Also (unhappily) it’s this same lightness that contributes to the Corolla’s relatively poor ride. On anything but a smooth road it pitches and bounces with vigor, fortunately at a frequency well above that which would cause motion sickness. The suspension designers had to make a great compromise when choosing spring rates because the Corolla, when fully loaded with four adults and a trunk full of luggage, will weigh nearly 50% more than when unloaded. If the car is to avoid bottoming on every bump when it’s fully loaded, then it’s going to have a stiff ride when it has only one or two occupants unless progressive rate springs are used.
On the plus side, the lightness does allow the Corolla to get by with a relatively small engine. Aside from the tiny Fiat 850s, the Toyota’s 1077cc displacement is the smallest of the volume-imported car market. Smaller than the Austin America’s 1275 and much smaller than the VW Beetle’s 1500.
Even though the Corolla’s engine is a conventional in-line 4-cylinder unit, its appearance encourages the beholder to assume that all sorts of technical wizardry have been incorporated into the design simply because it’s been fashionably tilted 20° from vertical toward the driver’s side. To be even more fashionable, it’s of a short stroke configuration (2.95-inch bore, 2.40-inch stroke). The overhead valves are actuated by a camshaft located high in the cylinder block so that the pushrods can be as light and stiff as possible. Light aluminum castings are used for the cylinder head, intake manifold, rocker arm cover and clutch housing while the more customary cast iron is used for the block. Regular fuel is recommended for the 9.0-to-1 compression ratio Corolla and we found that the car runs quite happily on the low-calorie drink—so happily that it doesn’t want to stop even when you turn it off.
Typical of most small Japanese power-plants is that the carburetor is a progressive 2-bbl. instead of a single 1-bbl. or the multiple carburetors which would be used on cars built in other parts of the world. Also typical of every Toyota we have driven—right up to the 2000 GT—is poorly calibrated carburetion, and the Corolla was true to form. There is a very large hole in the engine output curve when the secondary throttle opens which tends to make part-throttle acceleration a waste of time. Low powered cars are frequently driven either at wide-open throttle or at full-bore coast. We’d have to say that the 2-bbl. Aisan carburetor in the Corolla encourages that kind of operation.
So that the Corolla’s breath doesn’t offend anyone, the initial ignition timing has been retarded to 5° after top center—which produces a fairly weak idle—and a mini air pump blows into the exhaust ports to oxidize the bad stuff.
Toyota volunteers that each Corolla makes 60 hp at 6000 rpm which seems about right considering the car’s performance. It’s not a rocket, understand, but standing quarter miles in 20.7 seconds at a speed of 65.3 mph puts it ahead of its VW and Austin America competitors which we recently tested—although both of the latter were equipped with automatic transmissions which put them at a disadvantage. Toyota does build the Corolla with a 2-speed automatic but this combination is not currently being imported.
Ignoring the manufacturer’s warning against cruising over 75 mph (5000 rpm), we made a daring 85 mph run for a few miles to check the top speed. For those who came in late, 85 mph is a very creditable top speed for an 1100cc sedan—well above its peers. Also well above what feels comfortable, we might add, because the noise level can’t be ignored and there are those cross winds to worry about.
Modest engine displacement requires constant shuffling of the transmission ratios if you intend to keep pace with fast moving traffic. The Corolla’s ratios are very well spaced—but there are other problems. The synchronizers, particularly second gear, just aren’t equal to the job. Everything works fine when the gearbox is cold but when it’s hot anything but the slowest, most patient shift to second is rewarded with a graunch. Both Corollas that we’ve tested suffered from the same malady which we think is a serious shortcoming when you consider that the transmission is a vital instrument for good forward progress.
Another deterrent to smooth operation is the clutch. Its operation is very much like a toggle switch—it’s either on or off. To its credit is low pedal pressure and it showed no signs of distress, even during the acceleration test, but a more gradual engagement would be appreciated. We’re thinking particularly of young female drivers who will be attracted to the Corolla for its many virtues but may lack the finesse required to get it launched with any dignity. (Young females tend to be very big on dignity.)
Cable actuated clutches are normally reserved for rear-engined cars or motorcycles but the Corolla is an exception. The cable allows a very simple free play adjustment which should make that part of the Corolla’s maintenance a two minute job.