Condition: Ready for a three-star road test
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In Autocar’s 1992 Road Test Yearbook – the infamous James May-edited one with the secret message spelled out in the dropped capital starting each car’s mini-review – the magazine’s summary for a Toyota Corolla much like the one you see here was “Just what the public ordered”.
Ironically, the public continued to order rivals like the Ford Escort, Vauxhall Astra and Volkswagen Golf in much greater numbers, but the softly-styled seventh-generation “E100” Corolla was nevertheless a common sight on the roads of the mid to late 1990s.
It’s less so today. Perhaps the magazine’s observation that it “misses out on the flair that inspires the Citroën [ZX] and, to a lesser extent, the Rover 200-series” was prescient, and while dependable in their day, few owners felt compelled to really dote over their Corollas. Like many of our unexceptional classified choices, these cars eventually succumbed to rust and poor maintenance, becoming disposable rather than desirable.
Now we’re not saying the desirability of this generation of Corolla has changed, necessarily. But at least the example coming up for auction through Car & Classic hasn’t been disposed of, and has a chance to thrive under the caring ownership of an enthusiast.
In GS trim, it’s a step below the GSi tested by Autocar back in 1992, but does use the same “4E-FE” 1.3-litre four-cylinder. It made a surprising 87bhp, which isn’t shabby for a 1.3 not geared towards performance – the mag noted more so than almost any equivalent in its class.
As you may expect from a Toyota of this era, it was deemed very easy to drive too; all these cars had fairly light controls and an absence of anything you might call quirks, while the magazine’s 42.5mpg “touring” economy figure wouldn’t be too shabby even today.
What it lacked was any charisma or flair, but given that’s broadly the point of the cars we welcome into Festival of the Unexceptional, that’s not such a concern. More important is that the red 1996 car here has covered only 29,000 miles, the first 22k under a single family and the last 5k at the hands of a Toyota enthusiast.
Other than some underbonnet patina (but no apparent rust beyond a dusting on a few bolts and brackets), and a few parking scuffs, it looks not unlike a showroom-fresh example, even retaining its original numberplates (in the correct font for the era). Having lived in a garage, the red paintwork hasn’t turned pink or orange in the sun.
Autocar gave the Corolla three stars out of five back in the day, but for the average Festival of the Unexceptional attendee, we reckon they’d be generous and give it one or two more.