Toyota Corolla (4th Gen)

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Toyota Corolla (4th generation)

1979 - 1983
4 cyl.
1.6 & 1.8 litre
75 bhp
3 spd. auto / 4 & 5 spd. man
Top Speed:
Number Built:
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Toyota Corolla
Toyota Corolla (4th generation)
Reviewed by Unique Cars and Parts
Our Rating: 1


With a new chassis, the 1979 Corolla was a more sophisticated and satisfying car than any Corolla before it - but before this generation was through, it would get even better. The 1979 Corolla finally dispensed with the rugged but primitive leaf spring rear suspension in favor of a more compliant coil spring system (the station wagon continued to use the leaves). The new unibody above that suspension was larger (the wheelbase was now 94.5 inches), stronger and more attractive in a boxy, clean-cut sort of way.

A new 75-horsepower, 1.8-litre version of the OHV four was optional on the new Corolla with four- and five-speed manual and three-speed automatic transmissions available. But it was the suspension work by AMI that finally made the Corolla a real drivers car. What had many scratching their heads was that the modifications were basic,, and could (should) have been made at any time in the previous ten years.

In simple terms, the front sway bar was increased in diameter from 19mm to 22mm, while at the rear a 14mm sway bar was fitted for the first time. In addition to these features, which were intended to sharpen up steering response and to reduce roll, the shock absorbers were stiffened slightly to afford more precise general handling characteristics. Conscious that the stiffer, improved suspension would result in a tighter ride, AMI also incorporated a revised front seat design. This used a rubber membrane as its basis rather than the old complex system of coil springs.

The "tombstone" seats which were fitted to the 3rd Generation Corolla gave way to slimmer ones with a headrest attached to the top, but they were just as comfortable. As with other manufacturers, seat cushioning switched to the use of a moulded type rather than being fabricated from bits of foam rubber. By this means more even support for the body was achieved. Better still the moulded construction, assisted by the membrane, meant that the seat cushion wouldn't sag to the shape of just one driver making it uncomfortable for others after a period of use.

On the Inside

The front seats featured a full reclining mechanism, using a large gnarled wheel (a carry over from the 3rd generation Corolla). Trim was in a pleasant and durable looking woollen material, front and rear. In addition to recline, the seat runners were improved as far as rearward extension was concerned, so that taller drivers could achieve a comfortable position. This was at the expense of rear passenger leg room however, when its full extent was utilised. Improved carpeting extended to the kick pads in the doors, while in the top-of-the-line XX model there were cloth inserts in the doors too. Door trim went the full depth anyway, and color keyed armrests certainly added to the interior comfort level.

A revised grille, head lamps and other styling changes improved the car's looks overall. The previous model Corolla had a definite sporting flavour, but the engine lacked enough fizz to really appeal to the youth segment, but with the introduction of the new engine the 4th generation Corolla jumped a step ahead of most other cars in its category. A vigorous racing program by AMI didn't hurt the image either. No doubt there will be some who disagree with us about the performance, these likely to be people who owned the generation 1 Corolla. That car was never a fast mover, but it was at least adequate. But over the years the Corolla grew fat, not in terms of all up mass, but certainly when it came to ever increasing numbers of creature comforts intended to move it up market. Indeed, the Corolla was one of the first Japanese cars to provide clocks, radios and cassette players as standard items at quite ridiculous all up prices thanks to advantageous yen exchange rates.

As time passed other manufacturers followed and went ahead of these trends, while the Corolla itself changed little, and many believed the 3rd generation Corolla was simply a dated, uninspiring and rather boring cheap car. Some believed that Toyota had lived too long on its image – and the Corolla had a particularly good one. It was the world's largest selling single model. But with the 4th generation, the small engineering changes put the car squarely back in the class leading category – one that many believed the Corolla should have always maintained.

