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.
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.)
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.
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.
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