Things To Come: 1980 Toyota Corona Luxury Edition

A Toyota Camry is considered by most enthusiasts to be the automotive equivalent of a slice of plain white bread—utterly innocuous, and of absolutely no interest—and it’s hard to see that changing much with the passage of time. Yet, what we have here, a 1980 Toyota Corona Luxury Edition sedan for sale on craigslist in San Diego for $2,850, is little more than an older, rear-wheel drive Camry, and it’s looking like a pretty appealing little car to me; maybe soon enough the early Camrys will sneak up on us, too. For now, though, let’s concern ourselves only with its ancestor. Thanks to Pat L for sending this Corona our way!

It would be cool to say that an engine shared with the Celica is a distinguishing characteristic of the Corona…but the Camry also shared engines with Toyota’s little sportster once it switched to front-wheel drive. Anyway, at 90 horsepower, this 2.2-liter inline four isn’t likely to be a barnstormer, but it should be pretty bulletproof—and it’s mated to a five-speed stick, which isn’t easy to find in a Camry.

As noted, this Corona is the Luxury Edition model, which sounds much swankier spelled out than abbreviated to “LE.” The cabin is pretty plush by 1980 small-car standards, with nice, all-cloth bucket seats with a good range of adjustments. Any of you collect old car sales brochures? I have the color catalog for the largely identical ’79 Corona in my collection; it extolls the Luxury Edition’s “elegant simulated woodgrain” (which looks both much more fake and much better in the glossy photos than it does here) and “space-age digital quartz clock.”

Really, there’s nothing inherently interesting about this Corona; it’s a handsome, utterly conventional compact sedan (cooler still would be the five-door Liftback). I guess its appeal lies in the fact that it survived beyond its just-a-used-car years in nice enough condition to now be looked upon as a near-collectible. It’s obviously been in the hands of an attentive owner, who has added some embellishments I’m not crazy about—the extraneous, anachronistic badges, the wide whitewall tires—and some that I find appealing—the subtle front chin spoiler—without detracting from its overall originality. What do you think: has the Corona transcended its original boring-car status, and does this mean the Camry will one day do the same?

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  1. Rock On Member

    Nathan the V6 Camry is a great sleeper. Packing 269 horsepower, nobody gives you a second glance if you are speeding. Don’t know if people will collect them, but they make a good used car.

    • Nathan Avots-Smith Member

      I’ve not driven the Camry, but my dad had an Avalon with the 3.5 V6 a few years ago; I really didn’t like driving it. It was powerful, yes, but the power delivery was poorly modulated and the handling was lousy. You never forgot that you were in a front-wheel drive car. I had a Passat at the same time with VW’s 3.6 liter VR6, with 280 hp, and its handling (also FWD) was worlds better. All this to say, I don’t doubt the V6 Camry is quick, but I hope Toyota does a much, much better job tuning the car around the engine than they did for the Avalon.

      • Mike H. Mike H Member

        Doesn’t this, then, come down to perception and expectation? Featured car aside (cool car, by the way, and a great find for the money), comparing any Toyota to any VW (Audi, Volvo, BMW; whatever from Europe) isn’t really describing “Like as Like”.

        From the start, the equals in size class and trim aren’t priced similarly; in nearly all cases the car from Europe is higher priced, and that cost must equate to something, so let’s assume it’s ride quality or handling or something. However, Toyota builds A LOT of Camry’s and Avalon’s, so we must wonder what the appeal is.

        It’s surely not in residual value. Doing a quick check on KBB (yes, it isn’t the Gospel, but it’s a baseline), the value difference between a similarly equipped five-year-old Avalon versus a five-year-old Passat is a little telling. Both cars began close to $36k, but after five years the trade value on the Toyota ranges $12k-$13.8k, yet the VW ranges $8.7k-$10.5k, with on-the street private values of $14.5k for the Toyota and $11.3k for the VW.

