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Mysterious 1976 Toyota Corolla


The seller of this 1976 Toyota Corolla claims it is a one of a kind prototype. It was found in a barn, where it had sat since 1984. They have done considerable research and even contacted Toyota, who claims this car shouldn’t even exist. At first glance, it just looks like a Liftback, but the body work is more like that of a ’77 Corolla. Take a look at it here on eBay and decide for yourself if its real or if someone is just trying to pull a fast one on us.


The VIN plate shows that this one was built in April of ’76 and that it is a TE51, which would make it a Liftback. The seller claims the ground effects are made of metal instead of fiberglass, which would suggest that they were installed at the factory. It’s also possible that an enthusiastic owner went to the trouble of crafting metal panels, but we doubt it.


The interior looks like a ’76 should, other than the added gauge pod. It’s in rough shape for supposedly only covering 58k miles before being parked on blocks in a barn. The body does look solid, without any serious rust that we can see. I’d be sure to check the underside though, as there could be some hiding under there.


Other than a few differences with the body, I’m not seeing how this one is any different than a standard ’76 Liftback. It’s entirely possible that this really is a prototype that was never intended to be sold, but there just isn’t enough documentation to prove it. Perhaps someone with more knowledge about Corollas can help clarify what is really going on here.


  1. michael k. wilkinson

    Am I missing something here, or is the answer to this question right there in the Wikipedia entry for the Toyota Corolla? Quoting: “A face-lift in March 1976 saw most Corolla E30 models replaced by equivalent E50 models.” I know you can’t always trust Wikipedia, but this little bit of information seems to indicate that the faded yellow turd in this listing is simply an April 1976 production version of the car that is noted in the Wikipedia listing as having undergone a facelift beginning the prior month. Full context of above quote at following link – see section “Third Generation (E30, E40, E50, E60)” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Toyota_Corolla

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  2. Blindmarc

    The blirb on Ebay says that the owner had it shipped here. So I personally think it was a mod done in japan, if that. Nothing special, and the bidding is at $325 right now.

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    • Misanthrope

      There are no left hand drive toyotas in Japan….

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  3. Thomas

    1976 should have 13 digits not 10 in the vin number…

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  4. scot

    ~ did i overlook the ‘high end restoration company’ in the photos?

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  5. Dirty Dingus McGee

    If it was brought to the States from Japan, wouldn’t it more likely be left hand drive?

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    • Dirty Dingus McGee

      DOH. RHD. Stupid brain.

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      • 95SkylineGTS-T

        Yes, this all seems dodgy to me.

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  6. Dolphin Member

    Looks like Mike Wilkinson has a point, but if this is a prototype for a rally car that was imported from Japan years ago, some questions arise:

    1) Why the ground effects stuff attached to the body? They don’t use that stuff on rally cars because they need more ground clearance, not less.

    2) If a rally car, why the dumpy stock plastic dash / instruments and ordinary seat?

    3) If a *Japanese* prototype why LHD? They use RHD in Japan.

    4) Why no engine bay and suspension shots to show the specialized rally mods?

    5) Why no documentation?

    6) Why bring the car to the US?

    Too much story and not enough fact. Seen this before: mention some ‘strange’ things about a car and then suggest an unlikely way to ‘explain’ them. And wouldn’t you know it—the ‘explanation’ turns out to point to a Special Factory Configuration that makes the car valuable. Amazing, eh?

    I’m going with the simplest explanation: a LHD US-market mid-body-change car that someone attached aftermarket wheels and some dress-up body stuff to.

    Worth 50 bucks to someone who is desperate for a drivetrain for his Corolla beater—assuming it has a working drivetarin.

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  7. Zoo Barthelme

    ….what your lookin at is a 1976 Corolla (TE52), a very common car for the day. It isn’t a Japanese Import (rallye car) , which are RHD, not LHD like this one…sorry it’s not what it’s advertised as. And I’ll believe those are metal body effect when I see a magnet click on video

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  8. The 2904

    High end restoration shop? I can see two or three future Pebble Beach winners in that dirt lot.
    Imported from Japan by someone who lived there? With a bog standard Federalization ID plate … and left hand drive. Not hope in hell.
    Looks like someone is smoking the meth they are cooking in that abandoned RV in the background. Unless, of course, the RV is getting ready for a “high restoration” because it was once the mobile home of Burt Reynolds’ hairpieces.

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  9. paul

    Can’t believe I am bothering to respond, oh wait I’m not.

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  10. Delbert Burl Bumpus

    No title = Scrap Value

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    • Matt

      Not in my state – cars 15 years old or older can be sold and re-titled without one.