From a styling perspective, the Corolla was also starting to look a little dated. The competition had changed much more over the years, particularly the Honda Civic and Mazda 323. Because of its big car lines, the Corolla's actual size was hard to judge until you gets up close. Only then would you realise just how small, dimensionally, it was. And despite the fact that it didn't have a light look about it, at 876 kgs it was no heavyweight. Inside the initial impression was of high waist lines, a high facia and a tinge of claustrophobia. Although it is sold as a full four seater rear passenger leg room was minimal when the front buckets were at their furthest rearward extension. Boot space was at a bit of a premium too, especially compared to the hatchback style that had quickly gained popularity.

Behind the Wheel

Instrumentation on the CS model was basic. There was a speedometer, without trip but with odometer and there was a combination gauge for water temperature and fuel level, plus warning lights for other functions. A clock was included along with a pushbutton radio as standard. Steering column mounted stalks looked after windshield wipers, the control providing two speeds and intermittent, as well as the washer system. On the right was the twist control for side and headlights, doubling as the indicator and high beam dipper. Effective heating and demisting was provided as well as flow through ventilation and a rear screen demister.

Interior carrying space was really restricted to the glove box in the facia, there being none of the little cubbies that were becoming common place in other makes of small car. Using the manual choke, the splendid little 1300cc engine came to life quickly and rich mixture could be dispensed with quite rapidly thereafter. As was common with gearboxes of the time, it would take a little time to warm up, but then it would prove to be a neat, light shifting affair, assisted by a very light clutch. The advantage of adding the fifth overdrive gear onto the normal four speed box could be appreciated in terms of fuel economy. The top ratio would pull, with a little care, from around 60 km/h. Fuel consumption was a little less than 8 litres/100 km around town.

Not a Nanna's Car

By the time of the 4th generation Corolla, AMI had conducted some market research into the ownership and buying profile of their small car. These surveys showed that 58% of customers were buying their first new car, and that 16% had never owned a car before. But then it pointed to the fact that 47% of owners were under 29 years of age and that 46% were single. Perhaps it was because the Corolla had developed a reputation as being a Nanna's car. With this information at hand, the Toyota salesman could quite rightly claim that the Corolla was, in fact, more popular with the younger generation.

The 1300cc engine did not have abundant power, but what was there could be used all the time in whatever gear was appropriate, and combined with the suspension modifications you could punt the Corolla with plenty of confidence into corners, and it neutral handling was almost the same on gravel, although you needed to be careful as it was easy to push the rear end out too wide. Due to some modification to the front wheel camber angles, there was a tendency for the steering to load up on the outer extremities of lock. All the time the wheel needed to be turned to only a minimal degree, the effort required was quite low. As soon as wide lock angles were employed, usually opposite lock on gravel, effort was quite high. A firm grip was always needed on the wheel when you were driving on dirt, such was the lightness and razor sharp accuracy of the steering.

Solid Reliability

The gear ratios were aimed at economy, which meant that second and third were a little too far apart. First gear itself was very low. Acceleration on the Corolla's fitted with the 1300cc mill was leisurely, which was also common with most other models in the Toyota range at the time. Over 17 seconds taken from rest to 100 km/h was pedestrian. Zero to 120 km/h could take upwards of 35 seconds, but with practice you could get that figure well below the 30 second mark. Despite how slow it was on paper, the Corolla was a delight, and most road testers claimed that AMI were again on a winner. It was an improvement over it's predecessor, but it was still an old old car that was showing its age. On the credit side, it had a reputation for solid reliability, and had proven fuel efficiency.

Though by no means ultra cheap, it represented good value. Prices in 1980 were $5399 for the four speed "L" model, while the better equipped SE started at $5619. In both cases the three speed automatic cost a further $540, or the five speed economy gearbox another $130. Wagon buyers were looking at $6349 for the basic SE 4 speed manual, or $6699 for the CS. Right at the top of the list was the XX hardtop auto at $7019. Today were remember the 4th generation Corolla for the particularly attractive SR5, Sport Coupe, Hatchback and Liftback versions. With their effective use of detailing, they looked more expensive than they actually were. The big Corolla news for 1983 was a new 1.6-litre overhead cam engine that was both smoother and more powerful than the previous 1.8.

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Also see:

Kiichiro Toyoda
The Toyota Australia Story
Toyota Car Brochures
Toyota Car Commercials
Toyota Production 1950 - 1979
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