Owning a classic motor car is a pipe dream of every serious motoring enthusiast. It's the stuff of dreams, an opportunity to connect to the ages past and touch a piece of living history. It's beautiful, romantic and classy – but also hugely impractical and very educational in just how far we have come when it comes to cars.
Allow me to illustrate. During one uninspiring afternoon at work I was browsing through the automotive pages of an eucalyptus related classified web site when I stumbled onto a beautiful Kermit the Frog green 1976 Toyota Celica.
Now, I will acknowledge that 1970 Japanese cars are not what everybody would consider a “classic”, but they represent an exciting time in automotive history when Japanese began to move away from utilitarian vehicles and began attempting to produce something a little more interesting. This era brought us vehicles like Toyota S2000 and Nissan 240Z. I figured this little rear-wheel drive, 2.0lt Celica, with styling that takes very strong styling cues from 1960s Chevy Camaro, would be my budget priced entry ticket to classic vehicle ownership.
Placing a phone call to the owner revealed that the owner as a mature lady that has had the car for a few decades. It was a gift from her late husband and recently vehicle was been relegated to sitting in the garage, its duties taken over by a more modern sibling.
Having agreed on the price, I drove over to pick up the vehicle a few days later. Tears were shed as the former owner said her goodbyes and passed on the keys. Paperwork signed and money exchanged, I jumped into the driver's seat and discoveries began.
Performance: non-existent. Accelerating in the vehicle is very much akin to flogging a (near) dead horse. While you eventually would reach 60km/h, the time it took to do so allowed you sufficient time to prepare a research paper on the history of Japanese automotive industry. Suspicion that this was due to the age of the engine was quickly dispelled with some research. 18R-C engine was originally conceived as a truck engine - we are talking original Hilux here – and is as far from a performance as can be.
Steering: I have taken a small rental boat around the Noosa River and it had better steering response. Communication between the road surface and the steering wheel are as timely and reliable as a signal from Mars lander. When attempting a change of direction, hippopotamus on ice skates comes to mind, surprising for such a small vehicle. Driving enjoyment this is not.
There were some plusses, admittedly. I got a few waves from passing drivers which I took as a sign of their approval, rather their amusement at the quality of my vehicle. Radio kind of worked and there was an aircon fitted to the vehicle. Admittedly, it didn't function – but at least it was there, no small fit for the vehicle from the seventies. Most importantly, when standing still, in fading rays of the evening sun, I could see the beauty of the car again and forget about its faults.
I parked the car in the garage, having firmly decided that I would dedicate time and energy to restoring the vehicle.
Years have passed. Little green beauty is still sitting there, untouched and un-driven. It took some soul searching to admit that no amount of restoration work would make this original Celica drive and steer anywhere near the a modern Corolla, let alone something like an 86. I still love the way it looks and the history it represents but like most museum art, the “Do Not Touch” sign is there for a good reason. I think I've learned my lesson.
Or maybe something from the factories of Dr. Ferdinand Porsche would be different?