The Toyota Corolla and the England football team share a lot in common. No, really, they do, as I’m about to explain.
In 1966, England won the World Cup – your parents may have mentioned this a couple of times – signalling 30, 40, and now 52 years of hurt and the birth of the phrase “1966 and all that”.
It’s not entirely clear what the “all that” is referring to, but while Nobby was dancing and Jules Rimet was still gleaming, Toyota was predicting a motorisation boom. The Japanese economy was flourishing, and people began to realise that scooters and bicycles wouldn’t cut it as family transport.
The result was the 1966 launch of the Toyota Corolla, which, much like the England football team, would go on to conquer the world, sweeping all before it. Two heavyweights of their respective industries, admired by all, and loved by millions.
OK, so England’s World Cup victory didn’t exactly herald the dawn of a new footballing dynasty, but within eight years, the Corolla was already the world’s best selling car, going on to amass in the region of 45 million sales (and counting).
Only the Ford F-Series can rival the Corolla for its stranglehold on the world market, although, in the case of the American pick-up, the success is about as global as the World Series of Major League Baseball.
Well, they said you was high class
The Corolla was the second Toyota to be imported into the UK, arriving here in the same year football decided it was staying at home. It forged a reputation for dependability, reliability and, dare we say, mediocrity before the name was pensioned off in 2007.
Our love of premium badges and soft-touch plastics left the Corolla out of touch and outta here. With a swipe of a Chanel handbag and the kick from a pair of Jimmy Choos, the Corolla was gone, replaced, in Europe at least, by the Toyota Auris.
“We needed to change people’s perceptions of our C-segment hatchback,” said Andrea Formica, vice president of sales and marketing at Toyota Motor Europe. “We believe we have succeeded, people spontaneously reacted to the name with words such as ‘futuristic’, ‘high-class’ and ‘attractive’.”
Others asked if this was Toyota doing a ‘Consignia’. Probably.
In fairness, the Auris name lasted a whole lot longer than Royal Mail’s disastrous rebrand – 1.5 million sales is a decent return for the family car – but killing the Corolla name was a little like removing the sausage from an English breakfast. Or irrational thoughts from a Brexit debate.
It’s largely the same, but you can’t help but think something is missing.
But, that was just a lie
So, Toyota’s decision to bring the Corolla name home – in the same year that football very nearly did the same thing – is a reason to be cheerful. Heck, it’s a cause for celebration. An excuse to splash out on some Iceland mozzarella sticks and jumbo tempura prawns.
Why? Because the Toyota Corolla was always the chariot driven by your friend with no interest in cars. They were never late for work, rarely splashed out on expensive repairs, didn’t care where they parked, and they always reached their chosen destination without a hiccup or a splutter.
It was the go-to car for those who approach car shopping like you would approach a day at a retail park. The default choice. A domestic appliance.
The Auris confused matters. The change of name gave it ideas above its station and left dyed-in-the-wool Corolla owners feeling dazed and confused. They will welcome the return.
You, on the other hand, will welcome the second coming of the Corolla for another reason: the sporting models. Take the AE 86 GT Coupe, described by our Tim Pitt as a car that offers an “analogue driving experience [that] can’t fail to make you grin.”
Only 2,717 AE 86s were sold in the UK, but our growing fondness for retro Japanese – not to mention its appearance in Gran Turismo – has cemented its reputation as a rear-wheel-drive cult classic. Sadly, prices reflect this elevated status.
That’s not to say your chances of bagging a hot Corolla are as remote finding a spare moment in Mark Wahlberg’s daily schedule.
Take the Corolla 1.6 GT-i of 1987. Based on the sixth-generation of the world’s most ubiquitous car, the Corolla GT-i was a rev-happy, dynamically-sorted hot hatch for those who weren’t interested in a Golf GTI, Astra GTE or Escort XR3i.
Some would argue that the Corolla GT-i doesn’t receive the recognition it deserves and that it should be held up as the car with the best chassis, gearbox, brakes and driving position in its class. It’s just a shame so many of them have rusted away.
Another hot(ish) Corolla is the fifth-generation GT – the front-wheel-drive alternative to the AE 86. In a triple-test with the Renault 11 Turbo and Alfa Romeo 33 Green Cloverleaf, Car concluded: “You’d have to buy the Toyota from these, even knowing that it is a lovely engine clothed in fairly routine running gear.
“The twin-cam, which doesn’t even demand more fuel than the average shopping trolley, must be one of the finest fours in production, regardless of cost.”
The devil in disguise
High praise, and yet the Corolla GT is largely forgotten. Similarly, the WRC-inspired 1.6-litre 16-valve G6R is another Corolla to slip from the radar. The limited edition featured colour-coded sills and front and rear spoilers, along with six-spoke alloys, sports seats and… wait for it… red seatbelts.
The point is, the Corolla isn’t quite the unfancied and undateable car popular opinion would have you believe. Beneath that ‘white goods’ exterior burns a heart of raging desire and passion. Or something.
We haven’t even mentioned the Castrol-liveried WRC car driven by Carlos Sainz and Didier Auriol, which finished second and first in the manufacturers’ championship in 1998 and 1999 respectively.
The return of the Corolla name signals the end of a decade of hurt in the UK. The future looks bright: the Touring Sports is a good looking estate car, and we wouldn’t bet against a GRMN version of the hatchback.
Don your Gareth Southgate waistcoat and raise a glass to the return of the Toyota Corolla. We’re delighted it’s coming home. The Corolla, not the waistcoat. Sorry, Gareth.
- Toyota Corolla returns: Auris name retired for new 2019 car
- Retro Road Test: Toyota Corolla GT AE86
- Toyota hits back at Ford: Corolla is world’s best selling car