Toyota’s 50 Years in the Limelight
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Toyota’s 50 Years in the Limelight

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Hollywood, CA — What began as a barely viewed Halloween “premier” at a little independent dealership in Tinseltown has really grown into a “blockbuster” for the aftermarket. On Oct. 31, 1957, Toyota Motor Sales U.S.A, opened its American headquarters in a former Nash Rambler dealership in Hollywood. Nine months later and going on sale in July of 1958, the Toyopet was the first Toyota vehicle sold in America.

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But the car was far from being a “hit” with the public. Chrome-laden with a distinct American look, the modified 1959 Toyopet was praised for its ruggedness, durability and small size. However, it was overpriced, underpowered, for the U.S. market, and lacked the “creature comforts” of other vehicles. It was quickly realized that the Toyopet was not engineered for American roads or American drivers. Used as taxis in Tokyo, the Toyopet was ideal for duty on the rough and bumpy roads of post World War II Japan, but unsuited for high speeds and easy steering, weighing more than 3,000 lbs. and powered by a mere 58-hp engine.

As one American executive later observed, the Toyopet was “underpowered, overpriced ($700 more than the number one import Volkswagen) and built like a tank.” Additionally, it was plain, uncomfortable and had serious mechanical shortcomings.

The 1960 model year Toyopet was officially renamed the Toyota Crown, but the name Toyopet seemed to stick, and was still used by much of the industry.

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In 1965, the Toyopet Crown was completely redesigned and reintroduced, becoming Toyota’s first big hit, the Toyota Corona. Toyota’s new passenger car designed for the American driver and roads was an immediate success. The Corona became the cornerstone for volume sales of feature-rich, high-quality Toyota vehicles in the United States. The four-door 1966 Corona was priced at $1,760 with a 90-hp engine and three-speed manual transmission.

A few years later in 1968, Toyota introduced the Corolla two-door sedan to the U.S. market. Powered by a water-cooled, 4-cylinder, 60-hp engine, the first models sold for just over $1,800. By 1970, the Corolla became the most popular Toyota vehicle in the U.S., helping Toyota leap into second place behind Volkswagen among imports. The Corolla also became the first Toyota made in America, when U.S.-built Corollas rolled off Toyota’s Northern California NUMMI production line in 1986.

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But the Toyota staple back in the ’70s was the Corona, and the second-generation of that model, introduced in 1973, came in several versions including a two-door SR hardtop, two-door hardtop, two-and four-door sedan, and the first Corona five-door wagon. None was priced higher than $3,000. Standard features included a four-cylinder 97-hp engine, fold-down rear seats on the hardtop and wagon models, electric clocks and a rear window defogger. The SR hardtop came with a five-speed manual transmission. The two-door hardtop had a three-speed automatic transmission; all other models had four-speed manual transmissions.

Corona’s third generation arrived in 1979. It included 4-door deluxe and luxury editions, a four-door sedan, a five-door wagon and a five-door lift back. All were priced under $6,500. Standard features included a 2.2L overhead cam 95-hp 4-cylinder engine, a five-speed overdrive transmission with a three-speed automatic option, MacPherson strut front suspension, a cigarette lighter, deluxe vinyl or cloth interior, steel-belted radial tires and tinted glass. Options included an AM/FM radio, a cassette tape player, a remote trunk/hatch release, A/C and a three-speed automatic transmission.

In the early 1980s, a new Toyota model hit the streets — the Camry — which replaced the Corona for the 1983 model year and went on to become America’s No. 1 selling car. However, before it was put to rest, cumulative sales for the Corona in the U.S. exceeded 725,000.

Since the early Toyota models were 4-cylinder engines, the rest of this article will focus on servicing a head gasket failure on the 20/22R series 4-cylinder SOHC engine.

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Toyota’s 22R series 4-cylinder SOHC engine has survived and thrived in its cars and trucks for nearly 30 years, and is a desired powerplant for its power, torque and reliability. The basic design is a continuation of the engine that preceded it, the 20R, which was used in cars and trucks in the mid 1970s.

The 20/22Rs were used only in rear-wheel-drive (RWD) applications, never in a front-wheel-drive (FWD) vehicle. So when the RWD Corona was replaced in the U.S. by the FWD Camry in 1983, and the Celica went to FWD in 1986, the only vehicles that continued to use the 22R were the pickups and the 4-Runner sport utility vehicles.

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Though no longer installed in new Toyota vehicles here in the states, rebuilt and new components are readily available and relatively inexpensive compared to newer, more complex designs. And, virtually all 22R and R-E internal parts are interchangeable, but there is a caution to watch for — early truck and Celica engines (before 1984) had a shorter deck height and, consequently, different internal parts. There are also differences in cylinder heads, depending on year and induction system. Even with all the good things that can be said about this engine, there are some recurring failures, all of which can be avoided with proper maintenance and attention to detail.

