Something rather remarkable occurred in 1975. For the first time in two decades, Volkswagen no longer topped the U.S. imported car sales charts. Toyota, regardless of whose numbers you use and not including trucks, surged past the German carmaker to a position of import dominance that it has not since relinquished.
More sophisticated automobiles were eclipsing the once-ubiquitous Beetle, not the least of which was VW’s own trend-setting front-drive Rabbit. But the Toyota lineup relied on conventional front-engine/rear-drive models that included Corona, Celica, and Carina, but those numbers fell short of the Corolla’s. A smaller basic set of wheels, the Corolla was offered in a variety of formats, including two-door and four-door, sedan, hardtop and wagon, plus enthusiast variants such as the SR-5. Altogether, the Corolla comprised almost half of Toyota’s 1975 sales.
The Corolla had entered Toyota’s U.S. lineup in 1969, broadening the Japanese carmaker’s lineup. At that time the Corona was Toyota’s premier model, well out of direct confrontation with the pending U.S. subcompacts from Chevrolet and Ford.
Originally a 1077-cc mini, the Corolla was destined to grow, and for the ’75 model year, it received a larger body and a 1588-cc four-cylinder as standard equipment. The short stroke, hemi-head overhead-valve engine was rated at 75 hp at 5800 rpm, two less in California because of the catalytic converter required there. With a 9.0:1 compression ratio, it ran on 91 octane (regular), leaded or unleaded as appropriate.
Contemporary road tests, however, complained that the Corolla wasn’t happy on the cheaper brew, pinging under load. That’s the ‘70s though, with almost every carmaker still trying to control emissions while using a conventional distributor and a carburetor, such as on the two-barrel Aisan carburetor on the Corolla.
Toyota backed up the engine with a four-speed manual, an optional five-speed manual (unusual for the time) or a three-speed automatic. A final drive ratio of 4.10:1 standard.
The Corolla’s layout was wholly conventional, with MacPherson struts in front and at the rear, live axle on leaf springs. The car had a curb weight of 2175 pounds. The drivetrains would gain a reputation of being just about unbreakable, though rustproofing was not yet to what it is today.