February 29, 2016
At some point in the early 1980s, building a car was no longer an art form, instead it was broken down into a simple to follow cookie cutter process. Avoid these pitfalls and yours will be a malleable unremarkable box on profitable wheels. I (just started) call(ing) these two moments in automobile history; the Toyota Corolla (or Crapolla) effect which eventually evolved into the Audi (A4) effect in which the automotive market corrected itself. The Toyota Corolla was the first great contemporary car. Obviously, the Ford Model T was more remarkable due to being the first mass produced primarily proletarian (it’s just for alliteration) people-mobile, but it is by no means modern. The average driver present-day would kill themselves or the car within a week of owning a Model T. The Corolla on the other hand was the original reliable entry level workhorse. It was the first car that simply checked all the boxes a typical buyer could want. It was cheap, safe, spacious, moderately nimble, unflappably reliable and all things considered not that plain or mundane. It was absolutely phenomenal, and as a result; its sales were staggering. It is the highest selling car of all-time, and by a wide margin. By now the Corolla has sold over 42 Million cars. They move off car lots faster than they could ever be driven, even Toyota could not tell you who has its 40 millionth car. Being outrageously successful yields quite a few (Crapolla) emulators, but none can ever be as good as those first four generations. While the Corolla is intended to be a methodical prudence-mobile, it still came with a healthy dose of soul. As many are contemporary car critics are quick to point out, automobiles are now at risk of being too perfect. Too flawless is the epitome of a first-world problem, but it seems there is some sense to it. Often, there is no character without faults. Until 1984, Toyota was still immune to that issue, because the Corolla was the first to actually be a perfect, when it was still cool to be an overachiever. All of the imitators (including later generation Crapollas) followed the formula originally devised for the number one seller, but somewhere along the way they lost the original flavor (rear wheel drive) that made the car so fun. Toyota designed the car specifically for the American Market, which was by far the biggest; and the least nuanced. The idea was to manufacture a car that was right up the boring American majority’s alley; safe, inexpensive, spacious, reliable, convenient and cheap. Unfortunately, the first generation Corolla was not up to its challenge, it was too tiny, and not yet convenient enough; with a four speed manual transmission. Thus, it was hastily replaced by a second generation better suited for their new demographic (though it had a better received four year run in Japan). The second, third, fourth generations were where Toyota established the magic of reputation, by being first to truly hit all the marks. The car was spacious enough for a family of any size (up to 5), had minimal parts to break, offered options to further cater to their customers and make them feel more unique with a family of body styles to choose from. If one wanted to have a hint of fun, the 5 speed manual with rear wheel drive could give anyone at least a reluctant smile, but the 3 speed automatic was the real innovation with cost-effective convenience. Automakers began designing and producing exceedingly boring, safe and simple, auto-meh-biles. By 1984, even the originator (Toyota) fell to the charms of ‘meh’ and designed a frump-tastic front wheel drive Crapolla. Most cars produced in the 1980s were completely devoid of dreams, inspired only the simple pleasure of profits. It was not until 1995, that the A4 sparked a change.