Dependable Fun with the Classic Toyota Club

Toyota. Say the name and images of cars that run hundreds of thousands of kilometres with only routine maintenance come to mind. The name “Toyota” has long been synonymous with amazing reliability and toughness, and of cars that will never just not work. Of late though, a miasma of staidness has surrounded the marque, with the common knock being that their cars are merely wheeled appliances, built to convey and nothing more. The GT 86 has worked to turn it around somewhat, and the FT-1 concept helped a little more, but the general miasma of “wheeled appliance” still remains.

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In reality, Toyota has a rich heritage of sporting history, putting good engines into effective rear-wheel drive platforms and wrapping attractive bodies around them. The guardians of this heritage are the loyal wrenchers who keep their old Toyotas vibrant and alive, keeping witness to a time when Toyotas were bulletproof fun.

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Last June 22, the Classic Toyota Club Philippines held a big gathering at the Camp Aguinaldo Parade Grounds, with everything from pristine SRs to the black bosozoku-inspired KE70 sedan you see above in attendance. More than their sheer numbers these cars were built in, the boxy shape of the KE70 is an easy canvas for modification, and there’s not a lot of ways you can go wrong with it.

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Say “Corolla” today and most people will immediately imagine a mundane front-wheel drive sedan of the E100 “big body” variant or the E110 “lovelife” variant. Well how about something like this KE30 with bolt-on fender flares and chrome bumpers?

A sound-off competition was part of the day’s festivities, and where there are bonnets up and engines revving, you can always expect a crowd to be.

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Participating was this first-generation (truly special, this) E10 Corolla sporting luscious red paint on Compe 8s.

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Just looking at the engine is fun. While I’m no expert on the Toyota family of engines, this twin carb setup is probably not as it came from the factory.

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Next to the E10 was this E20 two-door wagon; as you might deduce, the E20 is the second-generation of the Corolla. The already-uncommon body style is highlighted by the Cavendish banana yellow of the body and accented by the gold multi-piece wheels.

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As with the E10, this E20 was sporting a modified four-cylinder, this time a newer unit with a better intake and some very pretty headers. The absence clutter in the engine bay’s walls help keep your eyes glued to the engine.

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Tracing the Corolla line is a bit of a complicated activity. Aside from all the body styles available and all the engines you could have in each, the models are also split between the Corolla and Sprinter lines.

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The Sprinter line is basically the Corolla bodies with different styling and different features. If, to you, this seems like a formula for cannibalisation on the sales floor, the dealership setup that Toyota established kept the Corolla and Sprinter in different stores, locations and channels. Here we have an E20-series Sprinter coupe, with a vastly different fascia compared to the previous E20 Corolla wagon.

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The Sprinter was rolling on these perfectly period TRD Toscos. These wheels have a very unique look, and are always instantly identifiable once you know what they are.

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DOHC engines in a light rear-wheel drive chassis are the main reason these Corollas and Sprinters grew a reputation for being so adept at turning gasoline into reliable performance. This is a 2T-G, the spiritual predecessor to the 4A-G. Or it could be an 18R-G, another popular engine swap option. Both engine look similar, and both are good-looking lumps with the distinctive twin plateaus for the twin cams. Once again, a cleaned-up engine bay devoid of wiring does a massive job of improving the engine bay’s appearance.

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And here is how the E20 Corolla coupe looks like. Same basic body, different face.

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Here we have another E20 two-door wagon in pretty much the same shade of yellow as the one before. Coincidence? Probably not. Most likely it’s just as case of this car looking best in this colour. As for the wheels, this one sports a more contemporary look with its silver basket weave wheels.

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Also unlike the earlier E20 wagon, this one has a more modest engine that’s much closer to what the car would have left the factory with. Still, there’s always room for a mild wire tuck to clean the whole space up.

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Then there was this sinister black E10 wagon on slightly-too-wide wheels. Say what you will about the wheels-poking-out look, but you can’t deny that it adds a lot of character. Personally, I prefer my wheels correctly sized and contained within the car’s body, but this does give the wagon a good dose of aggression.

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This is nearly as perfect as any E10 should be. The bonnet pins tell all that this is no museum piece, but a tastefully modified driver.

