My First Car – 1982 Toyota Corolla Lift Back

My first car was a 1982 Toyota Corolla Liftback. It was a plucky little car that required zero maintenance and ran no matter what you did to it. Being young and underemployed that zero maintenance feature seemed like such a bonus.With $500 from my parents, lot’s of Bondo, sheet metal from furnace ducts, and some hard work with my dad we had a running driving first car. 1980’s Toyota’s were noted for great reliability. They would reliably start every time, reliably run with almost no oil, and reliably rust within the first two years of its life. Mine scored 100% on each of these reliability marks. So after making the momentous purchase we set about rebuilding the car from the center of the doors down.

Not my actual car.
Not my actual car.

It was sometime during the rebuild process I discovered that I am not a paint and body man. Yes I have adapted and improved over the years, but I still lack the fundamental patience required to do pristine body repairs. My repairs can be summed up as a comparison. A shipwright can weld, as can a artist. One welds massive steel plates efficiently with maximum holding potential, the other welds delicate pieces with precision and beauty. I am definitely a shipwright.

Don’t take that to mean the car didn’t look decent. Particularly after we painted it a lovely Ford Blue tractor color with farm implement paint. It looked like a Smurf, but had possibly the most durable paint job ever applied to a car.

Considering I had originally wanted to purchase a 1970 Chevy Nova with a 350 CI V8, crushed velour bench seat and a 4 speed you would think I was disappointed in my little Corolla. You’re absolutely right I was. Until I started driving it all the time. Considering my lack of funds that little Corolla was a lot cheaper to drive even back then. It was not without some redeeming qualities either.

Despite is wretched body condition the car was mechanically solid. It had an inline 4 cylinder, a 5 speed transmission and rear wheel drive driven by an astounding 75 HP 1.8 liter 4 cylinder. Yes, rear wheel drive. The car was also a two door and not a family sedan, so even though it had a massive rear hatch-trunk thing it was almost cool. I also don’t buy the 75 HP numbers, and I think all HP ratings are bull. That car was just as fast as a VW Jetta I had years later with a supposed 170 HP.

I did my first J turn in the little blue Corolla, jumped rail road tracks, ran dirt roads like the Duke boys, and drove moonlit nights with no lights on back country roads. I also had a few female friends for company, that lift back came in handy. It had a giant moon roof that added to the romantic setting and surprisingly never leaked.

Sure it had a few problems. I once had to make a new thermostat gasket out of a cereal box. Which by the way was still working when I traded the car much later. If you filled the tank over half way it leaked most of the gas back out. I once blew a wheel cylinder and not knowing any better I just kept driving. almost ran a few stops but creative clutch control and luck kept me safe from my own stupidity. It finally got repaired because my dad went to move the car and it wouldn’t stop going up the hill in the driveway. He bought me a new wheel cylinder that day, and I learned to install one.

I have had a ton of cars since then but none have had the same impact as that first one. None have taught me more so quickly and had such an endearing effect on my memory. Sadly I have no pictures of that car. No cell phone cameras back then, and we were never ones for taking a lot of photos. I have some feelers out to family and friends, if I get one I will be sure to update this article. What was your first car and any memories you have? Share them with us!

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4 Wheels and a Motor