Learning Japanese

Forming the subject of our Sunday deliberations this week takes the form of a Japanese lesson with Toyota’s Carina II (or should that be Corona?) 

1988 Toyota Carina II: DTW

On one hand this last of line survivor lends a somewhat poignant reminder to how our streets and towns used to look. On the other however, it illustrates a curious anomaly in Japanese carmaking. Because unpicking Toyota’s naming logic is something akin to obtaining a working knowledge of Oriental algebra.

The car we in Britain and Ireland remember as the Carina was in fact offered in some markets as a Corona, and in others as a Celica Camry. The Carina as we first came to know and broadly ignore is believed to have been derived from the original Celica coupé, intended as a semi-sporting four door, for the Japanese market. However, by the time they made the sea crossing to these blighted shores whatever sporting attributes they might have once exhibited had been thoroughly excised. “As dreary as they come”, was Car Magazine’s withering summation in 1978.

Until mid-decade, all Carina-badged Toyotas were conventionally engineered, sharing most of their mechanical hardware with the RWD Celica. However, the 1984 model, marketed in Ireland and the UK as the Carina II, was the first generation model under the Carina nameplate to be offered with front-wheel drive. However, all was not as it might have appeared. In Japan (and other selected far-Eastern markets), the Carina continued in RWD form, the Carina II being closely-derived from 1983 T150-series Corona model.

The 1988 midliner from Aichi you see pictured above, is some thirty years later, a bone fide rarity. Sighted in the West Cork town of Bandon (thanks for the photo PoD), the Carina II, once amongst the most common items of street furniture upon Irish roads is now a fossil. Despite the Carina’s durability and impressive build, Irish conditions and the time-honoured approach of native motorists to maintenance saw most of these to their graves – early or otherwise.

The Carina II was offered in three-volume saloon or Liftback form, but here in the Irish Republic, the former proved the volume seller. Indeed such was the popularity of the three-box Carina amongst the RoI market that anyone opting for the hatch would undoubtedly have been regarded as being in possession of ‘notions’ and therefore viewed with a certain level of suspicion.

This particular example wears its thirty one years comparatively lightly. Clearly a car that has not led a particularly difficult life, it’s highly likely to have begun it as a rental vehicle. There are several giveaways to this presupposition. Firstly, the missing centre caps from the wheels, a common rental car omission. Secondly, the evidence of an accident repair to the nearside front wing and door. Thirdly, and perhaps most pertinently, the presence of a Dublin numberplate.

In the County of Cork, to be in possession of a Dublin-registered car is broadly tantamount to treason. So for a resident to make such a choice would necessitate it being a matter of gravest necessity, or the fact that said vehicle was being offered at very a preferential rate.

I won’t sugar-coat matters – this generation of Carina were deeply ordinary motor cars. Broadly competent in most areas as well as being metronomically reliable, but lacking the merest screed of driver involvement or engagement. An accusation levelled repeatedly at successive Carina and Avensis badged models until the nameplate’s broadly unmourned demise last year.

Today’s mid-sized offering from Toyota City is currently being billed to Irish customers as an icon. It’s called a Camry. We haven’t seen hide nor hair of one of those since 2002, which does raise some questions Toyota’s market strategists might struggle to explain with coherence. What’s in a name? Quite a lot in marketing and brand recognition terms I would reply.

They really may as well have badged it a Carina for all the good it will likely do. Anyone know the Japanese word for consistency?

Author: Eóin Doyle

Founding Editor. Content Provider.

6 thoughts on “Learning Japanese”

  1. They may have been as dull as ditchwater to drive, but the build precision and quality of 1970’s and 80’s Toyotas was a world apart from the thrown-together approximation of contemporary Fords and Vauxhalls. I remember noting with amazement that the bright trim below the windows on a Corolla had a thin rubber strip separating it from the bodywork, indicative of the attention to detail that was largely alien to European manufacturers at the time.

  2. I grew up in the deep south of New Zealand, and every taxi in our city was one of these. One driver explained that it was simply because these things could clock up huge mileages with ease, and were quite economical. I owned one in my late teens, and it really was bulletproof. The key difference with our locally-assembled Coronas from the rest of the world was the suspension. Former racing driver Chris Amon was contracted by Toyota NZ to improve the handling and roadholding of the facelift ST150, so from around early ’87 these cars were badged “Corona-Amon”. You’ll be relieved to hear that, even here on the other side of the globe, if you had the Liftback you were “doing alright”.

  3. You say Carina, I say Corona, Carina, Carona, Carona, Carina, let’s call the whole thing off.

    So they did and we never got the Carina in North America, the Corona having died earlier, although this thing looks like a Corolla of its time to me. It might be slightly larger because everyone knows Europeans have long legs, thus filling in the size gap between the Camry and Corolla, but it’s hard to tell from a photo. The Camry was designed for short-legged bigger-bellied North Americans with more beer money to spend than the skinny just out of college Corolla person but also looked about the same. Toyota had its “look”.

    The ravages of rust and time and JiffyLube oil changes every three years whether needed or not, usually not, mean there are exactly none of this generation of Toyotas left trotting about like donkeys in traces. Toyota assembled them magnificently, tossed in uninspiring yet durable “can’t beat ’em to death with a 14 pound maul” mechanicals, and forgot about rust-proofing or galvanized tin panels.

    The upshot was that they dissolved into flapping-fendered rust buckets, many before their half-dozenth oil change. And not a soul mourned their passing.

  4. It is so hard to read these cars´ design. I´ve discussed it before – you have to look generally at the car and avoid picking on details. With further reflection I could say this is because the design is “noisy”. Underneath the details there´s nothing to hang your gaze upon. There´s a Corolla of the same vintage on my street which is a bit easier to decipher. This car looks like a lot of engineering decisions such as the types of flange, joint and junction were imposed on a characterless set of oblongs. Only the flash of chrome on the grille and the tiny curl of the c-pillar base show any faint hint of expression. I suppose that was the intention. I would love to drive one and see how they are.

    1. Richard: I have to agree on your assessment of the styling. Anodyne about sums it up. It would also serve equally well to describe the driving experience, although inert might be a better description. I drove quite a number of these when they were part of my then employer’s car rental fleet. I can honestly say that they left no discernible impression whatsoever.

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