We drive some classic, mint-condition SA Toyota Corollas: A heritage worth remembering

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• The Toyota Corolla has been on sale globally since 1966.

• It's been built - and sold - in South Africa since 1975.

• The 12th generation Corolla is the first one to be imported.

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Toyota South Africa is readying for a new chapter in its history with the arrival of the all-new Corolla Cross. In addition to this, the Cross line-up will also feature a hybrid model, marking the first time in Toyota SA's history that a hybrid model is built at its Prospecton plant in Durban, Kwazulu-Natal.

Recently, Toyota invited select media to the Gerotek Testing Facility for a driving experience behind the wheel of a pre-production Corolla Cross Hybrid. While insightful, it almost paled compared to other delights on display: select models from Toyota SA's Corolla heritage fleet.

While not every model was in attendance, it provided a unique opportunity to drive these cars around Gerotek and step through time.

Toyota Corolla
Several classic Toyota Corollas, including the 12th generation model

Welcome to SA!

The Toyota Corolla has been around since 1966, having made its first appearance in 1966. Back then, it took the Japanese market by storm and was exported to markets outside the Land of the Rising Sun shortly after.

Nine years after the original debut, in 1975, the Corolla made its South African debut. It was an instant hit and quickly rose to become a best-seller for the Japanese automaker. Alongside the Hilux, the Corolla further established and cemented Toyota as a front-running automaker in South Africa. 

South Africa's love affair with the Corolla began with the third-generation model. And even more, Toyota's South African arm would acquire the rights to build the car locally. Truly a South African institution, Toyota SA would continue building the Corolla up until the end of the eleventh generation, with the current twelfth-gen model being imported.

What was incredibly unique was the opportunity to drive the Corolla models of yore. Stepping in and out of each model makes you realise just how far the Corolla has come. The upgrades over each preceding generation is telling, and you can see where and how each car has been improved.

Toyota Corolla
1975 Toyota Corolla

The culmination

Some very special Corolla's have come off Toyota's production line, and South Africa was not left behind in receiving them. Models like the 'Kentucky Rounder' (sixth generation, 1987 - 1991)) and Corolla RSi (eighth generation, 1995 - 2000) put new emphasis on the car, only making it more desirable and attainable.

But as the years drew on, the Corolla became more. Bigger. More grown-up and mature. And it manifested in the latest version of this very popular car.

Driving the twelfth Corolla, it feels like the coming together of years of experience. The culmination of experience and knowledge to make the car the best version yet. Of course, like all automakers, Toyota ran the risk of getting the latest Corolla recipe wrong, but they didn't. It is - perhaps expectedly - the best iteration of the Corolla yet, and it feels like it.

The current Toyota Corolla family consists of the Corolla Quest, Corolla Hatch, and the Corolla Sedan. In November, the offering will be expanded with the introduction of the all-new Corolla Cross. The Corolla Cross will be produced locally.

Toyota Corolla
2021 Toyota Corolla
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