Why the Toyota Corolla is impossible to hate

Celebrating its 50th birthday this month
by Niky Tamayo | Oct 20, 2016

Yes, impossible. Or "Impossibru!", as the Japanese would declare. Yet I approach you now, not as a disciple of the Temple of Corolla, but as a Doubting Thomas who has seen the light. Since its launch in 1966, the Toyota Corolla has been at the pinnacle of Japanese engineering. In an era that saw the dawn of video cassettes, mecha (giant robot) cartoons, karaoke, the shinkansen, and even high-tech sports cars such as the Toyota 2000GT and the Mazda Cosmo, the Corolla quietly emerged as the de facto symbol of Japanese excellence.

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It didn't quite start out that way. Designed by Tatsuo Hasegawa as a filler model between the smaller Publica/Starlet and the luxurious Corona and Crown, it was squarely targeted at an entry-level family crowd. The name even means "Little Crown". But smart marketing and innovations such as a four-on-the-floor manual shifter, front MacPherson struts and a stout 59hp OHV engine, made the E10 Corolla better than the rest. And over the next few decades, it started to capture the hearts and minds of the motoring public.

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Here was a basic family car that would not burst into flames or sashay you into a ditch in wet weather. It was cheap and well-built, and you could even race them, if you chose to. Special SR5 and TE27 models with 1.6-liter engines soon appeared, bringing you Celica-level muscle in a tiny little car.

As the years marched by, the legend grew. By the E70 generation, all the cool cats in Manila were driving Corolla DXs. These cars were quick, sporty and tough. Some racking up to a million kilometers—and are still running. Come the '80s, the Corolla switched to front-wheel drive without losing its sporty demeanor. This is thanks to the introduction of the now legendary 4A-GE engine; a sporty high-revving 1.6-liter in-line four that stayed in production for nearly 20 years.

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By the '90s, Toyota's dominance was complete. Kaizen production practices meant an error rate of one in a million. The Corolla was so well built that three generations were made with nearly the same mechanical package, allowing stores to stock spare parts for every need. At one point, every other car on the streets of Manila was a Corolla. And this was a scene repeated around the world.

Corollas sold in the tens of millions. They put the world on wheels. They created jobs. They created businesses. They also destroyed businesses. No, really, they did. These cars were so reliable that 20-year-old secondhands from Japan routinely ran small car companies from China to Africa out of business. They just couldn't compete with the almighty Corolla.

As we move deeper into the 21st Century, the Corolla just keeps getting better. Bigger, more luxurious, more powerful; today's Corolla is worlds away from yesterday's Corona, and it just keeps getting better.

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But familiarity breeds contempt. A Corolla in every garage makes them about as uncool as daddy shoes to millenials. Even enthusiasts get into games of Corolla-bashing from time to time. "Boring," they say. "Daddy cars," they complain. But for tens of millions of Corolla owners around the world, there is nothing more perfect on four wheels.

Few cars live to be 50 years old. But the way the Corolla is going, it may just live to be 100.  No longer the "Little Crown", the Corolla can rightfully proclaim itself King.

Happy Birthday, Corolla. May you have more to come. 

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PHOTO: Toyota Motor
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