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Get a load of the engine too. Another mild wire tuck, chromed shock tower caps and splashes of colour complete this clean, tasteful classic.

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Made in Japan for American vehicle standards.

The E10 was an early part of the tidal wave of Japanese cars that introduced Americans to tight tolerances and broke the reign of the “Big Three” American manufacturers in the domestic market. Toyota’s management probably had no idea just how the Corolla’s nameplate would explode in popularity when they were designing the E10.

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So you’ve seen the E20 Sprinter coupe and corresponding Corolla coupe and two-door wagon. Here’s the E20 Corolla sedan for reference. On a modern car you’d probably call this colour a bit boring, but here it’s just right, giving the car a fresh appearance.

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Right at the end of the row was the crazy E20 wagon we last saw shredding tires at 168 EC-Drift. The car was still sporting the damage it had acquired from the drift competition just a week before, but had the bosozoku pipes reattached.

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In the sound-off, the engines were revved and judges scored each car based on the music they could make. All the cars sounded good and raspy in the way that only carburetted engines can, but the black E20 just sounded wild, angry and apart from everything else. Some of the cars had aftermarket ignition systems, which was easy to aurally tell due to the sharp cycle of the fuel cut off.

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Oh and the crowds just loved those roaring little engines. It must have been a glorious time back then in Japan, when tuned-up Toyotas like these ran up and down the streets, their sonorous exhaust notes filling up the air and bouncing off the buildings.

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Starting out in 1973 as a coupe variant of the KP30 Publica, the Starlet became its own model when the KP60 came around. The chassis code gives the game away: the Starlet uses the same “P” code that the Publicas did. Small, light and with rear-wheel drive, it’s always had high potential for formidable performance, and can be very quick with the right driver.

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Since the Starlets slotted below the Corolla in the Toyota range, it didn’t come in as many variants as the Corolla. Still, there’s a lot of space under the bonnet for basically any performance Toyota four-cylinder, and it’s very easy to turn these little cars into legitimate track monsters. Performance aside, this red five-door Starlet was just lovely.

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Though the three-door may be a purer design, the five-door is still admirably restrained, save for the black stripes.

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The cleanliness of the design carries all the way through to the back, with simple compound tail lamps being the only real feature. What is interesting is the slight crease that wraps around the car; I’ve never noticed that on any of the Starlets I’ve seen before, and I have to say it’s a pretty smart line that helps draw your eyes along the car.

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Gold wheels on a red car might seem like a questionable combination, but that all depends on the look. For the record, gold BBS basket weaves are always fine, although I do disagree a bit on the choice of fitment because I like my wheel wells filled up nicely, and I don’t like wheels that poke out.

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I’ve always thought that the Starlet was a bit forgotten in the local Toyota scene, and this red one was a good reminder to take notice.

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Meanwhile, this TE37 coupe had no problems at all with getting noticed. All I can say about it is that it was just perfect.

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Yup, that’s a 4A-GE sitting under the bonnet, another subject of a mild wire tuck and painfully clean engine bay. That engine just looks so at home you might almost wonder why the 4A-GE didn’t come as a factory option. Then you remember that the car was built way before the 4A-GE was even a twinkle in the engineering department’s product plan, and you snap out of your stupor, pulling yourself away from the miles-deep red paint to look at the rest of this car.

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Some people may find the way this car sits to be stupid, citing reasons of practicality, or voicing concerns over how such a fitment means a big risk of the wheel rubbing against the fender. Do not pay attention to them, because the way this car sits on its mesh wheels is perfect.

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Like I said, perfect. It helps that the TE37 looks good right from the factory, with the dramatic taper in the rear of the greenhouse and the careful slope of the fastback. Oh I just love this car.

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Parked a small distance away from the perfect TE37 was this A20-series Celica. These cars have long been a favourite of mine, and I tend to block out the sound of people trying to compare the styling to the first-generation Mustang.

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Front-hinged bonnets are always cool, even if it might make working on the engine a little more complex.

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Like the previous cars, some serious work has been done under the bonnet.

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A twin-cam four provides propulsion, and there’s a lot of it going by looks alone. Bright blue is not normally considered an aggressive colour, but here it serves the purpose of dressing up the engine bay tastefully.

