This year the Toyota Corolla reaches its 50th anniversary, another milestone for the ‘world’s most popular car’.
Since the original model was introduced in Japan in 1966 more than 44 million have been sold worldwide.
Although the Corolla has not been part of the UK model range since 2008, it remains an important part of Toyota’s global line-up, manufactured in 16 plants worldwide. Its lasting popularity is reflected in the fact that one in every five new vehicles sold in Toyota’s 79-year history has been a Corolla.
The Corolla was designed to be a “people’s car,” introduced in saloon and estate body styles and displaying higher build quality and – for its time – lavish equipment features. The specification included such luxuries as a floor-mounted gear lever, individual front bucket seats with generous padding and a spacious rear bench that was likened to a family sofa.
Although classed as a compact car, its high roof height made the interior feel exceptionally roomy. Toyota’s hopes for the Corolla – a name drawing on the Latin term for a ‘crown of flowers’, incidentally – were soon realised with the first generation model becoming Japan’s top-selling vehicle within three years.
The success quickly spread to other countries around the world. A spokesman for Toyota said: “In developing each of the Corolla’s 11 generations, Toyota has remained true to its original principles of building a car with superior quality, reliability and durability.
“And with each new model, it has analysed customer feedback to ensure Corolla continues to deliver what its customers want.”
The Corolla was Toyota’s second model to be imported into the UK, following the Corona into showrooms within its launch year, 1966. Through successive generations and a wide range of body styles, it continued to be available up to 2008, when the Corolla name was dropped from the original Verso compact MPV. Within that timespan it achieved more than 560,000 sales.
Its popularity in the UK and in Europe prompted Toyota to build five-door hatchback models at its Burnaston factory in Derbyshire between 1988 and 2006.
Production ended to make way for the Auris, Toyota’s new – and current – compact hatchback for the European market. Although renowned as an appealing family car for everyday driving, the Corolla demonstrated its genuine performance edge in UK motorsports.
The famous Corolla GT rear-wheel drive coupe was driven by Chris Hodgetts to victory in the 1986 British Touring Car Championship – a feat he repeated the following year. And it had plenty of success on the World Rally Championship scene in the mid-to-late 1990s in the hands of drivers such as Carlos Sainz.
Toyota opened a new, purpose-built factory in Takaoka for the original Corolla and within two years had started production of region-specific versions in Australia and Malaysia. Annual production more than doubled to 1.1 million by 1968.
In addition to being built in the UK, the Corolla has also been manufactured at Toyota’s Sakarya plant in Turkey – the factory has been producing the 11th generation model since 2013. Corolla exports to North America began in 1968, helping the model reach its first million sales by 1970.
It has enjoyed the status of being the world’s best-selling model since 1997, when cumulative sales reached 22.65 million; by 2013, that figure passed through the four million mark.