Junkyard Gem: 1990 Toyota Corolla All-Trac Wagon

Lots of rust, lots of cannabis-dispensary decals, and nearly 300k miles.

63 - 1990 Toyota Corolla All-Trac Wagon in Colorado Junkyard - Photo by Murilee Martin
63 - 1990 Toyota Corolla All-Trac Wagon in Colorado Junkyard - Photo by Murilee Martin
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American Motors began selling cars that could be driven in four-wheel-drive all the time (even on dry pavement) in the 1980 model year, and Audi followed up with the Quattro system during the following year. Those cars had true all-wheel-drive powertrains (the AWD term didn't come into widespread use until much later), but Toyota didn't begin offering such a system here until the American debut of All-Trac for the 1988 model year. You could get All-Trac all-wheel-drive on the '88 Camry, Corolla, and Celica, followed by the Previa in 1990; of these, the most popular All-Trac car proved to be the Corolla wagon. Here's one of those cars, a '90 model with plenty of miles and even more personality, found in a self-service yard just south of Denver.

All-Trac could be had on the 1988 through 1992 Corolla wagon and sedan, but I've never managed to find an All-Trac Corolla sedan in a car graveyard. Likewise for an All-Trac Celica, but I keep searching. I have spotted a respectable number of discarded All-Trac Camrys and Previas in Front Range Colorado yards, because even the most oddball four-wheel-drive cars managed to sell in these parts.

In fact, the only Corolla All-Trac sedan I've ever seen anywhere was this one parked at a very hoardy used-car-lot/junkyard in Phoenix, a few years back. I did my best to buy it— seriously, I really wanted it and was willing to pay in the high three figures — but the owner was too busy arguing with the mailman and I had to get on my way to a 24 Hours of Lemons race. When I had friends in Phoenix attempt to contact the car's owner a few weeks later, I learned he had died.

This car has been thoroughly used up, though I was expecting to see at least another 100,000 miles on the odometer. Those must have been 295,045 hard miles. The Toyota with the highest odometer reading I've ever seen was a 1988 Tercel 4WD wagon with 413,344 miles, and it was much cleaner than today's Junkyard Gem. Keep in mind that Toyota USA didn't start using six-digit odometers until well into the 1980s, and so at least a couple of the junkified Hiluxes, Cressidas, and Coronas I've documented almost certainly reached the half-million mark.

That 413k-mile Tercel had an old-school four-wheel-drive system; it didn't require the really old-school rig with locking front hubs that required you to get out and kneel in snow and mud to switch, but the driver had to move a lever to switch from powering two wheels to powering four wheels. This meant that you would tear up the tires— or worse— if you drove for long distances on dry pavement in the 4WD setting, and it turned out that most American drivers couldn't or wouldn't make that kind of decision. Subaru and Honda used similar setups in their four-wheel-drive cars of the 1980s and early 1990s as well.

With All-Trac (at least, on the Corolla and Camry versions), the driver could choose to lock the center differential for better traction on slippery stuff, but it wouldn't damage anything mechanical if you left it locked 24/7/365. Even this option proved to be too confusing, so Toyota ditched it completely after a few years.

Toyotas of this era tended to rust in a hurry in places like Illinois or Maine, but the process tends to take longer in Colorado (where road salt isn't used so much and single-digit humidity lets damp crevices dry out before the Rust Monster feels at home). This car took 31 years, presumably including plenty of miles spent crashing through and parking in deep Rocky Mountain snow, to reach this condition.

Under the hood, we find the 1.6-liter 4A-FE four-cylinder engine, rated at 102 horsepower.

Why does it have an emissions sticker for a 48-state 1990 Hilux pickup with 3VZ-E V6 engine under its hood? I can't say, but this would have gotten the owner into some hot water at a California emissions check (where the underhood emissions sticker is sacred and the appearance of emissions-related skullduggery results in major unpleasantness).

The final owner of this car appears to have been a connoisseur of my state's high-quality cannabis products, and there are stickers from dispensaries and brands located all over the state. As you might imagine, I find many, many cannabis-themed stickers in Denver-area junkyards, including quite a few slapped on windshields directly in front of the driver's face. Next time you're stuck on I-25 behind an erratically-piloted car trailing vape clouds at 37 mph in the left lane— if you live in these parts, you know exactly what I mean— you can assume that car's dash looks like this.

And perhaps the passenger footwells on that car look like this. I sure hope these weren't consumed by the driver while the car was in motion!

Hey, the very rare Leafs by Snoop sticker! It appears that Snoop Dogg's cannabis business no longer exists under that name, perhaps due to legal action by the Toronto Maple Leafs over the maple-y logo. I peel off the more interesting examples of such stickers that I find in junkyard cars, for application on my junkyard toolbox, but the ones on this car had spent too much time drying in the sun to be removable.

I like to guess what CDs and cassettes I'll find in a junkyard car, and this one makes sense.

I have never seen a Corolla All-Trac with an automatic transmission, though one was available. Standard equipment was the five-speed manual you see here. Car-trivia fans might be interested to learn that the 2002 Corolla was the last US-market car available with a three-speed automatic transmission.

Please don't do this.



Toyota Corolla Information

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