THE 2T-G ENGINE AND THE TE27 LEVIN AND TRUENO
For enthusiasts, the most interesting of the many Corolla and Sprinter variants were undoubtedly the performance versions, added midway through the second generation.
As we mentioned, the new T-system was added to the Corolla and Sprinter in mid-1970. The T engine was an OHV four with oversquare dimensions, an iron block, and a crossflow aluminum head with hemispherical combustion chambers. Initially, the Corolla and Sprinter offered only the basic 1,407 cc (86 cu. in.) Type T and T-D (high-compression) versions of this engine, but later that year, Toyota created a larger 1,588 cc (97 cu. in.) 2T version for the new Carina and Celica, offering 100 PS JIS (73 kW) with a single carburetor or 105 PS (77 kW) in dual-carburetor 2T-B form. A federalized 2T-C version of the single-carb engine became available on U.S. Corollas in the spring of 1971, rated at 102 (gross) hp SAE (76 kW).
The 2T was basically a T engine bored out another 5 mm (0.2 inches), but the Celica GT had a special 2T-G version with a new aluminum head, designed for Toyota by Yamaha, that featured not only hemispherical combustion chambers, but also chain-driven dual overhead camshafts. English Ford fans will immediately recognize the parallel with the Lotus DOHC conversion of Ford’s Kent crossflow engine. The Japanese engine provided comparable output: With a 9.8:1 compression ratio and two 40mm Solex carburetors, the 2T-G was rated at 115 PS JIS (85 kW) while the 1,558 cc (95 cu. in.) Lotus engine boasted either 115 gross horsepower (86 kW) or 110 hp net (82 kW). (For reasons we don’t claim to understand, 2T-G engines sold in Europe initially carried U.S.-style SAE gross ratings of 124 hp (93 kW) and 113 lb-ft (153 N-m) of torque in high-compression form.)
The 2T-G was initially a Celica exclusive, but the twin-cam engine was added to the Carina line in mid-1971. Around that time, an enthusiast on the Corolla development team proposed that they also install the 2T-G in the Corolla and Sprinter, which shared the Celica/Carina front suspension and were already available with lesser versions of the T-system engine. Since the combination required little in the way of new components and had clear commercial potential, Corolla development chief Shiro Sasaki approved and Corolla and Sprinter coupes with the 2T-G engine and five-speed gearbox went on sale in March 1972. Their introduction gave Toyota an answer to compact sporty rivals like the Mazda Savanna RE (a.k.a. RX-3) and Mitsubishi Colt Galant FTO.
While Carina buyers could eventually order the 2T-G engine in sedans as well as hardtops, Corollas and Sprinters so equipped were offered only in coupe form. The twin-cam models were christened Corolla Levin and Sprinter Trueno respectively. (“Levin” is a variation of a Middle English word for lightning, while “trueño” is the Spanish word for thunder.) To go along with their more powerful engines and five-speed transmissions, the Levin and Trueno had firmer suspensions, front disc brakes, larger rear drums, and radial tires (still optional on other models). Interior trim was also dressed up accordingly.
That equipment added weight, but the TE27 Levin and Trueno still weighed close to 200 lb (85 kg) less than a Celica 1600GT with the same engine. Claimed top speed was 118 mph (190 km/h), identical to that of the Celica, but the TE27 cars were naturally quicker. We don’t have independent road test data, but Toyota claimed the twin-cam TE27 cars could cover 400 meters (8 feet less than a quarter mile) from a standing start in 16.3 seconds, suggesting a 0-60 mph (0-97 km/h) sprint of less than 9 seconds — hot stuff by contemporary Japanese or European standards. The Levin and Trueno also leaned less and had considerably more cornering grip than the standard Corolla, which was on the floppy side. However, understeer was still heavy, the recirculating ball steering remained a bit sloppy, and the ride was now uncomfortably stiff.
Continuing the English Ford analogy, the Levin and Trueno were loosely analogous to the Lotus-engined Mk1 Ford Escort TC, but Toyota itself had offered an earlier antecedent: the 1967–1968 RT55 Toyota 1600GT, essentially an RT51 Corona hardtop powered by the Yamaha-developed 9R engine, a twin-cam conversion of the Corona’s 1,587 cc (97 cu. in.) 4R pushrod engine. The 1600GT was Toyota’s second DOHC production car, debuting at about the same time as the production version of the 2000GT sports car, another Yamaha project. Fewer than 2,300 examples of the 1600GT were built, but they quickly achieved great competition success, much like the original Lotus Cortina.
