JERRY CERDA’S ’81 TOY­OTA COROLLA

Super Street - - Contents - WORDS Micah Wright PHO­TOS Gi­nash George

While the Toy­ota AE86 right­fully re­serves a stronger sheen in the spot­light, not ev­ery­one wants to hop on the same old chas­sis. Jerry Cerda, for ex­am­ple, has a va­ri­ety of rea­sons as to why he skipped the highly sought-out Hachiroku in fa­vor of its lov­ably lop-eared lit­tle brother.

This ’81 Corolla “Lift­back” evokes both emo­tions and mem­o­ries, not just for Jerry, but for his fam­ily as well. When grow­ing up, his big brothers, David and Frank, had been ded­i­cated lowrider guys, both of whom had taken pretty unique ap­proaches to mod­ding retro rides. While David pre­ferred an ’83 Corolla Wagon loaded with hy­draulics, cus­tom paint, hy­per-plush in­te­rior, and chrome wire wheels, Frank was all about the Euro end, as an ’85 VW Golf held his eye for quite a while.

Jerry was 10 when el­dest brother David would be en­ter­ing his wagon at shows and bring­ing home mul­ti­ple tro­phies. But all of the recog­ni­tion and awards were just half of the equa­tion, for Jerry was wit­ness­ing first­hand the im­por­tance of smart sav­ing meth­ods and hard work.

De­spite get­ting into the game far later than his brothers, Jerry had the ben­e­fit of pos­i­tive in­flu­ence and en­cour­age­ment from peo­ple he ad­mired, along with loads of ad­vice to boot. But when both brothers un­ex­pect­edly sold their ve­hi­cles, a se­ries of life-chang­ing lessons were put into play, and the as­pir­ing sib­ling was forced to change his course.

Jerry was de­ter­mined to find and fix up an old-school wagon to re­store or­der to the uni­verse, but days of on­line shop­ping weren’t turn­ing up a damn thing. And be­ing that his search took place in snowy Chicago, rust-free rides were prov­ing to be near im­pos­si­ble to find.

Sev­eral hope­less months had passed, and it wasn’t un­til a lit­tle, red ’81 Lift­back caused pause that Jerry knew he was onto some­thing spe­cial. The ve­hi­cle had lit­er­ally been liv­ing two blocks away from where he resided, and judg­ing by its de­scrip­tion and pho­tos, it seemed to be in su­perb shape for its age.

But when Frank saw a photo of the au­to­mo­bile, he shot it down in grand fash­ion. The big brother was quick to point out that Jerry’s se­lec­tion was nei­ther a wagon, nor a good-look­ing ve­hi­cle for that mat­ter. So the lit­tle red rider was over­looked, for a time…

About a month and half passes, and Jerry stum­bles on the Lift­back once more on­line, this time with more ap­peal and a price that was im­pos­si­ble to ig­nore. Big brother opin­ions be damned. He was go­ing to stroll over to see this odd­ball in per­son and as­sess its mer­its and mal­adies.

Af­ter meet­ing his neigh­bor and get­ting some back­story on the lit­tle Lift­back, Jerry asked to see the ve­hi­cle, not know­ing that his bot­tom jaw was about to slam into the side­walk. As the garage door lifts, Jerry lays eyes on the most OEM au­to­mo­bile imag­in­able as it emerges into the sun­light. Cue the overly syn­the­sized, slow-mo­tion cut scenes from the ’80s, be­cause it only gets bet­ter from here.

The owner was from Florida and had just moved to Chicago, his old-school sin­gle-slam­mer in tow. He also ad­mit­ted that his big pur­chase from the early ’80s needed some sec­ond-base-level lov­ing, and that he felt it was time to turn the car over to some­one who would give it the at­ten­tion it de­served.

Peel­ing pur­ple win­dow tint, a bland au­to­matic gear­box, carbs that were bot­tle­necked by de­sign, and paint that was dull be­yond words were all beg­ging for re­place­ment, but that was about it for is­sues. Jerry was hooked and had to have it. This Lift­back was the epit­ome of “as orig­i­nal as it gets,” and be­ing that it was both rust free and well at­tended to, of­fers were made and the pro­ject was on its way. Well, not right away.

Af­ter two years of driv­ing the car in stock trim, Jerry ditched the ane­mic au­to­matic trans­mis­sion and uglier at­tributes. Al­though both of his older si­b­lings still thought he was nuts for fo­cus­ing on the minia­ture Toy­ota anom­aly, they were happy to help out where needed, a move that would ex­pe­dite the build ex­po­nen­tially. With the help of good friend Emanuel Cre­spo, the build came to­gether in just un­der two years, as rare parts from the world over made their way onto the lit­tle red rider.

The tiny Toy­ota seam­lessly blends old-school JDM flare with pe­riod-cor­rect ac­cen­tu­a­tions, and then in­fuses it all with taste­ful lowrider in­flu­ences and func­tional per­for­mance up­grades. Jerry had cre­ated a true crowd pleaser, even when most still lean to­ward the 86 plat­form.

Years later, Jerry holds dear to his beloved Corolla for a mul­ti­tude of rea­sons. From its orig­i­nal paint and ob­scure OEM ac­cents, to the sur­pris­ingly swift way it at­tacks the twisties, it’s an ob­scure resto­mod the likes of which many peo­ple will never get to en­counter in the wild. But up­grades and ob­scu­rity aside, this Corolla also serves as a por­tal for Jerry. A ve­hi­cle that re­minds him of times spent with big brothers at car shows, pol­ish­ing chrome spoke wheels, and oc­ca­sion­ally flip­ping hy­draulic switches when no one was look­ing.

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