Whatever we’ve done in this whole so-called automotive “scene”, there’s one undeniable truth: you can never do it alone, and to have friends go along on the ride with you makes it all the more sweet. It doesn’t matter what particular genre or style you’re into; it doesn’t matter what make or model you own; it’s the people you meet along the way that makes the journey worthwhile. You could go at it alone and build the hell out of a car—there’s no doubt about that—but then the road to success is a particularly lonely one. That’s why you go to car shows, local meets, and view/post on your favorite Internet message boards: to meet likeminded individuals with similar interests. Many of the friendships and relationships that you develop along the way will exist long after any car build, and most certainly long after your car crew breaks up. It’s a cool and amazing thing to be able to share a mutual interest with people in your life that matter.
To be blunt, and perfectly honest, the ’71 Toyota Corolla you see here is most definitely not the most refined vehicle. It’s a little rough around the edges and far from pristine—and that’s okay. You may see this build and shout out loud that your friend has a Corolla just like this one, that’s way cleaner, has a crazy swap, whatever—it’s probably true, too. As you continue to read on, you will learn to look beyond the car itself and realize what this project truly represents. This Corolla, owned by Henry Mendez, is rough around the edges because it sat dormant inside a garage for years. Today it sees life again on the streets of Southern California because it serves as a rolling tribute to a great friend.
“I originally met my boy Armando back in ’03-04 when I had my Civic coupe,” Henry explains. “I would always see him at weekly car meets that we attended as well as functions that mutual friends put together. Armando was and will always be an inspiration to me. He was always a step ahead of everyone at whatever he did whether it was cars, shoes, skating, girls—he was always living his life to the fullest. We just had a great time whenever we hung out. It’s not like we saw each other every day but whenever we did have a chance to hang out, we would just talk for hours.”
When it came to this hobby that we all know and love, Henry’s friend Armando probably served as his biggest influence. Back then, Armando had a boosted Acura RSX that was all the rage in their circle of friends. It made great power and Armando was never afraid to get on the car and push it to its limits. “He gave me a ride one day in his turbo RSX and it completely changed my life. After I rode in it, I wanted to do all kinds of stuff to my Civic just so I could catch up with him. I even turbocharged my coupe.”
“I eventually got rid of the Civic though and picked up this 1971 Corolla. Our group of friends was mainly Honda heads but Armando never gave me any grief about getting rid of my Honda. He was actually pretty excited about it and always wanted me to bring the car around so that he could check it out and drive it if he could. Around that time in my life I was slowly losing interest in the whole car scene though so I kind of put the Corolla on the backburner and didn’t really do anything to it. It sat for a couple years and I even put it up for sale a few times. I just had other stuff going on in my life at the time and cars weren’t a priority. I always told Armando that I would bring the car out though. I would tell him that I had plans to take it to the shop and get it fixed so that he could see the car,” Henry says.
Unfortunately, Henry’s friend never got the opportunity to see his Corolla in person again. On May 11, 2009, Armando Flores Jr. lost his life tragically in a motorcycle accident. Henry and his friends were left in utter shock that their dear friend had passed. Armando was survived not only by his mother, father, and sister, but also a group of friends that thought the world of him. The way he lived his life inspired the people around him to live every day of their lives in his memory. When it came to cars, there was no bigger fan than Armando. At his funeral services, all of his friends brought their project cars out of respect because they knew that he would not have it any other way. The sheer number of cars that came out that day would rival some of SoCal’s best car meets. For Henry Mendez, his way of dealing with the passing of his friend would be to resurrect his Corolla in Armando’s honor.
“I wanted to do something for him that I know he would appreciate, something that would make him look down from above and smile at me. I made a promise to him that I would one day bring the car back out for him to see and I wanted to live up to that promise. I decided to build the Corolla as a tribute to him.”
The 1971 Corolla Deluxe is a work in progress but to call it a labor of love would truly be an understatement. The 1.8-liter 3TC swap is now back in full running condition. The 40mm Mikuni carbs and custom side exit exhaust release a deep-toned song that would be music to anyone’s ears, not just Armando’s. Every time Henry hops into his Corolla and mashes on the pedal, it’s a screaming proclamation that his dear friend will never be forgotten. “Although the car isn’t in any way complete, everything that I do to the Corolla from now on will be in honor of Armando,” Henry says proudly. “I guess you can say that it’s my way of grieving with the loss. Because of him, I was able to meet some amazing people that are in my life today. Even though it was under a tragic circumstance, I’m glad to be surrounded by other people that were around him because he continues to live through all of us.”
1971 Toyota Corolla Deluxe
Owner Henry Mendez
Hometown Pasadena, Ca
Occupation Sales Support Rep
Engine 1978 1.8L 3TC; .30 overbore; 40mm Mikuni side draft carburetors; ISKY Mild Street camshafts; 2 ¼-inch custom side-exit exhaust
Drivetrain Toyota 5-speed manual transmission w/4.11 final drive
Footwork & Chassis rear lowering blocks
Wheels & Tires 15x9" Centerline Auto Drag (-25 offset); 195/45-15 Nexen N3000
Exterior PPG Lexus Pearl White; fender flares; fender mirrors; H4-converted headlamps; Solex door locks
Interior re-upholstered black/grey interior; Honda CR-X front seats; JVC head unit; JL Audio 600-watt amplifier, 12-inch subwoofer; Autometer tachometer, oil temperature, oil pressure gauges; Grant steering wheel
Props First off, I would like to thank God for everything!; The Flores Family; Joey for giving me a chance to tell my story; Mike for always being ready willing and able to help me with anything; Salem, Juan, Dougie, and the rest of the Phaze2 family; Enrique for being my best friend since day one, I love you hermano; Santos, George and everyone at Prestige Auto, thanks for always being there to fix the Corolla!; My parents, for always being there for me; Armando Flores JR., you will always live in our hearts papa. Until I see you next time. 1032!