JERRY CERDA’S ’81 TOYOTA COROLLA
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.