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1981 Toyota Corolla (E70) - Little Red Rider

You'll shoot yer eye out, kid

Mar 12, 2018
Photographer: Ginash George

While the Toyota AE86 rightfully reserves a stronger sheen in the spotlight, not everyone wants to hop on the same old chassis. Not convinced? Jerry Cerda has a variety of reasons as to why he skipped the highly sought-out Hachiroku in favor of its lovably lop-eared little brother.

1981 toyota corolla JDM rear window louvers Photo 2/17   |   1981 Toyota Corolla JDM Rear Window Louvers

This '81 Corolla "Liftback" evokes both emotions and memories, not just for Jerry, but for his family as well. When growing up, his big brothers, David and Frank, had been dedicated lowrider guys, both of whom had taken pretty unique approaches to modding retro rides. While David preferred an '83 Corolla Wagon loaded with hydraulics, custom paint, hyper-plush interior, and chrome wire wheels, Frank was all about the Euro end, as an '85 VW Golf held his eye for quite a while.

Jerry was 10 when eldest brother David would be entering his wagon at shows and bringing home multiple trophies. But all of the recognition and awards were just half of the equation, for Jerry was witnessing firsthand the importance of smart saving methods and hard work.

1981 toyota corolla weber 45 carbs Photo 6/17   |   The power of Toyota's 1.8-liter with Weber carbs and Techno Toy Tuning stacks might not wow you, but Jerry's presentation and fit 'n' finish of its tucked and shaved bay will.

Despite getting into the game far later than his brothers, Jerry had the benefit of positive influence and encouragement from people he admired, along with loads of advice to boot. But when both brothers unexpectedly sold their vehicles, a series of life-changing lessons were put into play, and the aspiring sibling was forced to change his course.

Jerry was determined to find and fix up an old-school wagon to restore order to the universe, but days of online shopping weren't turning up a damn thing. And being that his search took place in snowy Chicago, rust-free rides were proving to be near impossible to find.

Several hopeless months had passed, and it wasn't until a little, red '81 Liftback caused pause that Jerry knew he was onto something special. The vehicle had literally been living two blocks away from where he resided, and judging by its description and photos, it seemed to be in superb shape for its age.

1981 toyota corolla nardi wooden steering wheel Photo 7/17   |   1981 Toyota Corolla Nardi Wooden Steering Wheel

But when Frank saw a photo of the automobile, he shot it down in grand fashion. The big brother was quick to point out that Jerry's selection was neither a wagon, nor a good-looking vehicle for that matter. So the little red rider was overlooked, for a time...

About a month and half passes, and Jerry stumbles on the Liftback once more online, this time with more appeal and a price that was impossible to ignore. Big brother opinions be damned. He was going to stroll over to see this oddball in person and assess its merits and maladies.

After meeting his neighbor and getting some backstory on the little Liftback, Jerry asked to see the vehicle, not knowing that his bottom jaw was about to slam into the sidewalk. As the garage door lifts, Jerry lays eyes on the most OEM automobile imaginable as it emerges into the sunlight. Cue the overly synthesized, slow-motion cut scenes from the '80s, because it only gets better from here.

1981 toyota corolla SSR Mk3 wheel Photo 8/17   |   1981 Toyota Corolla SSR Mk3 Wheel

The owner was from Florida and had just moved to Chicago, his old-school single-slammer in tow. He also admitted that his big purchase from the early '80s needed some second-base-level loving, and that he felt it was time to turn the car over to someone who would give it the attention it deserved.

Peeling purple window tint, a bland automatic gearbox, carbs that were bottlenecked by design, and paint that was dull beyond words were all begging for replacement, but that was about it for issues. Jerry was hooked and had to have it. This Liftback was the epitome of "as original as it gets," and being that it was both rust free and well attended to, offers were made and the project was on its way. Well, not right away.

1981 toyota corolla foha rear spoiler Photo 9/17   |   When you own a Liftback, there's no need for fancy over-fenders or body kits. Just a clean paint job, JDM bumpers, suspension, and SSR wheels.

After two years of driving the car in stock trim, Jerry ditched the anemic automatic transmission and uglier attributes. Although both of his older siblings still thought he was nuts for focusing on the miniature Toyota anomaly, they were happy to help out where needed, a move that would expedite the build exponentially. With the help of good friend Emanuel Crespo, the build came together in just under two years, as rare parts from the world over made their way onto the little red rider.

The tiny Toyota seamlessly blends old-school JDM flare with period-correct accentuations, and then infuses it all with tasteful lowrider influences and functional performance upgrades. Jerry had created a true crowd pleaser, even when most still lean toward the 86 platform.

1981 toyota corolla OEM fender wind splitter Photo 13/17   |   1981 Toyota Corolla OEM Fender Wind Splitter

Years later, Jerry holds dear to his beloved Corolla for a multitude of reasons. From its original paint and obscure OEM accents, to the surprisingly swift way it attacks the twisties, it's an obscure restomod the likes of which many people will never get to encounter in the wild. But upgrades and obscurity aside, this Corolla also serves as a portal for Jerry. A vehicle that reminds him of times spent with big brothers at car shows, polishing chrome spoke wheels, and occasionally flipping hydraulic switches when no one was looking.

1981 toyota corolla SSR MK3 wheel Photo 17/17   |   1981 Toyota Corolla SSR MK3 Wheel
Micah Wright
81 Articles
1981 Toyota Corolla (E70) - Little Red Rider
Tuning Menu
Owner: Jerry Cerda
Hometown: Chicago, IL
Occupation: Self-Employed
Engine: original 3T-C 1.8-liter engine; Weber 45 carbs; Techno Toy Tuning velocity stacks; Edelbrock electric fuel pump (relocated to rear); Pacesetter heat-treated 4-2-1 header; Janessa Racing shaved and tucked engine bay; battery relocated to trunk; braided fuel line hoses; 2" Flowmaster exhaust
Drivetrain: five-speed T50 manual gearbox; Exedy stage 1 clutch
Footwork & Chassis: Techno Toy Tuning fully adjustable AE86 coilovers with camber plates; lowered 4" all around
Brakes: AE86 front brake conversion
Wheels & Tires: 15x8" -0 front, 15x8.5" -7 rear SSR MK3 wheels; 165/50/R15 Federal tires
Exterior: JDM metal bumpers, taillights; OEM fender wind splitters, rear window louvers, extended window visors; custom fiberglass front chin spoiler; Foha rear spoiler; JAF emblem
Interior: Recaro fishnet seats; JDM storage compartment underneath glove box; Nardi wooden steering wheel; Nostalgic Grains wooden shift knob; Wooden wink mirror; OEM interior
Thanks You: my brothers, David and Frank; Kevin Saez at Janessa Racing; Emanuel Crespo; Big Tony for the shave and engine bay paint; the guys from the 1320 crew; my son, Aiden Joel, and my wife, Araseli, for giving me both the inspiration and the time to make this dream come true



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