        People like European cars; I sure understand that. Back when I did auto repair for a living I was keenly aware that people like them, and that they need maintenance and repair (often, and at a premium price). On a personal note, I warned a very good friend a few years ago to NOT buy that used Volvo V70R that he lusted after, yet he did, and he paid a full retail value for it at the time. Imagine his disappointment just (18) months later when he went to get rid of it (in 1-1/2 years the car cost him $4,500 in maintenance and repair, and this was literally a low mileage example) and the offering was just under 1/3 the money he paid for it.

        Personally, I’ll take the Camry/Avalon/Accord/Maxima/Altima/Mazda 6 and its powerful – yet poorly modulated – V6 engine, although I’m also patient enough to wait for the powerful GDI 4’s that will be offered in all of these over the next few years.

        This is simply my opinion, with a tiny bit of very brief research included; your results (and opinions) may vary.

  2. Rustytech

    Nice car. These were and this one should be a dependable ride. The third pedal should make it more interesting. I don’t think it will ever be a “collectable”, but it would make a nice addition to anyones garage. Fairly priced too!

  3. George

    How times change! A Luxury Edition with three pedals and a stick!

  4. Adam Clarke Adam T45 Staff

    In Australia this model Corona was sold with a four cylinder engine produced by General Motors Holden. Toyota did this to meet local content requirements at the time. The engine was called the Starfire Four, but soon became known as the Misfire Four. In a bid to rectify all of the inherent faults in this horrible little engine, Toyota were forced to fit their own camshaft, gaskets, fuel pump and sundry other parts. It soon dawned on them that the Misfire was essentially a Holden engine block with a lot of Toyota parts, so they quickly dropped the engine and fitted their own 2.4 litre engine.

    Having said that, when new I thought that this particular model Corona had quite crisp styling compared to what was available from other manufacturers.

  5. Gay Car Nut

    Sweet looking Corona. I’ve always loved this generation Corona. Two of my favourite Toyota Coronas are this, and the earlier “shovelnose” generation. I like this generation because they’re powered by the 20R engine, and later versions, the 22R engine.

  6. Scotty Gilbertson Scotty Gilbertson Staff

    I consider myself as much of a car enthusiast as anyone else on the planet is, and yet I love the Camry. A lot of us (most of us?) own more than one vehicle and most of us have one vehicle that’s relegated to daily, boring commuting duties; typically the most reliable car that we own. Most of us don’t typically daily-drive our sports car or our vintage collector car, even though that’s the most romantic idea, or ideal. The Camry fits the bill perfectly for that.

    It’s much better to trudge through traffic with a bland Camry than with something that’s going to break down on the side of the freeway every two months or break down as we’re stuck in rush hour traffic. It is literally a driving appliance, a very reliable driving appliance. It seems odd to me that most people rally against them for being just that, a reliable car. Not to mention that the Camry has been the top-selling car in the US for the last 15 years and the most “American made” car for the last decade. Who wants to drive a super cool, fun car every day and have it break down or overheat, or worse yet, get into a fender-bender with your classic? “Hi, yeah, I’ll be late again. Yep, my cool collector car broke down again. What’s that? Don’t bother coming in? Ever?”..

    As far as being collectible, the first and second-generation Camrys are collectible right now, but mainly those with the All-Trac (4WD) configuration and especially those with a manual transmission.

    This Corona looks great! I’m a little worried about the wavy driver’s door, though.

    • Nathan Avots-Smith Member

      I guess I’m one of the lucky (or foolhardy) few that does daily “classic”—or old, anyway, 1965 Corvair and ’73 BMW—cars, so at least I come by my disdain for the idea of the Camry honestly! :) I totally get the idea of the reliable commuter, but I resist the idea that reliable has to equal boring.

      As I mentioned upthread, we once had a VR6 Passat in our household, a car comparably sized to the Camry and currently competitively priced, although our B6 generation VW had been somewhat more expensive than the current models. I know a lot of people have VW ownership horror stories, or at least know of that reputation, but our experience was that the car was very reliable and not expensive to maintain, and it provided a hearty extra serving of driving enjoyment over what a Camry has to offer.

