A Holly Blue for Me and For You

The subject of today’s text represents the very epitome of the overlooked combined with invisible. Perhaps that could be a bit unfair.

About 32 years ago the E100 iteration of the Corolla sprang into the world, the seventh generation of Toyota’s workhorse, butter-and-bread mainstay. It carried over a lot of the more angular predecessor, but in a more rounded and contemporary form. This allowed customers to keep the engineering that had been developed and refined in the E90 of 1987 but enjoy a more contemporary look.

The rounded style, with the distinctive lamp/grille relation first appeared on the 1989 P80 Starlet. The 1990 V30 also had a similar appearance, especially the lamp, front bumper (slats in the lower valence). For 1990 the XR10 generation of the Previa (designed in 1987 by Tokui Fokuichi and David Doyle) exemplified this combination of large, gently curved main surfaces and the horst-and-graben lamp/grille concept. It had a lot of mileage: a very similar theme appeared in 1991 on the wide-body WV10 Camry.

So, Toyota presented this theme over a three-year period and applied it to wildly differing body-styles with tremendous rigour and consistency – quite some feat for vehicles serving such diverse markets.

Toyota offered a saloon and a five-door hatch. To these eyes, they come across as a little less successful than the estate. The aerodynamic appearance did not have a corresponding aerodynamic effect. Toyota reported a cD of 0.36 for the wagon.

At the back we can detect a refined arrangement for the tail-gate-to-body: a neat line runs parallel to the DLO and to the rear screen. The way the DLO’s base flares is delightfully balanced by a subtle widening on the in-board side of the shutline. That way the glass graphics and body graphics are related in a sublimely orderly way.

Take a look at the slide show to see the way the tailgate shutline flows down and around the rear lamp cluster. At the front, notice the way the line of the indicator is continued by the line of lamp above the bumper-body split (I presume the black bumper is a replacement). As is so typical with Toyota of the time, it’s quite understated work – and for some critics it tasted too tepid.

One way of looking at this car is to see some of the character from the Lexus brand being transferred across to Toyota. Wikipedia reports “The chunky, solid design reflected the desire of development chief Dr. Akihiko Saito to make a ‘mini-Lexus’, to build on the recent successes of Toyota’s new flagship range“. I’m not entirely convinced by this but perhaps it is true in the sense that some findings from the Lexus project filtered across to Toyota, though nothing so overt as actual styling cues.

At the end of the discussion, we discover a tidy bit of work masked by what might be excessive reticence.

Author: richard herriott

I like anchovies. I dislike post-war town planning.

25 thoughts on “A Holly Blue for Me and For You”

  1. Hi. Was there meant to be a slideshow?

    A classic Herriot design debrief of a car I would have just walked passed. I love this stuff as it makes me look harder to appreciate someone’s work and skill in designing an everyday car.


    1. Thanks – I made a mistake. The slide-show is not there, its place taken by a mosaic tiled panel. It´s the fault of Simon Kearne who is still not that good with WordPress technology. It is a neat bit of work, that Corolla. A very tiny bit of extra emphasis would move it into Audi territory. Japanese designers must have considered European design to be over-done.

  2. I ran a diesel version of one of these past the 1 million km mark as a courier vehicle. The only mechanicals I had to replace were two air conditioning compressors in that time, and the only reason I don’t still have it, is because the car was written off after it’s fifth(!!!) rearender accident. This was the same fate that had befallen it’s predecessor, a same spec previous model Corolla wagon.

    Comparing the two from a design perspective was very interesting, the newer car weighed about 80 kg more but it was easy to see where the weight had gone in body strength and rigidity. The post Lexus design was also evident in things like door seals and materials composition. For example the main front bulkhead was in places 4mm thick and composed of drill blunting high cobalt, high strength steel, as we found when drilling a hole through for radio equipment. The stiffer body and better aerodynamics contributed to quieter operation, not that anything equipped with the 2C diesel could ever really be described as refined. 

    Many little details changed between the models, from  the wiper operation to the gearbox, (at about 250,000 km the older model used to ‘lose’ fifth gear), on the later model, the gearbox and clutch lasted the full mileage and were in the written off car at the premature end of it’s life. After the second rear ender I installed a tailgate of another Corolla wagon and gained a natty spoiler, that looked great and nicely housed the compulsory CHMSL but did nothing else, (like the one in the photo).

    This car saw my experiments in lower profile tyres, the car came with 13 inch wheels which were soon swapped for the also standard 14 inch with 60 series tyres, then it bacame one of the first cars I knew with 15 inch and 50 series, then 16s with 40 series. The lower profile tyres on bigger wheels proved no real advantage in regular use apart from better brake life due to cooler running with better airflow, but the sweet spot for expense and ability was 14 inch wheels on 185/60 tyres, on the lightest wheels I could find, Renault Fuego Turbo forged BBS lattices.Experience with these cars means that today when anyone I know who asks what sort of car they should get, I say Toyota for reliability.

  3. Good morning Richard and thanks for the reminder of what I consider something of a golden era for Japanese automotive design, the 1990s.

