In conjunction with the 50th anniversary of CKD operations in Malaysia, UMW Toyota Motor (UMWT) actually had a small surprise for those who attended the celebratory event which was held at the ASSB plant in Bukit Raja.
While many of us thought that they were going to preview an upcoming CKD model, the folks at UMWT actually did the complete opposite – they took us down memory lane by exhibiting the first ever Toyota to be assembled locally in Malaysia, the first-gen Corolla KE10.
First marketed in November 1966, the Corolla KE10 was actually developed in Japan as a small practical car for the general city user. Two years later, the model made its way to Malaysia, where it was being assembled by Champion Motor Berhad (renamed as Assembly Services Sdn Bhd in 1975) in Shah Alam.
“We started developing the first generation Corolla in around 1963-64, taking into consideration all aspects of society at the time, such as people’s lifestyles, alongside how technology would advance as Japan’s economic development continued. We thought hard about what kind of technology was required, the costing and production output, and a suitable timeframe in which to develop the Corolla,” said the late Tatsuo Hasegawa, Chief Engineer of the KE10 in an interview back in 2000.
As for the engine, all of the rival European cars at the time had three-bearing engines. However, considering the need for high-speed performance in vehicles back then, Toyota decided to use a five-bearing engine in the KE10 to ensure a more powerful and quiet ride.
The company also installed a 4-speed fully-synchronized floor-shift transmission instead of the then-popular 3-speed column shift which was less responsive, enabling the car to accelerate up to 110km/h in third gear itself.
According to Toyota, these were essential features for sporty European small cars to be able to reach the speeds of larger vehicles at that time. They were also some of the features that made the Corolla a car that was ahead of its time as far as Japanese brands were concerned.
Powered by a 1,077 cc engine paired to either a 4-speed manual or a 3-speed automatic gearbox, the Corolla KE10 was producing about 60 PS and 83 Nm of torque.
In August 1969, the engine was upgraded to 1166 cc, and special twin carburettor K-B (1077 cc) and 3K-B (1166 cc) engines were used in the SL grade models for an extra 13 PS, which produced more power than the Corolla’s main rivals – the Datsun 1000 and the Subaru 1000.
That being said, it wasn’t only the Corolla’s performance which was on par with the European counterparts, but also the design. According to Hasegawa, the Corolla was the first Toyota car to feature curved glass, ahead of the Corona and Crown.
“I decided that the first “plus” for the Corolla would be sportiness. There probably were some people in the company who questioned “why the Corolla?” but as long as no one was bothered by it, I was determined to add a sporty feel to the exterior,” said Hasegawa.
Thanks to the sporty design, European-level performance, and an excellent build quality, the Corolla name became a global hit in no time, becoming one of the most popular car models in history.
So, in case you’re wondering how the Toyota Corolla has remained so popular over the past 40 to 50 years, all the credit goes to this car we’re looking at now, the KE10 which laid the foundation for the ultimate “Kereta Rakyat” before we had our Protons and Peroduas.
“It was built with the general public’s needs in mind, rather than from a corporate perspective. Basically, we racked our brains as to what it was the general public wanted, what they needed, and what would bring them satisfaction as well as some enjoyment, and that is what made the Corolla what it is,” said Hasegawa.
Looking for a new Toyota? Find the best deals here.