      In the ’80s, and into the ’90s, I think the Camry offered a unique value proposition in terms of reliability and, on certain models such as the All-Trac versions you mentioned, innovation, but for the last several model generations, it seems like Toyota has been coasting on their good reputation and the fact that, for a lot of people, that’s enough to make the Camry a default choice. If you don’t want to be completely disengaged during that boring commute (which is incredibly dangerous, by the way, and, I think, a big part of why traffic and driving in general is getting so much worse in urban areas), there are a lot of Camry alternatives that do a better job without sacrificing quality or value.

      In 14 years of ownership, by the way, my Corvair has been far and away more reliable and cheaper to run than any other car I’ve ever owned…

      • AMCFAN

        Toyota Camry is a default choice for many for a lot of reasons. Toyota figured out the formula long ago. (1) Make a good car or I should say make it as good as you can. There is a difference.

        It is hard to please the masses and combine luxury, quality and fuel economy in a simple package that will last with minimal (if any) maintenance. Goal achieved. Nothing boring about knowing your car will start in the worst conditions and get you safely where you are going.The reward the cost of ownership and resale value.

        I had a 1999 I bought used with 129,000 miles. for $1500. Hit a guard rail one morning on the ice. Tore a chunk out of the bumper cover. Insurance wrote out a check for $4200. I replaced it and had it painted to match for under $300. Only car I have had where someone would leave notes stating they would like to buy it. Ended up caving in and selling it with 200 plus thousand miles for $3000. What is NOT amazing is the same person still owns it and is still driving it and has close to 300K miles now.

        It is for this reason and many more the Toyota Camry is the car of choice. FYI I drove a 2016 as a rental car for a month and although outfitted nice wasn’t the top of the food chain. Had the agency sold it to me it would be in my driveway now. Haven’t been more impressed with a sedan since however I needed AWD so my choice was a Mitsubishi Outlander and in my opinion one of the best deals available on a new (or used) vehicle.

      • Scotty Gilbertson Scotty Gilbertson Staff

        Nathan, you have such a group of cool cars, definite classics. I think you’re right, and come to think of it, cars like yours were daily drivers when they were new! My “commute” is usually two solid 12-hour days going 80 mph on a freeway to get to Portland / Vermont / Tampa / Houston / San Diego / somewhere-else-several-states-away. I guess I can’t look at my own oddball career as being typical of most commuters! I would love to take one of my other cars, but the thought of being stranded on the side of the road somewhere when I have a deadline is scary as heck.

        I think you’re also 100% right on cars that make driving almost too easy being at least a part of the current rash of horrible drivers out there, if not a major part. “Oh, I know that my lane-assist warning will tell me when I’m inching over the line, so I can text / eat / make a sandwich, etc..” I would love to have a first-generation Ford Falcon or a Corvair to drive, and I mean drive, as in cross-country.

  7. Jubjub

    This needs a set of old chrome wire basket rims and the front end brought back up. Toyota dealers must’ve made a fortune putting those pimped out wire wheels on these and Cressidas.

    I knew a girl who had one of these, but a DeLuxe with a column shift automatic and a bench seat. I thought that was kinda weird for an import.

    Another friend had a Lift Back Luxury Edition with a pillowy red interior and those chrome wheels but the baskets were long gone.

  8. Gay Car Nut

    @ Scotty Gilbertson. I have to agree. I also like the 1st gen Toyota Camry. The first front wheel drive Toyota my parents drove was a 1985 Camry.

  9. JimmyJ

    I like it better than the Catalina and its $17000 cheaper!

  10. Chris In Australia

    Retro whitegoods. Back in the day, if you saw one of these in front of you at traffic lights, you picked the other lane.
    These days you do that when behind a camry.

  11. Wagon master

    Seller returned my call. It’s sold unfortunately for me!

  12. Dt 1

    Would definitely make a good utility car

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