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Sitting atop the Celica’s roof was a small version of itself, kind of live Dr. Evil and Minime. Some might consider it kitsch, but I think it’s always kind of cool that a car come with its own scale model replica. That way the owner will never have to miss the car, and it’s a very good way to introduce kids to the club.

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On the other side of the performance spectrum, the Toyota marque is also behind some of the most capable overland vehicles made. As far as off-road ability and legend status goes, the Land Cruiser is right up there with Land Rovers, From the original 1951 BJ Prototype up to the latest J200.

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Overland (which in simplest terms is long-haul off-roading) adventurers consider the J80 Land Cruiser as the finest overland vehicle of the breed. The only problem is that nothing stays perfect forever. However, because it is a Toyota, if you fit the right modifications and take care of it, it will be excellent longer than most others will be good. I really liked this J80 because the owner didn’t bother to hose off the mud, while the two Toyotas beside were polished to perfection.

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It isn’t ridiculously covered in mud, but it’s enough to let you know that the snorkel and steel wheels aren’t there just for show. I’ve ridden in a well-kept stock example of the J80 Land Cruiser before, so I know that it’s a very nice vehicle to be in. Sadly, that was strictly on paved roads, so I can’t really vouch for the J80’s off-road ability.

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We come back to the road cars with this stunning A20 Celica. As opposed to the previous black one, this one eschews the fender flares but adds fender-mounted mirrors for a clean JDM look.

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Okay, fine, so there may be echoes of American muscle cars in the A20’s lines, especially when you look at the liftback Celica from the rear three-quarter view, but there is not a single line on this car that has been put wrong.

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From the way the chrome bumpers curve up to wrap the front and rear ends to the simplicity of the lines, the A20 Celica has got to be one of the prettiest cars ever made, and literally has no bad angle. The shape is the very distillation of the long-bonnet, short-deck coupe without the exaggeration of the E-Type, and the details are a masterclass in tasteful restraint. Not even the side marker lights can do anything to ugly up the lines.

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You can try and find a single bad line on this car all day long, but you won’t find one. Between the coupe and liftback, it’s a complete toss-up as to which one is prettier; the coupe feels more Japanese, while the liftback has much stronger American influence, but you can’t go wrong with either one.

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A dragon? A boat? It’s a dragonboat!

Eventually the Celica turned into a bit of a boulevardier in the 1980s, and then into a smooth, rounded FWD sports coupe in the 1990s and finally into an edgy, fussily-detailed coupe with a high-strung 2ZZ-FE at the top end in the 2000s. Today the Celica nameplate is dead, but the same idea of a small sporty coupe lives on in the Scion tC, albeit with slightly bland styling. I don’t know about you, but I firmly believe that the first-generation Celica is the peak of Celica styling.

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As for performance, that peaked with the high-tech four-wheel drive ST205 Celica GT-Four, but that’s not to say the A20 was a slouch. Tick the right option boxes, and you could have a 1600 GT with a twin cam 2T-G (chassis code TA22) or a 2000 GT with a larger twin-cam 18R-G (chassis code RA25). Again, both engines look similar, so it’s a little hard to tell the difference without intimate knowledge of the engines. Yamaha cast the heads for both the 2T-G and 18R-G, which goes a long way towards explaining the similar looks.

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The line of cars extended all the way down the parade grounds, with the large clearing at the end absolutely filled.

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While the overwhelming majority of cars present were Toyotas, the venue was being shared with the Classic Mitsubishi Club, so there were a few vintage Lancers parked between the Toyotas. In truth any enthusiast was welcome to park among the Toyotas; there were a few B12 Sentras among the rows plus our EH Civic, which was pretty much the only Honda in attendance.

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The main straight however, was reserved for Toyotas and a couple of tents for the sponsors. It was a big, friendly gathering, more vintage Toyotas were coming into the ground by the minute, just like the VW celebration the week before.

On our return to the Classic Toyota Club’s gathering, we’ll take a look at more vintage Toyotas – of course – and a surprising little number that quite simply bested everything else for the sheer cool factor.

– Words by Kristoff Franco, pictures by Eugene Calimag

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