'It's the best Corolla I have ever driven' - Could this be SA's biggest Toyota fan?

<i>Image: Peter Stevens</i>
<i>Image: Peter Stevens</i>
Peter Stevens

Wheels24 reader Peter Stevens sent through pictures of his beloved Toyota Corolla and shared his love for the car, and his story about working at the automaker's plant from 1975.

This 2008 1.8 Corolla was my last assigned car at Toyota Prospecton when I took early retirement in April 2010.

It is the best Corolla I have ever driven; powerful, quiet, comfortable, spacious, and very economical but not as comfortable or spacious as the original Camry.

READ | From boy racer to elegant driver - How the Toyota Corolla has evolved through time

I used to drive mainly in the upper Highway area where it averaged 8.1l/100km but since moving to Assagay in KZN, it now does 7.1l/km.

It's been fairly reliable and I've been servicing it regularly at a dealership. The only issue I had was that one spark plug igniter failed and the water pump started leaking.

The love goes deep

The battery I had in the car lasted for 10 years which is quite amazing. Driving from Gillitts to Prospecton and back daily, it averaged around 7.2l/100km.

Sticking to the speed limits, it averaged 6.9-litres/100km from Durban to Carltonville and back, and down Van Reenen’s Pass to Maritzburg it averaged 6.5l/100km.

Etios Sprint 1.5 Hatch

                                                                      Image: Peter Stevens

I would love to buy a new one but had to sell my wife’s last Tazz of three, and we could only afford an Etios Sprint. Bernie loves her Etios as she says it is so quiet, comfortable, powerful, spacious and economical compared to her Tazz 130Xe and its also easier to drive with the higher driving position.

Since January, when she got it, she averages under 5.0l/100km around the Upper Highway area with an occasional trip to Pinetown or Durban.

Etios Sprint 1.5 Hatch
                                                                            Image: Peter Stevens

My life story reads mainly from a Corolla point of view as I joined the Toyota motor assemblies division in March 1975 under the process engineering, trim and mechanical, passenger section. 

I was immediately put to work with a trainee on the trim and assembly of the 1st pilot-build 4-door Corolla painted body. 

Plethora of experience

Fortunately, I had done plenty of work on cars since leaving school in 1965, learning about the suspension, wheel alignment and tyres at Dunlop, Sydney Road from 1971 to 1975. 

We went on to build more 4-door pilot units as well as the two-door sedan and SR5 Coupe, then also launched each type into production. I had two 2-door five-speed models, a 4-door five-speed, and a station wagon as lease cars during the model life. I briefly ventured to a Volkswagen Passat stationwagon after a Mini GTS as my wife acquired two big dogs.

Toyota Process Eng party

                        Image: Peter Stevens with his former work friends (Peter is second from left, many years ago)

Then came the new model in 1979 and the last rear-wheel-drive model range of the Lift Back 1600 twin carburettor and 1800 auto, 2 and 4-door 1300 4-speed, 1600 5-speed and 1800 automatic.

Later the 1600 station wagon and vans were downgraded to a cheaper 1300. A change finally came from the 1600 2T engine to 4A 1600 engine in the wagon which continued after the LiftBack and sedans had been launched. The more powerful 1800 engine was known as the 3T engine.

All the generations

Next, after a visit to Toyota City in Japan, and now acting supervisor to B Plant and Truck Plant Process Engineering, I had to do the pilot builds. It was now called the Goshi Program, for the first front-wheel-drive Corolla models of 4-door sedan in 1300 2A and 1600 4A manual and auto and GLE 4 door Lift Back. 

The first facelift saw the introduction of the Conquest, Corolla hatch in Japan, coming in 1300 2E 12-valve, 1600 2E, 4A and 1600 16- valve 4AGE engine options.

Next came the second-generation front-wheel-drive Conquest and sedan equipped with the 1300 2E, 1600 2E, 4A 16 valve and 4AGE engines. The first facelift saw the 4AFE, with fuel injection, and larger brakes and wheels for the 1600 models with power steering on some variants.

                                                                        Image: Quickpic

The third facelift saw the 1800 5AFE engine replace the 4AGE unfortunately. The Conquest 5AFE variant and sedans were dropped in 1979. The 1300 models were downgraded with a reduced price and only being released with a 4-speed gearbox. It was later changed to a 5-speed.

The Tazz was only discontinued in 2006 due to the costs of the small volume of imported parts. The third generation front-wheel-drive Corolla was never introduced to the South African market due to cost reasons.

The fourth generation was only available in 4-door sedan variants with the 1300 2E, 1600 4AFE, and 20 valve 1600 4AGE engines being launched. By that time, I become the Assistant Manager on a permanent basis and headed a small team where my experienced men did all the work.

The fifth generation model introduced a sedan and hatchback with the Run X being launched in 2002. By that time, I was a Business Analyst on the introduction of SAP, due to a year-long finance system upgrade for the Manufacturing Engineering department.

The only input I had regarding the Corolla was to load the master data into the SAP Integrated Product and Process Engineering (iPPE) module. I had already converted trucks to SAP for startup 2002, with help, and my new personnel team of four and I had to do small vehicles for later in 2002.

Peter's Corolla

                                                                      Image: Peter Stevens

The sixth generation, which includes my current Corolla, was launched in 2007 after Toyota Japan had taken over Toyota SA in 2006, spending R3.5-billion to upgrade the plant. This meant discontinuing the Tazz and Venture bus over time and moving the Hiace to truck plant, after selling off the Peterbilt assembly plant.

A new Hilux and Fortuner, Surf or 4 Runner was launched in the United States and Australia, and lastly, the Corolla and Run X replacement. Again, I had to load the master data to SAP for the Hilux, Fortuner and Corolla. Unfortunately for me, my connection to the production of Corolla ended in 2008.

In 2008 most of the SAP modules were closed down and replaced by various TMC computer systems. I was transferred to the new department of manufacturing, planning and engineering in 2007, as a Section Manager, having to do everything with no staff.

Of course, there were many other people involved with the Corolla from around 1972 up to now. 

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