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22R Engine Head Gasket Repair
by Larry Bailly, Import Vehicle Contributor

This engine has never had a bad reputation for head gasket failures. However, any aluminum-head, cast-iron block engine that is neglected can develop problems with head gasket sealing. Overheating can cause failure of critical engine seals. Even a small coolant leak can cause a lowering of the coolant level throughout the engine and particularly in the cylinder head.

The 22R engine has good coolant flow through the head and block with large passages. This engine also has some areas where narrow sealing surfaces can be eroded when exposed to high heat and pressure caused by low coolant levels, or a weak concentration of coolant.

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The most common head gasket failure on these engines will be coolant leaking into one or more cylinders, causing a misfire and large amounts of white smoke (steam) out the tailpipe. Typically, there is no external leakage in this case, and there will be no coolant in the oil. There may be a damaged radiator cap from excess pressure, or the coolant recovery bottle may fill up and overflow on a short drive.

Cylinder head removal on the engine is remarkably simple. The basic procedure follows:

  1. Disconnect the battery. Drain the oil and coolant; remove the belts, fan, fan shroud and any brackets for accessories that are attached to the head.

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  • Disconnect the hoses, wiring harnesses, cables and intake parts as necessary. Remove the valve cover.

  • Turn the engine to TDC, checking alignment at the distributor, camshaft and crankshaft.

  • Remove the ignition distributor, unbolt the exhaust downpipe from the manifold and remove the support bracket at the bellhousing.

  • Remove the exhaust heat shields, EGR pipes, etc. Remove the exhaust manifold, or tie it back to the inner fender.

  • Remove the upper radiator hose, then remove the retainer hardware for the intake manifold components and tie the intake manifold back to the inner fender. There is enough space in the engine compartment to leave the manifolds, and still get the head out.

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  • Use a wire tie to fasten the timing chain to the camshaft gear. Remove the fuel pump eccentric, distributor drive and disengage the camshaft gear from the camshaft, but leave it tied to the chain.

  • Remove the small bolt now; the one that’s front and center that retains the head to the front engine cover, so it isn’t forgotten later. This bolt is usually in a little pool of oil, so it may not be readily visible. Loosen the headbolts, which also retain the rocker assembly, using a sequence that won’t put undue strain on the shafts. You may need to pry lightly to loosen the rocker stands from the alignment pins. You may not be able to get the left rear headbolt out at this time (see Photo 1), so the rocker assembly may need to be removed along with the head. With the manifolds disconnected, the head is not very heavy, but can be a reach on 4WD trucks, so you may need a second pair of hands for safety.

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  • Use care when lifting the head off of the chain and plastic chain guides so they won’t need to be replaced. If the left (driver’s side) chain guide is missing, you’ll need to do more inspection (more details to follow).

  • Clean the head, check for warpage and inspect the head gasket for obvious failure. Once the point of failure is located, inspect the head-sealing surface for evidence of erosion damage (see Photo 2). Though a small amount of port erosion is acceptable, there must be enough sealing surface remaining to seal both compression and cooling system pressure. Also look into the head passages for erosion that may seriously weaken the internal integrity of the head. If there is any question about the head’s integrity, have it pressure-tested to prevent a comeback.

    Because head gasket failures can come at any mileage, you’ll need to decide whether more extensive repairs are needed. Visually inspecting the cylinder bores and condition of timing components should give you an idea of the relative condition of the rest of the motor. You will need to decide if valve stem seals are needed and whether the valves and seats will survive, although valve problems are not typical on these engines.

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    We recommend replacing the head bolts on these engines whenever the head is removed. The head bolts are long, tend to stretch and can be quite brittle when overheated. On some models, the EGR passages also expose the bolts to exhaust heat. Clean the head bolt threads in the block and blow out any debris in the holes. Be sure you clean any residue of the old head gasket from the block. Put sealer at the joint between the block and the top of the front cover before installing the new head gasket.

    Reassembly is just the opposite of disassembly, again using care not to break the timing chain guide when setting the head into place. Consult a workshop manual for the torque specs and sequence. Replace the thermostat, noting that some of these engines have a raised casting in the thermostat recess that requires an offset thermostat. Incorrect installation will cause the stat to fail immediately.

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    After assembly is complete, and before starting the engine, pressure test or use a vacuum fill system to confirm that there are no coolant leaks that would cause another failure. Let the engine idle to full operating temperature before taking a test drive.

    Note: In November, we’ll take a look at some timing chain issues and oil sludge issues for the 22R 4-cylinder engine.

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