California Classic: 1978 Toyota Corona Wagon

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I give you possibly one of the most invisible cars of the second half of the 20th century: a brown, 1978 Toyota Corona Wagon. This rust-free example is in Los Angeles, California, the only possible place that it could have survived this long, and it’s listed on eBay with six days left on the auction and the current bid price of just over $250. These cars were seemingly everywhere in the late-1970s yet most of them have disappeared.

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This is a one-owner, all-original car; pretty amazing. The seller says that it has “NO RUST!!” And, since they’re yelling, they must really mean NO RUST!! These were great cars but rust took the life of most of them anywhere east of the Pacific Time Zone so to see a little time capsule like this one in this condition is nice. I know that a lot of you don’t like Japanese cars, but for those who do this would be a nice one to have.

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The seller says that the body is “in great shape, some minor scratches and little dings.” And, the lower front valance has a little damage. This is a fifth-generation Corona made from 1973 through 1979 and this was the generation of cars that really put Toyota on the map in the US. The oil crisis caused a lot of car buyers to look for fuel-efficient, yet still reliable, cars and Toyota was one company that took off in that era because it made cars that were both of those things. This car has lasted for 87,000 miles and other than a few interior things that need attention, and a couple of dings on the exterior, it looks great.

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Ok, the seats are somewhat trashed, but at least they’re original and you can see what you’re getting. I applaud the seller for including a photos of the damaged areas instead of purposely trying to avoid those areas in the photos like some ads do. And, the dash has a cobbled-together crack, but we all know both of those areas can be fixed for a reasonable amount of money. One thing that will hold this car back a bit is the automatic transmission. Sure, it’s what a lot of people bought and drove, but now (almost) everyone wants a manual transmission, so that will hold the price down on this otherwise great looking car. The color may hold the price down a bit, too, being a classic 1970s brown. But, this car has factory AC and it “blows extremely cold”, according to the seller. Not to mention something that most people wouldn’t think of being in a Toyota, a Bulova clock in the dash!

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This is the venerable 20R, a 2.2L inline-four with 90 hp in California. A manual transmission would have come in handy with that hp rating for sure. The seller, who isn’t the original owner, said that the “owner recently changed timing chain, new water and oil pumps. Carb was also rebuilt by original owner.” I could see this car going another 87,000 with ease, only needing a little regular maintenance. This car will be snapped up by a vintage Japanese car fan, it’s simply too nice of an example to languish in a used car lot like it would have done a decade or two ago. I know that a lot of you aren’t fans of Japanese cars, but for those who are, is this one worth saving? And, if so, would you swap out a 5-speed for the column-shifted automatic?

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  1. bradshaw

    it is a corona (not a corolla) the upscale car….I like the bench seat and I think the automatic is a toyoglide….their version of the chevy 2 speed powerglide…..with the tuning they used to pass emissions it was ……leisurely…..

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    • DAN

      seller can’t read badge on car
      + states 1 owner,title shows transfer in 1990……not 1 owner

      Like 0
    • Scotty GAuthor

      Yes, you are correct! My mistake, the 20R engine for sure didn’t come in that year of Corolla.

      Like 0
  2. Mike O'Handley

    Bradshaw is correct. It is a Corona – Toyota’s anchor car in the US for decades – and it is a Toyoglide transmission. However, it is not a two-speed Toyoglide – it’s a three-speed. The Toyoglide was based on GM’s Powerglide and was built for Toyota by Aisin Warner under license. The two-speed was discontinued in models imported to the U.S. after 1973 and was never married to the 20R engine. Nice transmissions to work on – basically scaled-down GM automatics. If one was familiar with the GM auto-transmissions of the day one could easily work on these. I know – I was a Toyota mechanic in those days.

    I’m a little bothered with the VIN number. It doesn’t make sense that it should start with 111. The VIN on this car should have begun with JTG – Country of origin (Japan = J), Manufacturer (Toyota = J) and Vehicle Type (2WD 4-door wagon = G).

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  3. Mike O'Handley

    Those Coronas were very solid reliable cars. According to the ebay ad, the owner has already taken care of its Achilles’ heel – the timing chain. Still, at 87,000 miles it would be a good idea to replace the front brake pads and pull the rear drums to check the rear brake shoes; and then perform a compression check on it as soon as you bring it home – ‘cuz with the emission system setup it used the exhaust valves would often get burnt at between 75K and 100K miles.

    Pulling the head, disassembling it, replacing the valve guides and seats, lapping in the new valves and reassembly and tuning will take just about 2.5 hours for a seasoned Toyomechanic; but, if memory serves, they’ll hit you with a flat rate of about 6.5 hours.

    Unless there is a lot of metallic sludge on the magnetized drain plug when they drain the oil prior to disassembly, it won’t be necessary to re-ring it or replace either the rod bearings or the main bearings for another 40,000 miles – as long as you change the oil and the filter every 3000 to 6000 miles and use a premium grade oil.

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  4. angliagt

    This was on craigslist a week or two ago – flipper?
    Coronas DID have 20R engines in 1975 – (I believe) ’80.

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  5. Luke Fitzgerald

    Wow – column shift auto and bench – something we have never ever seen here

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  6. atlbuckeye

    This model toyota was handed down to me when I started driving in ’86. That car is what I qualify as a “trail level off-roader” . The ground clearance seemed to be high to accommodate the spare tire. The backseat — well there is a different story. Slide the font bench seat all the way back – and there was like 4 inches of legroom for the backseat riders. Don’t try to fit an aftermarket stereo in there — wayyy to shallow. I had to listen to the AM JAM party for 2 years, until I got a 79 implala. Also notice, — there is no mirror off the right door. Japan cut costs wherever they could.

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  7. JohnM

    Wow. I’m on the east coast. Don’t think I’ve seen one of these since about 1987 or so. Back in the late 70s these were one of the “luxury” gas crisis cars. Rare even then, compared to say Tercels which were everywhere. Neat find. Shame about the transmission, but like I said these were for folks who wanted luxury+mpg. Funny to think a two speed automatic used to spell luxury.

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  8. Mike O'Handley


    Yes, Coronas did have 20R engines in 1975. I worked on a bunch of them. The 20R came out the year before and it ran until 1980.

    I wasn’t talking about the engine in the car above, I was talking about the reference to the transmission in the first response made b Bradshaw above.

    The A10 and A20 2-speed Toyoglide transmissions were never used with the 20R engine. The 2-speed trans was used with the K2 and K3 engines and the 2tc engines through 1972 but in 1973 Toyota upgraded the Corolla transmissions to the A30 which by then had been used in the Crowns, Coronas and Mark IIs for years.

    Like 0
  9. BMW/Tundra Guy

    I have already forwarded this to a friend who’s car is on its last leg. While this one may be a dinosaur in age, it’s still in its youth mileagewise!!!! Throw some seatcovers on it, crank up the A/C, and ride with confidence!!! This thing still has a LOT of life left in it!!!!!

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  10. IanSeign

    I had a 1978 Corona with 276,000 miles on it when I got rid of it only because I couldn’t get a baby seat to work in it. She ran like an obsessed politician and still got 22-24mpg.

    Like 2
  11. Nelson Wells

    This is amazing. Around 88-89 I got to drive my mom’s old woody 1978 Corona with 100,000+ miles on it when she soon got rid of it -just after i replaced the water pump and left for college – to a 19 year old college girl for $600 who promptly totaled it a month later. ugh i wanted that 20R wagon. – nelson wells, st simons island, GA

    Like 1

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