Another toe in the water exercise from a not so different automotive monolith.
Despite the differences in culture and in product ethos, there really wasn’t a tremendous difference between Fiat Auto and Toyota – apart that is from the minor matter of the two companies’ relative governance and latterday fortunes. But certainly, before Fiat completely lost the run of itself, the two entities probably had more in common than we might have first realised.
Like the storied Italian carmaker, Toyota was a conservative company, having built its business building conventionally engineered, some might say technically regressive automobiles to a standard of quality and durability unheard of amongst their European and US rivals – its success at this entailing a somewhat risk-averse culture.
Of course, unlike the Turin-based carmaker, the Japanese automotive colossus wasn’t really one for acquisitions either, but that doesn’t mean that within brand-Toyota, there wasn’t a number of subsidiary nameplates to facilitate the occasional brand-related excursion.
Having made its name with rear wheel drive products, Toyota management, like their Turin counterparts a decade before, viewed front-wheel-drive with a degree of circumspection. Nice to have, but not perhaps, for us. But by the mid-’70s, the majority of the industry had already adapted and by then it looked more like Toyota was lagging behind.
The 1978 Tercel (1979 in Europe incidentally) therefore marked Toyota City’s highly considered maiden voyage into the realms of front-drive powertrains. And while its technical layout could be said to have been reminiscent of something a little closer to home (after all there’s little new in the world), it also may have been inspired, conceptually speaking and to some extent stylistically, by Desio’s 1964 Primula.
It’s interesting how time alters perceptions- what appeared bland and fairly nondescript at the tail end of the seventies now seems neat, functional and well ordered. An amalgam of Starlet and Corolla styling cues, the Tercel not only proved a technical success – pioneering generations of front-driven Toyotas, but also a success in sales and reputational terms. And unlike their Italian counterparts, Toyota had the courage of their convictions. No sub-brands here. (Not outside the home market at least).
And like most Toyotas, it’s also remembered fondly, primarily for its dependability and fitness for purpose rather than for any outstanding dynamic or stylistic prowess – but that has always been the Toyota way.
Today then, we celebrate one of Toyota’s more prescient efforts, by way of this fine piece from 2016 from DTW’s Sean Patrick. The Tercel may well have been something of a Triumph then, but could it also have been a little of an Autobianchi as well?