    The Corolla you feature is a very good example of the care and precision that went into many designs of that period. Yes, it’s understated, probably to the point of invisibility to anyone looking for ‘excitement’ in the design, but there isn’t a single jarring or poorly resolved detail to be found. Here are the saloon and five-door hatchback variants of the same model:

    The ‘mini-Lexus’ inspiration is especially evident in the saloon.

    Of course, perfectly resolved details on their own don’t make for a beautiful or striking design, but I still appreciate its quiet competency, which was a perfect foil for Toyota’s brand values and customer perception at that time. It’s also a world removed from today’s mostly overwrought efforts from the same manufacturer. Still, the latest Mirai and Prius are grounds for hope that Toyota still knows how to design handsome cars,

    1. Well spotted: they originated on this website:


      That said, I don’t see “well-trimmed” in the non-metallic ‘UN’ white paintwork and plastic wheel trims. I chose the photo because most online images are of well-used examples like the one you feature and I wanted to show the car in original condition.

      Here’s another image of the saloon in a more flattering colour:

    2. The white cars have natty chrome trim around the side-glass. The silver metallic ones I´ve shown have black trim in the same place. It looks more utilitarian. The one thing I´d want to change is the location of the bonnet-grille shut line. I´d move it about 1.5 to 2.0 centimetres lower to get it clear of the inboard, upper radiion the headlamps.

    3. The “Mini-Lexus” E100 took a bloody age to make it to Australia. Those who visited Japan, Hong Kong and Singapore reported that there was a far better looking Corolla on sale years before it arrived in Australia in 1993/4? half a model cycle late.

      Quick research suggests that the launch was probably delayed by the construction of a new factory at Altona VIC. The model went on to 1999, after which Australian-market Corollas were “fully-imported”. There was a Holden Nova rebadge until 1996, when it was replaced by an Astra F, again fully-imported from Merseyside.

  4. I always thought this was the nicest generation of Corollas. I don’t recall ever seeing the wagon version, but in addition to the saloon and 5-door hatch there was a 3-door hatch and a 5-door “liftback” – Toyota-speak for a hatchback with a proper size boot. Some of the ones I saw were decently equipped too.

    1. Yes, I would say the Liftback was very nicely styled.

      It wasn´t sold in Spain (excepting Canary Islands, Ceuta and Melilla), so it´s very rare to see one here.

    1. Ah yes, the 1990 to 1993 Nissan Sunny B13 generation. Same careful, unshowy styling theme,

    2. Ah, but the Corolla has that slight bit of pizzazz in the inverse sweep of the hatch shutline into the taillights. The Sunny’s ascending roofline just seems to get taller and taller before ending abruptly with a flat rear tailgate that could be off a Serena. I agree that they’re fairly similar graphically and thematically, but the Toyota comes off a bit more subtle and considered whereas the Nissan embodies more of a functionalist utilitarian feel.

  5. When these were new I never gave these cars much thought. In some ways I’ve become more mature over the years and I now see these cars in a different light. I’d call them quietly good now. The world has changed.

    1. The full Corolla range as sold in Japan was quite large, certainly larger than any European marque.
      Four door sedan, wagon, hatchback, and liftback, three door hatchback, two door booted coupe and four door hardtop versions, (the Ceres above) with AWD available on many of these. No turbos but the top engine was that other 20 valve four cylinder that Lotus later used on the Elise.
      Two door Levin/Trueno

      Four door hardtop with frameless door glass,(i.e. 4 door coupe) Ceres/Marino

  6. This is the place worth noting that the base model Corolla Van and indeed all station wagon versions were kept running after the E100 series was replaced by the E110, indeed the base van versions were kept on til 2002. The base model had a live axle on leaf springs and simpler, non-flush rear three-quarter glazing. The non base models received a new tailgate and rear lights.

    Base Corolla Van, rear seat optional.

    Also available as rare High Roof version.

    CE110 overlap model, rear ‘facelift’.

    1. I adore the styling on that high roof model though I do wonder about its practicality. As a van wouldn’t you rather have metal bodysides to prevent damage/theft? Maybe it’s a passenger variant with a third row like a Disco and ‘stadium-style’ seating? It invites more questions than answers…

    2. The damage/theft issue doesn’t apply in Japan which has very low theft and burglary rates – as evidenced by the minimal/non-existent security features fitted to JDM models. This is very prevalent in low end or base models and really only becomes a problem when the cars are sold on as second hand imports to other countries, and they hit more Western levels of car crime. E.g. In New Zealand, the most commonly stolen car is the Mazda Demio, with it’s 1960 levels of anti-theft features. The high roof ones that I have seen, (both of them,) are real vans with only two seats. Having said that, the fibreglass is quite thick and securely fixed, the easier way in is forcing a lock, or breaking glass, the same way into an Opel Combo.

  7. In Venezuela this generation Corolla was referred to as the “Baby Camry” and pushed the Corolla definitely upmarket. Locally built since the first-gen front-wheel drive version (starting 1986), the Corolla quickly became Venezuela’s most popular car, if not in over all sales, certainly in image and reputation. Well deserved too, as much as it pained me to admit at the time (I was a European car fan back then). The “Baby Camry” was also the beginning of the Corolla as a sort of “class-free” car, meaning that anyone from the Venezuelan upper-middle class to the super rich could be seen driving one as it was comfortable, well-equipped, discreet, and absolutely reliable.

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