Fergus McIver’s 1968 Corona RT4

Fergus McIver writes:
I’ve long had a fascination with quirky retro Japanese cars. The seed was sown when I was just 16 and my first purchase was made of the now very rare 1978 Datsun 620 Pickup. After a few months of fixing it up I passed my driving test and discovered the odd joys of Japanese motoring. I’m now on my 18th Japanese car and consider myself hooked!

In 1964, Toyota were the first Japanese manufacturer to import and sell UK-specific production cars on British shores, followed shortly after by Honda with their diminutive sports coupe the S600. My car was sold new in 1968 by Cumbrian Toyota dealer Jim Walton and stayed with the same family until 1980 when it was acquired by Jim Walton and restored as a showroom piece in 1990. It was purchased locally in 2005 and owned briefly again the same year before I spotted it on eBay in 2007.

I was on the lookout for something old, Japanese and free from rot. Something that I’m sure you will know is getting extremely difficult. The choice of such cars is becoming pretty limited. I hadn’t been particularly aware of the Corona before I saw its fuzzy photographs online. I won the auction and headed to Ipswich, trailer on tow to collect my next car. When looking for a car I had the intention to use it on a daily basis however on arrival at the barn where it was stored, it was clear this car should not be used daily. In much better condition than I had imagined, I was about to take on a new responsibility.

The body was in super condition. Really solid with a great paint job. The original colour had been used in the apparently splendid restoration some 17 years earlier by Jim Walton. Upon first drive however, it was clear the car was seriously unloved mechanically. Over the first couple of years of ownership, a mechanical restoration was carried out including a full and thorough brake and suspension rebuild. With such little power however I wanted the car to be capable in the corners so I shod it with Minilite 13” x 6” wheels and some premium historic race rubber in the form of Avon CR6-ZZ tyres. This transformed the car’s cornering and stopping abilities.

Original Specifications:

  • 1968 Toyota Corona RT40 Deluxe. 4-door saloon
  • Sold new by Jim Walton Toyota in Penrith
  • Original Specification: 1500cc overhead valve engine. 4 speed gearbox
  • Disc / drum brakes. Weight: 925 kgs. Power: 75 bhp. Torque: 85 ft-lb
  • Top speed: 90 mph

Today’s Specification:

  • 1972cc Toyota 21R overhead cam engine from 1985 Celica XT, lightly modified.
  • Estimated power: 120 bhp. Torque: 130 ft-lb
  • Top speed 125 mph

Subtle, rare and stonkingly clean Corona.

At the end of the 2010 show season I bought a 1985 Toyota Celica for its engine and gearbox. The Celica was used for a month to ensure I was happy with the powerplant and duly stripped for the heart transplant. The engine was one of the last to have a carburettor and as such was an ugly mess of pipes and sensors. I stripped the engine of all external parts and set about offering it into the engine bay. The sump required refabrication to clear the chassis crossmember. I further tidied it up a lot and shod it with two new 40mm DCOE Weber carburettors on new manifolds sourced from The USA. The flywheel lost a kilo in excess weight and balanced with a new clutch. Once I’d stripped the engine bay back to bare metal and repainted in the correct shade of blue, the engine and gearbox were fitted along with a new Celica radiator. As I build cars with restraint, I didn’t want much noise from this setup so I fabricated an airbox for the carburettors’ intake to limit induction noise. I fabricated the exhaust system in 2 ½” stainless steel with two silencers. Since the car was already running disc brakes as standard, I added a remote servo to boost stopping power.


The sump post being welded


Repainted engine bay awaits the engine


The 1972cc Toyota 21R enters…


The fettled engine in all its glory: 120 bhp. Torque: 130 ft-lb

Once back on the road I was really pleased with the results which turned out just how I was hoping. Not too much noise, bags of torque and pleasing driveability. It’s a little rocket but takes little away from the dignified nature of the Corona. In general driving it’s relaxing and docile but giving it some stick away from the lights reveals a very different car. The extra gear helps with motorway cruising too. I’ve yet to run the refreshed car up the drag strip to measure performance but I’m not sure it’s absolutely necessary. Summer saw a long trip down to Cornwall then up to Retro Rides Gathering at Prescott Speed Hill Climb where the car was given several spirited runs up the hill.


The Corona at Prescott Speed Hill Climb

The long-term plan is to look after and care for this rare piece of motoring history. The next jobs on the car include uprated anti-roll bar and a re-carpet. I really relish the difficulties such rarities create in keeping roadworthy and in fine fettle. Whilst I do have quite a few spares and am often on the lookout for more, the parts which do need to be sourced help add to the enjoyment and satisfaction of ownership. Some would call me a glutton for punishment! In the meantime, I look forward to a great summer of oddball retro motoring.




One of the most immaculate sleepers you’ll ever come across

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