A final farewell to an old and faithful friend

In years gone by I’ve written books about cars – which have really been about what they mean to us as people. Today I’m revealing the tale of one special to me.

My trusty Toyota - which accompanied me on writing ventures for 18 years.
Photo I took last weekend of my Toyota, which accompanied me on writing ventures for 18 years.

The adventure began in August 1995 when my wife (reasonably) objected to riding in the swampy passenger seat of my leaking Mk V Ford Cortina.

I was flush with cash from a book. Enter a 1990 Series 170 Toyota Corona, 5-speed manual, with second-generation 2 litre 3S-FE 16-valve DOHC motor. Assembled in New Zealand at Toyota’s Thames plant from a knock-down kit. British Red. Paid for with my writing earnings. I was very proud of that. I owned it clean – no debt, on the proceeds of my written words. Cool.

That is partly why I kept it. The other reason was that it drove well, once you got the knack. I knew its mechanical history. And Toyotas don’t give up. So while my Corona was semi-retired as it aged, I never got rid of it. Or Boris, the spider who made her home in the right-hand exterior drivers’ mirror. (Who’s that spider again? Who? ‘Boris the Spider’, that’s who.)

When Wellington had a one-in-50-year unseasonal snowfall in 2011, the Corona was out there. It had to be. No garage space.
When Wellington had a one-in-50-year unseasonal snowfall in 2011, the Corona was out there. It had to be. No garage space.

I used my Corona mostly for writing adventures. Like the time I explored the battle sites near New Plymouth for my book Two Peoples, One Land, about the New Zealand Wars.  Non-military historians in New Zealand insist that Maori first invented trench warfare, which the British stole for the First World War. A fantasy that demonstrates how thoroughly academics can intellectualise themselves into nonsense. My wife discovered the historical reality by practical lesson; the trench she fell into while following me across one 1861 battle site was British.

My Corona in central Wellington, 2011. I snapped it while on a foray to photograph trains for a book (not gratuitously, officer, I swear I'm not a trainspotter!).
Twenty one and still shiny. My Corona in central Wellington, 2011.

I’m looking to revise and re-publish that book. Last weekend, I went to Taranaki with She Who Must Be Obeyed to check out some details, including renewing my photos of the old battle-sites. And as I drove back into Whanganui, the engine broke. No warning. Just – brrrrrraaaaaat – clank – clank – clank.

I stopped, quick-smart, wondering about the cam belt. Whipped the bonnet up and found nothing adrift, which meant the news was bad.

The Automobile Association towed us into the duty garage.

Weird. Toyota motors are bulletproof. The 3S-FE has a repute for running up to half a million kilometres without overhaul. I was a third of the way there. I’d been careful, replacing the cam belt at 100,000 km and changing the oil regularly.  I’d done the oil in January, in fact, just 1600 km back – and even the oil I drained was clean. Yet something broke. Probably a con rod – and if the 3S-FE is going to spin a big end bearing and snap a rod, it’ll apparently be No.3, which was where the clank was. But it is so rare.

Memorial card at the wake for my Corona. Photo: Mentis Fugit.
A friend made this surprise card for the wake from a picture of a Spanish Corona. Photo: Mentis Fugit.

Repair didn’t add up. Not for a 23 year old car. It wasn’t even worth the towage fees back to Wellington.

My Corona wasn’t coming home. My wife and I hired a new Toyota to finish our journey, leaving my Corona – and Boris – for the wrecker.

It was a sudden end to 18 years and about 91,000 km of trouble-free motoring. Still, I couldn’t complain. My Corona had done absolutely everything I’d asked of it – right up to the end.

We sentimentalise about material possessions to our peril. Still, I had many memories of the life I’d led while I owned it. There was a wake at my favourite bar.

My Corona. Gone, but not forgotten.

And now – onwards. I know what I should buy. It’s a no-brainer. My next car will be made by Mr Toyoda Akio …but my friends have pointed out an un-roadworthy Daimler Ferret on sale. And I still own my vintage motorbike. NOT a Vincent Black Shadow, alas – I’m referring to my cheap student transport, which hasn’t run since 1986 – ’nuff said.


Copyright © Matthew Wright 2013


15 thoughts on “A final farewell to an old and faithful friend

  1. “Oh, what a feelin’ Toyota” (to quote their old motto)

    We have an 86′ Camry 157,000, always turns the salesmans heads when we go in for maintenance (they always ask us how much we want for her — bloody likely) that and she barely survived an idiot who took her on with their own car in the early 90’s. Just last month we had to put her up in the garage until we can afford repairs that finally took her off the road for a bit, transmission and breaks both have leaks somewhere adn the breaks light has come on on the dash.

    It feels disrespectful to have her bundled up in the garage next to my 2011 tacoma. I can just see him commiserating with her in the dark, “It’s all right, they still love you. You’ll be back on the road in no time”.

    I know the feeling, these cars are part of the family, they last closer to forever than a lot of other things made these days.

