When friends first saw my 1999 Toyota Spacia they were quick to label it a “Soccer Mum Van”. And I will concede that with very few concessions to refined styling and a seating capacity of eight, it does lend itself to, well soccer Mum’s. Then one wet surf trip at 3:00am, gusty winds and driving rain wake me, I stir just long enough to spare a though for above mentioned friends in tents then a moment to be thankful for being dry and warm in the back of my little van, with a satisfied grin I pull up the doona on my double bed thinking, I much preferred the term Multipurpose Van!
I’m one of those outdoorsy types into surfing, camping, cycling etc. So I needed a van to do long distance overnight trips and daily commutes in comfort. Sure some cool 60’s Kombi Van “Surf Cred” would have been nice, but comfort was key. Of the vans in its price bracket, between $4000 and $6000 the Spacia had an impressive list of standard features that include, front air bags, Air Conditioning, Power Steering, Central locking, Power Windows and Mirrors. To this I’ve added tinted windows, roof racks and best of all cruise control to combat the inevitable speed creep on those long drives, and because I am a little bit lazy. I’ve also added a Bluetooth compatible media player, this means I can do my thing hands free because, as mentioned, I’m a little bit lazy.
Powering me to far flung destinations is Toyotas 3SFE engine. It produces a whopping 94kw @5600rpm and storms up to 100ks in roughly 14 seconds, fair to say the land speed record is safe here. The 2lt 16 valve EFI engine with 5 speed manual transitions for mine actually doses the job quite well. It will happily tow my 6’x4′ trailer with motorbike along roads with the usual undulations. Sure I might have to drop back to fourth on the really big hills but I am happy to concede abundant available power, for reasonable fuel economy, achieving 8.5lt to 100ks.
Setting it apart from other commercial vans is its forward mounted engine, this improve its ride and offers the extra safety of crumple zones. Another bonus is coil springs under the rear, this combined equals something close to a sedan like feel on the road. The heights of the van does mean it suffers from body roll, so sedan like- yes, sports car – definitely not. The van has an eight seat capacity that moves to several configurations, which is great! But getting the seats to move to those configurations is a frustration tantamount to chewing gum in hair! Another problem is the absence of a second rear sliding door, this means access behind the driver’s seat is an act of contortion.
The SR40 Spacia is based on its commercial counterpart the Town Ace KR42. Many parts are interchangeable, so there is a good lists of genuine parts and more affordable non-genuine parts available on line and in store. Any budding home mechanic with a desire to spin a spanner will love this car and let’s face it any car that’s 15 years old with 330,000 plus KMH’s on the clock will need a spanner spinner. The engine is easy to access for fan belts, plugs and hoses and its coil pack ignition means there is no fiddly distributer to ‘fiddle’ with. This does however raise a problem worth noting, the coil pack engine had a limited run in the Spacia and Rav4’s of that era, so a good low KMH change over engine can be very hard to find. I was lucky enough to find just such an engine so I purchased a new clutch, new belts and hoses all round. Having them fitted at change over saved a lot of future maintenance costs and eliminated many potential causes of break down. All up it cost me a squeak under $2500, and whilst that’s a lot to spend on an old car it has vastly improved its already impressive reliability.
So my little Spacia sit’s somewhere, uncomfortably between 60s icon and domestic duties. And sure it’s an unconventional choice but like life, this van is what you make of it. I have found that it doesn’t necessarily do any one thing particular well, but it does a multitude of things, pretty well! And in so doing dear friends it very much deserves its title as a Multipurpose van.