Toyota Corsa L20 1982

After the fuel crisis in the USA in 1973, Japanese car manufacturers vividly demonstrated to Americans all the advantages of compact front-wheel-drive hatchbacks that were fuel-efficient, affordable, and reliable. The move towards the North American market sparked a trend of naming the same car differently to emphasize its readiness for a particular market. Today we talk about a true JDM (Japan Domestic Market) subcompact car, the Toyota Corsa.

Riding on the success of their economical small cars, Toyota released the new “Tercel” model L10 generation. In 1978, it was introduced to the Japanese domestic market, in 1979 to Europe, and in 1980 to the US market, where for North Americans, the model was named Corolla Tercel, leveraging a bit of the popularity of its relative. Concurrently, in Japan, the car was sold through a separate dealership network as Corsa – yes, the Japanese simply had nothing simpler at that time, and it was even more complicated to navigate the plethora of configurations for different markets. Why was this Tercel-Corsa even released? The car had an important task: to fill the gap between Corolla and Starlet in size. Think about this: the Japanese wanted you to be able to buy a vehicle exactly the size you needed. That’s where the real consumer care was.

In 1982, the updated L20 family was released. The design moved closer to the angular trends of that time, but there was no major change in style. True to Toyota’s tradition, the cars were presented with a plethora of configurations and body types, allowing you to choose from a basic model without extra sun visors, handles, etc., to more advanced options. For its domestic market, the Japanese even equipped some sedans and wagons with all-wheel drive, which was quite commonplace for them – 4WD was popular in mountainous areas where snow fell and the weather could bring various surprises. Only front-wheel drive was exported: for some reason, I still think that the Japanese did this deliberately, not only for economic reasons, but also to maintain a special care for the domestic market.

The engine range was represented by two families: 2U and 3U. 2U – inline “fours” with a displacement of 1.3 liters with a carburetor fuel system. Specifically, 2A and 2A-U (which is in this beauty) installed in these cars were slightly modified to reduce fuel consumption and increase eco-friendliness by using a catalytic converter. 3A was roughly the same but with a displacement of 1.5 liters. The power was transmitted to the wheels via a 3-speed automatic transmission and a 4 or 5-speed manual. In the all-wheel-drive versions, a 6-speed manual gearbox could also be found.

Externally, the car, speaking of the 3-door hatchback version, resembles many similar models from other manufacturers, including Toyota itself. The angular body, wedge-shaped front part – we have seen this many times, including in direct relatives: AE82 and the more modern AE86. Its profile reminded me of the Peugeot 205 – there’s something in common, just as there is something in common with almost all the tiny hatchbacks of that time. But in red color with a stripe that says Corsa, the car inevitably attracts attention. Consider this – the next step after the kei car, slightly larger than the Starlet, but with the same purpose.

The interior can be considered exemplary for the 80s. At that time, each manufacturer gave designers exclusively a ruler, which was used to design almost everything both outside and inside. But at the same time, everyone tried to bring some elements into this celebration of cubism that would distinguish it from another model or another manufacturer. Standardization was not yet a mandatory attribute of major car manufacturers.

The interior cannot be called huge, but since it contains very little content, a sense of space still arises. This is further facilitated by light pillars and the ceiling. But the salon itself – forgive me – is the pinnacle of style and design for me. Perhaps it’s the fashion for checks, maybe the Japanese just guessed somewhere, but in such a car, combined seats of leather and checkered fabric are maximally pleasant. Later, similar solutions will be associated with the Golf GTI, but even without associations: such a simple car with such an interesting interior immediately creates the impression that we, the consumers, were cared for. They wanted us to enjoy driving, not like now – a grey “rag”, a million-dollar car, take what’s there.

This particular example is a near-base DX configuration, which lacks “handles of fear” and a sun visor for the passenger. The next time you are amazed that the car manufacturer did not offer you “in the base” rear electric windows and a good multimedia, remember that not so long ago it was necessary to pay extra for the headrests of rear passengers.

This car is indeed rare. It cannot be said that it was very popular in foreign markets or at home in Japan, so most of them have already been sent to the dump of history. But it is from such “workhorses”, not the cult mammoths of the time, that conclusions can be drawn about the state of the automotive culture in those years. And when I look at this salon, yes, I won’t tire of talking about it, I realize that once the consumer was thought of more. Much more.