Rearview: 1987 Toyota Corolla Liftback

Is a posh Corolla an oxymoron? Not in Ireland during the 1980’s.

1987 Toyota Corolla Liftback GLi - image via
1987 Toyota Corolla Liftback GLi – image:

It might surprise you, but the (AE92-series) Corolla, in 1.6 GLi form, was considered a desirable upmarket car in Ireland during the latter part of the 1980’s, before we became brand snobs like everyone else. This era also coincided with two more appealing slightly upmarket Japanese hatchbacks – Mazda’s 323F and Honda’s 5-door Integra.

Toyota had embraced the art of chassis engineering by then, so apart from being pleasing to look at the Corolla was also quite nice to drive, with sharp handling, a decent ride and a well appointed interior. Add to this the likelihood of it being pretty much bulletproof and one has to wonder why Toyota didn’t see fit to continue the theme, replacing it instead with its more habitual dishwater.

Perhaps it was this lack of consistency that prevented Japanese marques from gaining an emotional foothold with motorists. But a lot of people don’t buy on emotion, and since Toyota hasn’t exactly struggled in the Irish market, what do I know?

Author: Eóin Doyle

Co-Founder. Editor. Content Provider.

8 thoughts on “Rearview: 1987 Toyota Corolla Liftback”

  1. Eóin. Nice to be reminded of this car here. I was never a Toyota fan, but I like sloping hatchbacks a lot, and I definitely had a soft spot for this particular car when it was new. It really looked a bit special with its black pillars and the angled rear lights. It has some resemblance with the 323F indeed – and even came some years before that.

    About it being posh, I don’t know. Certainly not in Switzerland. But it was very successful indeed. All Corolla variants – this liftback, the compact hatches and the estate were among the most common cars on the road. What I found strange at the time is that the liftback uses a completely different bodyshell than the other variants. This bodyshell was also sold in the USA under the Geo brand, and there also had a notchback derivative.

  2. The heyday of Japanese cars, some of the most simple durable and reliable cars you could find came from Japan during the 80’s and 90’s, we still run two 90’s designs though made in 2000 and 2002 and have no intention of changing either of them for many years yet.

    I used to maintain several Toyota/Datsuns from the 70s through to 80s period, they were a pleasure to work on which could not be said for most of the European competition, seldom needed anything other than routine TLC.

    Corolla lifttbacks all models did seem very well put together.

    Emotionally speaking i have great respect for old school conservative Japanese design as found in Toyota/Subaru 4×4’s, very much in the style of if it aint broke don’t fix it, part of the joy of these vehicles is how they are designed to be competent and durable but also designed to be serviced and maintained reasonably easily, in the field even..well apart from replacing spark plugs on H6 Subarus which is an ordeal best avoided at all costs.

  3. At the time I was swept up in the general view that all these cars were uninteresting. Judd’s point about their durability and ease of maintenance plus my own re-assessment of the merits of tgeir appearance means I have changed my opinion about these vehicles.
    Eoin’s article jogged my memory too. The liftback Corolla stood out and I have a strong recollection of this model, owned by family acquaintances (a solicitor).
    I doubt there’s much written about these. Perhaps if one went hunting Autocar might throw up a dismissive 300 words.

  4. I too admit to a general snobbery about Japanese cars back then. I’d take the trouble to read an article about the new Sierra, but ignore one on a Corolla. However, this model, and also the previous E80 Liftback did catch my eye, though no more than that. I guess at the time I’d still have taken Car’s opinion at face vale, which would probably have read something like “an improvement on the previous Corolla but uninvolving – there are better alternatives available closer to home”‘ or more likely just the glib “Another big yawn from the Rising Sun”..

    Judd points out the advantages that the Toyota had. Motoring writers never got out their own spanners or wallets so neither cared nor commented about such things. Good cars though they were in principle, I spent a lot of time and money through the 80s either working myself or paying someone else to fix a selection of French cars. The complete disregard of their production engineers for the need to make them easy to service was shocking – the attitude ‘seemed shove everything in, close the bonnet, flog it to the punter and hope nothing goes wrong’. Naturally it did, usually around midnight in the rain, and a significant proportion of the usual culprits (plugs, distributor, fuses etc) seem to have been put in the least accessible position imaginable in order to discourage theft.

    1. Good point that you mention the ’83 liftback, Sean. Though not as expressive as the ’87, it was a good design, too. With its rear light band, high positioned numberplate and rounded rear window corners, it had a very unique shape. Coincidentally, I drove a Corolla of this generation when I was in the USA for some time, but it was a notchback, of course. It was quite beaten down at the time, with rust holes and tyres of three different brands (only two sizes were involved, though). Nevertheless, it was reliable and delivered close to 40 miles per dirt cheap gallon. The saloon was a bit bland in comparison, but also nicely executed in the rationalist flavour of the time.

  5. I always preferred the liftback without the stick on spoiler, as the standard version already had a substantial crease running around the rear sheet metal. That said, all versions were a high point for Toyota styling.

  6. The panel gap that runs bravely and horizontally across the rear wheel arch lip is a tribute to production tolerances. Toyota are also proud of the curved surface above the side rubstrip which is lovingly illuminated.

  7. The Japanese ease of repair (not necessarily normal servicing) still holds in more recent designs too.
    I recently had an interesting hour chewing the mechanical cud with an MAN lorry mechanic, a very pleasant young chap of late twenties at a guess.

    He and his mates look after their own cars, and they had recently been working on the front suspensions of this chaps own Civic, and his friends Passat, similar aged modern cars.

    The VW had proved to be a complete nightmare, parts seized, bolts shearing off and the job proving difficult to say the least, yet the Honda had simply unbolted and an easy fix…this i found on the Japanese cars of previous decades.

    I told him about my own recent experience fixing the fairly common inner CV boot splitting on wifey’s Subaru Outback, they tend to split because the inner joint is directly over the exhausts.
    However, on this 12 year old car everything came undone easily, my hub puller extracted both hubs with ease, the drive shafts are a dream, all joints circlipped so easily able to be fully dismantled, don’t even need to remove the inner shaft from the gearbox because the inner CV joint is splined onto the output shaft and held in place by a simple roll pin, so once you’ve worked out the plan of attack you can remove a driveshaft, fully strip it, grease it up and reboot it and re-assemble in about an hour or two at the most a side.

    Indeed, my daughters 2004 Civic 2.0S is another lovely car to work on, and probably one of the best kept secrets in used cars (hold high value for good reason), this is her second, she puts high fast miles on and the cars are just totally reliable, where i’m going to find the next one when this one’s over the hill i don’t know, she doesn’t like the newer models but is quite keen on the virtues of one of the rare Corolla T Sports (later supercharged sleeper), her dad doesn’t recommend makes that require him to become the oldest contortionist in town.

    Why can’t euro makers design their cars to be worked on like these (and ensure components are of adequate quality), i recall the nightmare that fitting a new heater matrix was to my sons 2001 Toledo, never ever again as long as i live, even fitting a new main radiator involved removal of half the front of the car, just no need for it, designed to me made cheaply, repairs later of little concern it would appear.

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