It didn’t take long for Toyota to learn some important basics about success in the American Market. Within 2 generations and one spectacular failure at the end of the 1950’s, Toyota was fast becoming the most important import brand in the United States as the 1960’s gave way to the 1970’s.
The brick laying car to Toyota’s success on the American Market was the 1965-1970 Corona. Riding into the marketplace where very few cars provided such an excellent motoring experience for the price, Toyota cleaned house, captured sales and ended up often being voted the compact car of choice over the others. It was a process of simply mastering minor details that other brands and efforts missed. By polishing details and heightening expectations of what a small car could be, the Toyota Corona revolutionized the American dream of what basic transportation could be.
Some would say the Corona didn’t have to aim so high since bargain basement transportation in the 1960’s set the bar rather low. Whether you skinflint’d your way down the interstates in a Volkswagen Beetle, the most basic of Ford Falcons or a Renault 1100, you’d be suffering from indecent climate controls, glacial acceleration or indifferent quality. Toyota as a brand was a fast learner, and learned quickly how to adapt its products for the demands of American driving.
First out the box was offering their R-series 4 Cylinder in 1.9 liter/90 horsepower strength to conquer American roads. With 0-60 times in the 15 second range and nearly capable of 95 mph all out with a manual transmission, the Corona could keep pace with larger compact cars featuring 6 cylinder engines (or, well, outpace a 170 cube equipped Ford Falcon) while turning in an honest 30 miles to the gallon. A well sorted copy of Chevrolet’s Powerglide, the Toyoglide, also sweetened the deal for those not interested in the thrill of selecting speeds.
That relatively herculean performance feat put it light years ahead of most import rivals in its sub $2,000 price range and enamored consumers used to hugging the slow lane in a variety of cheap penalty boxes that had come before. The fact that the package was wrapped up in a neatly cohesive suit couldn’t have hurt matters. Nor did the option of choosing a handsome sedan, flirtatious coupe or handy 4 door Station Wagon (a certain rarity in a field of 2 door station wagons if available) no doubt up’d the desirability quotient. Although the initial Toyopet Crown offered in the late 50’s gained a reputation for infirmary, the concurrent Land Cruiser solidified the brand’s reputation for expert craftsmanship that saw few peers when searching the international automotive waters.
The Corona upped the ante, rivaling quality control of some of the best brands. As the Corona became a favored second car to park alongside a Delta 88 or a Park Lane for grocery getting, many an American consumer eye noted the lack of flaws their new Toyotas had, especially in an era of declining quality from former fine goods designed in Michigan. In a way, it started chipping away at the dominance domestic brands had on American soil. By 1969, Toyotas were the 2nd best selling import brand, sprinting past General Motor’s own captive brand Opel. From there, as the Corona grew, and the Corolla started to take its place in the bottom of the market, and the 6 cylinder Crown and sporty Celica offered a larger spectrum of choice, the long trek to unseating General Motors as the prime provider of automotive choice on this earth started with one simple sedan.
Unfortunately, some of the disease that crept into General Motors in the mid-60’s finds itself infecting Toyota 50 years later. One hopes with gentle reminders Toyota remembers what brought them the crown in the first place.