On this day 50 years ago, Toyota sent out this press release: “The Toyota Corolla is a five-passenger vehicle from Japan that is positioned as the ‘most accessible car’ in the market. In the development of the Corolla, Toyota’s engineers have spent years bringing together the best of the company’s technologies to offer to the public.”

Who could have guessed that such banal words would launch what would become the biggest-selling car in the history of the world?

Fifty years later, Toyota has sold 44 million Corollas in just about every market on the planet, including the AE86 doriftu model and a whole bunch of far-less exciting but thoroughly utilitarian cars, getting young families to work and school for generations.

Toyota put up a nice website in Japan (also available in English) to commemorate the 11 generations of Corolla. Part of the website includes memories shared by the chief engineers of all 11 generations of the car. Shiro Sasaki was chief engineer for the second- and third-generation Corolla but was assistant engineer on the first-gen car, which was positioned between the bare-bones Publica and the more upscale Corona.

“In 1961, Toyota unveiled the Publica, which was designed according to the ‘national car’ concept that was advanced by what was then known as the Ministry of International Trade and Industry,” Sasaki said. “It was a great car in terms of its technology, but the car was not attractive enough for the public to purchase it as their first durable good.”

The 700cc Publica just didn’t have the pizzazz, Sasaki recalled, though not in those words, so Toyota went beyond the limited demands of a National Car and aimed higher.

“Then, to make our customers (more) satisfied, we decided to try and make a car that was a little flashier. This time, we attempted to make a car for all, instead of a ‘national car.’ Tatsuo Hasegawa, the chief engineer for the first-generation Corolla, came up with the Japanese economy-car concept.”

The team had been working on a 1,000cc engine in what would become the Corolla but, with six months to go before launch, the order was changed to 1,100cc.

“Naturally, that made our job difficult because we had to redesign everything. It wasn’t like at present, where you have several design support tools such as CAD, CAM, CAE and simulation technologies,” Sasaki said. “We did all the drawings by hand, and the parts we had made were also brand new. But we managed to create the prototype of the redesigned parts within 75 days from the time when the decision was made to change the engine displacement.”

And they made it.

“Somehow, we had managed to finish our work by the launch date. This accomplishment had instilled confidence in us. But the thing that was most gratifying was the good reception for the 1,100cc engine, which we worked so hard to install. At that time, 1,000cc would give you a maximum speed of around 140 km/h, while 1,100cc would give you about 150 km/h. In those days, they posted the top speed in catalogs, and we wanted to post ‘Top Speed: 150 km/h,’ but instead, we had decided to list it as ‘140 km/h.’ As a result, after we started the sales, many customers told dealers that ‘This car’s got some extra oomph to it!’”

Sasaki’s advice to current engineers?

“I want the engineers who are working so hard to develop the present-day Corolla to focus on making a car that they want to ride in themselves. That’s what I would say. The question of whether customers will favor the Corolla as they’ve done over the past 50 years depends entirely upon whether the vehicle can keep on evolving with the times. As Corolla fans, we are looking forward to seeing what happens next.”