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  11. Rene

    I am sceptical. I sure would need Toyota to confirm that this car is indeed what it’s claimed to be. I wonder just how interresting this car is to collectors.

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  12. Tony

    As a veteran ebay buyer, my red-flag is the (0) feedbacks that this restoration shop has earned… Seems fishy to me.

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  13. Rick Prokopchuk

    When I was stationed in Monterey, CA in 1977, a fellow I knew had one that looked an awful lot like this one….minus the duck tail on the back. Cool looking little car. Toyota still made nice looking and fun cars back then.

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  14. Jamie Wallhauser

    It doesn’t really matter if this Corolla doesn’t have proper documentation. It wouldn’t help the value even if this car is one of a kind.

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  15. Mark E

    Most factory prototypes that I have seen do not have a VIN number.

    Also, has everyone overlooked the fact that this car WOULD be really rare in Japan BECAUSE it is LHD! ^_^

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  16. Jeff

    I, for one, think this is fishy. But there is a possibility the guy is at least being honest about what he knows, and there is a ‘Sunchaser’ in New York that shares some similarities:


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  17. Rick Rothemel

    Looks to me like a Corolla with a body kit.I did pinstriping for numerous companies that did those installs in the 70s and 80s in Oregon and later Southerm California. Better than most condition-wise, so it’d be worth $1300 instead of $1250.

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  18. even steven

    ummmmmmm…who cares about this piece of crap? Just curious. If memory serves me correctly, you should be ashamed to *have* any memories of this car.

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  19. AMCFAN

    I hate to go against the grain but I think if it goes cheap enough it will be a buy. A collector that will run forever and get 40 mpg. Nice!

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  20. braktrcr

    My first new car, and only imported car, was a 78 Corolla liftback SR5. It was a good little car, decent mileage, (high 20’s mpg definitely not 40 mpg) It was fun to drive, and it would bark the tires shifting to 2nd. I was always amused it was a Hemi, and joked that I was saving up for the other half of the engine. The subject car is pretty clear to me that it is above 58,000 miles, and would more likely believe 158,000 miles. I also agree it is a poster child for JC Whitney Chromie go faster items, ie spoiler and wheel arches. Would like to have another late 70’s SR5, but not this thing.

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  21. Chris H.

    “Toyota, who claims this car shouldn’t even exist.” Because it’s so utterly ugly and worthless that they are embarrassed?

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  22. twwok

    Not sure about imports but its not unusual for the domestics to make some mid-year changes on come models. I think you have a $325.00 Corolla here.

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  23. krash

    ah….so this is where AMC got the idea for the 4wd Eagle Hatchback….

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  24. Foxxy

    Back in the 70’s I put flares and a front and rear spoiler on a vega. they were metal, but I got them made on the air force base I was attached to for a couple jugs of whisky. just cause they are metal, don’t make them factory. just sayin

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  25. buk

    My stepmother purchased a Sunchaser as new in Georgia. 13 years later it would be my first car. It was a body kit consisting of front and rear spoiler,side/rear window valences, wheel arches, hood vent bulges…all was made of fiberglass. It even had the exact same rims. By the time it was given to me the add-ons were largely rotted and quickly got removed (kept the 8-track). a couple years later my cousin rolled it…lol!

    This is defiantly a Sunchaser with some of the bodywork removed. They did both liftbacks and coupes.

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  26. cdice

    Yep – buk nailed it. Looks like a Sunchaser. Case closed.

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  27. BarmaidenTX

    Interesting indeed. I have one sitting on the property I’ve rented. It does have 10 characters in the vin#. The first two are letters and the remaining 8 are numbers. So apparently there WERE 10 character vin#’s on the 1976 Toyota Corolla. I’m going to go back and look at it again, take some pics and post. It could be worth $50 or $500. Doesn’t matter to me. I just like interesting finds.

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  28. clemsyn

    Looks like a Corolla Deluxe TE51 to me. These are more difficult to find than my TE37.

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  29. chgo2003

    I have never seen a Sunchaser, but this is exactly a 1976 Corolla Deluxe TE51 with some aftermarket body mods. Toyota was definitely importing them to the US at this time. My first car was a 1976 TE51 Sport Coupe that was bought new by my neighbors in 1976, I bought it off them 10 years later. The VIN number was almost identical and slightly lower, my car came of the line about 140 cars before this one, and it was completely stock. Great little car, never let me down.

    All of the literature I have ever seen does not show the TE51 in the 1976 line-up, so I am guessing maybe the 1976 TE51s were a mid-year intro in preparation for the 1977 model year?

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