The TE27 Levin and Trueno were expensive for this class, with list prices starting at ¥813,000 (around $2,700), nearly twice as much as a stripped Corolla 1200 two-door sedan and about 20% more than a Mazda Savanna coupe, probably their most obvious rival. As a result, the Levin and Trueno accounted for only a tiny slice of the Corolla and Sprinter’s JDM sales. However, the twin-cam models were a useful image-booster and sold more than enough for homologation purposes. Like the aforementioned RT55 1600GT and twin-cam Escort, the DOHC TE27 had obvious appeal for sedan racing and rallying, and not just in Japan. Toyota Team Europe used a TE27 Corolla Levin in the team’s first World Rally Championship season, winning the 1975 1000 Lakes Rally.
Surprisingly, Toyota exported the twin-cam Corolla and Sprinter very little in this or the two succeeding generations. U.S. buyers had to settle for the Corolla SR-5, which combined the Corolla Levin’s body and suspension modifications with the same 88 hp (SAE net; 66 kW) 2T-C engine as other U.S. Corollas. We assume the main reason the 2T-G engine was never offered in the U.S. was emission standards (something that would shortly become an issue in Japan as well), but as far as we’ve been able to determine, the twin-cam Levin and Trueno weren’t exported to Australia or the U.K. and were offered only on a limited basis in European markets. Price may have been the main deterrent. The twin-cam Celica hadn’t sold especially well in Europe, perhaps because a DOHC Celica GT cost almost 30% more than a pushrod 1600ST.
THE EMISSIONS ISSUE
The Levin and Trueno returned for the third-generation E30 Corolla and E40 Sprinter, launched in April 1974. Toyota now offered the new Sprinter Trueno in both plain and better-equipped GT editions, the latter featuring tape stripes and some additional convenience features.
Either way, the mechanical package was much the same as the TE27’s, although the new models’ greater weight presumably took a toll on performance. The high-compression 2T-G engine was still available as a no-cost option, but the low-compression 2T-GR was now standard, a response to the decreased availability of leaded premium fuel. (All regular-grade gasoline in Japan would be unleaded by early 1975.)
The phase-out of leaded gasoline was a sign of things to come. Japan lagged a few years behind the U.S. in adopting national emissions standards, but worsening air quality in major cities led to public pressure for controls on automotive emissions. Despite protests from the Japan Automobile Manufacturers Association (JAMA) — whose president at that time was Eiji Toyoda — Japan’s first interim national standards went into effect in April 1973 with stricter rules following in 1976 and 1978. The latter were inspired by, though not identical to, contemporary U.S. federal standards.
At the end of 1975, Toyota was obliged to drop the various models with the 2T-G engine (which included the Corolla Levin, Sprinter Trueno, Carina 1600GT, and Celica 1600GT) because they were incapable of meeting the 1976 emissions standards. This turned out to be a temporary measure; the twin-cam engine returned in 1977 as the 2T-GEU, now with electronic fuel injection (a Bosch L-Jetronic system made under license by Nippon Denso) and an air injection pump. The air pump and the need to subsist on regular unleaded gasoline (requiring a lower 8.4:1 compression ratio) reduced output to 110 PS JIS (81 kW), but by late 1978, the thermal reactor was superseded by a three-way catalytic converter, restoring advertised output to 115 PS JIS (85 kW) and 109 lb-ft (147 N-m) of torque, fractionally stronger than the carbureted engine.
Because the Corolla and Sprinter had continued to gain weight throughout the third generation, the fuel-injected Levin and Trueno were still undoubtedly slower than the original TE27 editions. One consolation was that by 1978, the 2T-GEU and its associated equipment were now available with the new Corolla and Sprinter Liftback bodies as well as coupes, although the Liftbacks were badged as GTs rather than Truenos or Levins.
THE E70 COROLLA AND SPRINTER
Despite the headaches caused by early emissions control devices (which affected Japanese cars much as similar devices had U.S. and Australian cars), the Corolla remained a commercial powerhouse. By the end of the third generation in early 1979, total worldwide Corolla sales had topped 7 million units.
Over the years, the Corolla had grown (literally as well as figuratively) into an unexciting middle-of-the-road compact family sedan. The Levin and Trueno not withstanding, most Corollas and Sprinters were resolutely conservative in their engineering. For all the steady growth and the proliferation of models and options, the basic specifications had changed little over the years: carbureted pushrod engines (except for the 2T-GEU), MacPherson struts and recirculating ball steering up front, a live axle on semi-elliptical leaf springs in back, and of course rear-wheel drive. Throughout most of the seventies, cheaper JDM models still had four-wheel drum brakes and bias-ply tires, although front discs and radial tires gradually spread throughout the line.