight: 2,800 to 2,875 lbs
  • Tank Capacity: 13.2 gal
  • Crash Test Ratings: 5 Star

Awards

One award that will hopefully stand out to you about the Corolla was one given as an Industry Accolade: 90% of Corollas that were purchased in the past 10 years are still going strong on our streets. As far as ratings go, it's probably the most relevant if you love these cars. It was also a finalist for Kelley Blue Book's Best Buy Award, meaning that essentially this car has been engineered to go the distance without costing an exorbitant amount. It was named as a SmartChoice Maintenance Costs Winner by IntelliChoice this year, and given a 4.4 rating out of 5 according to edmunds.com consumer ratings.