By Stuart Grant with photos by Douglas Abbot


Toyota Corolla, the go-to choice for the majority of Uber drivers. Makes sense considering they are practical people carriers, well priced, reliable and enjoy brilliant spares and back-up service. And the negatives? Well… a bit too common, to be honest, with a hint of boring. Of course, boring does not apply to the impressively performing RSi and RXi versions in the 1990s. But there is only one Corolla model that is not only decidedly un-boring but also as rare as hen’s teeth nowadays. To find out more, though, we must go back to early ʼ80s South Africa, when the Toyota Corolla 1.8 TRD Liftback made its entrance.


The TRD was another locally made special with motorsport homologation in mind. However, this time it wasn’t intended for circuit use but rather the rough and tough world of rallying. The marketing types still believed that what wins on Sunday sells on Monday, and although only 300 initial-batch TRD units were made available for sale (less than one per dealer), the thought was that enthusiasm for the lower-spec (cheaper) Corollas would soar with a rally winner as a mentor.

The Toyota Dealer Team went into the 1982 South African rally season with one goal in mind: take the manufacturer’s title for a second consecutive year. And they did this emphatically, scoring 1 077 points in total – more than 300 clear of the other outfits – while four of the five class championships were taken by Toyota crews. Particularly notable was the performance of Jan Hettema who, with Max Oerder calling the notes, steered the Class D Liftback to class honours and third overall in the national championships for both drivers and navigators.


On a high, the 300 homologation TRD units went on sale in 1983 at a price of R12 200 (a regular 1.8SE Liftback cost R10 230) and became an instant hit, delivering the performance that sporting drivers expected with some “My car was developed in conjunction with Toyota Racing Developments in Japan” bragging rights thrown in.

The design brief was for 20% more power over the standard 1.8, and engineers accomplished this by bumping up the regular 1.8 model’s 58.5kW to 86 and ramping the Nm from 129 up to 150. How? Good old-fashioned tuning, that’s how. That meant increased camshaft overlap, strengthened valve gear, twin Dellorto sidedraught carbs, custom manifold and a free-flow exhaust system. The rest of the engine and transmission remained untouched, but special Tosca (Toyota) alloy wheels and low-profile steel-belt radial tyres were added to reduce weight and up the handling abilities.


With such sporting aspirations the TRD had to look the part, and it achieved this with a notable front air dam, halogen fog lights, black wheel spats, sill skirts and rear spoiler. While some cars were metallic blue/grey, many paid homage to the Toyota Dealer Team’s rally effort, sporting white paint with a red flash applied by the legendary Calbrook Colours (for more go-faster schemes by Calbrook click here).

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The racy theme continues inside the white cars, with the high-back seats decked out in red-striped black velour (made just for Toyota SA in Germany). The twin carbs take a bit of tickling to get the car fired up and idling is a bit lumpy thanks to the hotted cam but plonk the loud pedal and all these issues go out the window; the sound of air rushing into the carbs takes centre stage and the TRD hunkers down and accelerates rapidly. The zero to 100km/h sprint leaves black lines and stops the clock at 9.9 seconds, while keeping the car above 4500rpm sees it pulling strongly through all the gears on to a top speed of 195km/h – the fastest Toyota ever tested by CAR magazine at the time.


Ride is firm with little body roll, and handling is both responsive and predictable. Fuel consumption is also predictable… thirsty. But that’s only because the sound of the carbs and the brisk performance eggs the driver on to push harder than would be necessary in a run-of-the-mill Corolla.


TRD is no Uber Corolla, standing firmly on the far end of the sensible motoring scale. With so few vehicles made in period, they are rare. Add in the hard-driven factor and they are borderline unicorn cars. If you bought one new and still had it today, I’m betting you’d not be regretting the additional R2 000 you shelled out for it back then. 

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