    Peace to your Corona. (I love your memorial picture and frame)

    I wouldn’t go to anything other than Toyota, myself. Yes, they have been having recalls, but nothing is made with as much care nor as reliable — and I believe lessons are learned from their mistakes (or young, brainless executives trying to cut corners to show off their lack of education) The company itself doesn’t want to loose their image or place at the top.

    1. Thank you! I sold it as a wreck to a mechanic who thinks he can get it going – feasible if you could buy a replacement engine wholesale and give away the time to re-fit it on a hobby basis. (Apart from that, the tow fees killed it for me.) That’s why I blanked the registration plates in the photos – it may still be around and I respect the privacy of the new owner..The Corona might live! But not for me.

      The guy who made the memorial photo, himself, owns a ’94 Camry sedan – still runs well. My wife has a mid-1990s Corolla – kept because they don’t cost a cent to run other than the oil, petrol and (eventually) brake calipers, and they never give up. There is absolutely no question about the incredible build quality of Toyota’s cars. The engine in mine broke, but that was exceptional and I’m certainly not going to change brands..

  2. I don’t think we had the Corona in SA, but we did have the Corolla, which had a very similar design, and the Cressida before that. Both of them were excellent little cars.

    I’m partial to Honda myself. My aunt has a Honda Ballade that my grandfather bought back in the eighties. That car has never had a single problem. And I just love the way a Honda drives. They’re way beyond my budget, though.

    1. I believe they’re all the same brilliantly well engineered heritage. My brother had a 1988 Cressida which he (finally) had to relinquish, but its subsequent owner still uses it. I’ve heard that Honda are very similarly engineered, but here in NZ at least the costs are higher & that gives Toyota the edge.

    1. Yah, totally! I think this one has the Princess motor. It’s on Trade Me, a runner down in Canterbury – demilitarised ex-Brit army and never able to be made road-legal, for a cool $30k. I’d be a starter but I fear my wife might have something to say if I did… 🙂

  3. My first car was an already-somewhat-aged VW Beetle. I drove it for twelve years until, like your Toyota, one day there was a CLANK from inside the engine. During the morning rush hour. In Atlanta, Georgia. I cried a little, actually, giving it up to the wrecker, but by then I’d gone from college student to responsible (!) married man. So the VW had to go in favor of something more sensible. Now, one marriage and several vehicles later, I’m driving an equally beloved and much more elderly (15 years) Chevy S-10. It’s been in two wrecks (minor) and still gets 28 mpg on the highway. It IS odd how we become attached to certain material things.

    1. My father had a Beetle when I was a kid, a 1952 ‘single piper’. Nothing quite like the sound of that air-cooled four with the flat spot on acceleration to betray its origins as an aero engine. In hindsight, classic deco look.

      You’re right, it’s curious how we are attached to ‘stuff’. And yet, it’s also comforting to have the familiar – and that, I think, was the draw of my Corona. Plus the fact that I owned it outright, that I knew all its foibles, and, I think, the memories of all the places I’d been in it – a fair chunk of New Zealand, one way and another, over the years

  4. So sorry for your loss. I understand the bond between a car and its owner. My Toyota Prius is only 5 years old but has about 125,000 and we are one. It has been with me on a cross country trip from Los Angeles, CA to Orlando, FL. A faithful and great companion.
    Consider a Toyota hybrid for the next one. 🙂

    1. Thank you – and appreciated! Yes, it was a bit of a blow. I knew I’d have to get a new car eventually and had 2014 in mind. I knew the car intimately – knew exactly what it could do, where its corners were, what its mechanical history was. A familiar old friend. Now starting off from scratch with a strange car – when I locate the right one. On the plus side, though, there is all the excitement of getting a new car, which I’ll have to do soon(ish).

  5. Oh that’s too bad. Cars can be like members of the family, taking us to many important times in our lives. It’s hard to say goodbye to a faithful friend. At least you got some great years from the car. That’s something to be thankful for.

    1. It was a graceful end in a way – certainly better than if it’d been written off in an accident. That happened to my first car, a 2-door Mitsubishi Galant ‘pony car’ which looked a lot like a 3/4 scale 1969 Dodge Charger (minus Daisy Duke). A bus cut a blind corner just as I entered from the other side, took the side out it and rammed me into a bank…and the bus driver then tried to beat me up. A particularly graceless end to the vehicle.

  6. Boris will miss you.I t is amazing how attached we can become to our transportation. I had a Suzuki Sidekick that was my baby until a fateful night in December 1999 when she was turned into a pinball between a Toyota Land Cruiser and a Chevy Astro Van. I never got to say goodbye, (13 weeks in recovery) According to my spouse, who was not in the car with me, ‘She went quick’.

    1. Ouch! A 13-week recovery sounds painful & not too good, but I guess in other ways it could have been much worse.

      It’s a funny thing, checking out car safety stats – the vehicles of the ’90’s, all hailed at the day for their safety features, all run at a one-star level by modern standards, and most modern ones are 4 or 5-star, at least in New Zealand tests.

      1. A plateau fracture of the tibia a week before Y2K is God’s way of saying it’s time to get off your feet for a while. 🙂 However, Daytime TV is cruel and unusual punishment!!! Too bad I wasn’t writing seriously at the time.

Comments are closed.