Evolutionary: Plotting the rise of the quick Toyota Corolla
Has this affordable sedan reached its Apex? Judging by the history of its performance variants, not yet
In the animal kingdom, an apex predator is at the top of the food chain; in the automotive world, clipping an apex means you just ate that corner for lunch. Either definition appears out of context when you see it tattooed onto the back end of a Toyota Corolla.
I mean, this is the Corolla we’re talking here. Dependable, reliable, economical — and most likely found in the left lane, acting as an impromptu safety car by slouching along at ten km/h under the speed limit. Corollas are like oatmeal: budget-friendly, beige, and bland. But not always.
This bewinged sedan isn’t the first Toyota to come with an “Apex” package, and it’s not the first car to make the case that a Corolla can be a little spicier than you’d expect. Pairing an aggressive aerodynamic look with a stiffened suspension and (praise be) an available six-speed manual transmission, the Apex builds on the nicely-optioned Corolla SE, promising some excitement from behind the wheel.
Before the Corolla, there was the Corona. Launched in 1957 as a rival to compact Nissans, the first- and second-generation cars looked a bit like the small British cars of the period.
By the mid-1960s, things got a lot more interesting. The third-generation car was pitched against the Nissan Bluebird, sold overseas under the Datsun brand. Datsun would go on to have plenty of racing success on this side of the Pacific, establishing Japanese cars as more than just economical and disposable.
As the Corona continued to grow in size, the first Corolla stepped in as Toyota’s subcompact offering. At first, these cars were very small and slow, more a carry-on from the two-cylinder Toyota Publica. The Publica is today extremely rare, but was actually sold in the Canadian market.
By the early 1970s, the Corolla had grown into the compact segments as a much more substantial machine, available as a sedan, wagon, or coupe. The latter carried the chassis code TE27, and could be optioned with a 1.6L engine producing 102 hp.
That doesn’t sound like much, but it’s actually slightly more than you got in a contemporary rival like a Datsun 510. Further, this was the age where compact cars were genuinely nimble, with curb weights well under 1,000 kg. Add in a five-speed transmission, and the Corolla was ready to go racing.
Competitive in class and reliable enough to make it to the finish, a Corolla racing car was no joke. Factory-backed cars competed in both Eastern and Western Canada. This particular example is an old Westwood warhorse, still up for a gallop.