Owner Review

1993 Toyota Corolla RV Seca review

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I suspect that, from the earliest of times, we’ve always viewed the past as being far better than it actually was. Speaking for myself, I’ve found the older I get, the faster, stronger and better behaved I was when I was young. In researching this, I came across this quote about 'modern youths':

“The children now love luxury; they have bad manners, contempt for authority; they show disrespect for elders and love chatter in place of exercise. Children are now tyrants, not the servants of their households. They no longer rise when elders enter the room. They contradict their parents, chatter before company, gobble up dainties at the table, cross their legs, and tyrannise their teachers.”

This is not me nor my parents. Rather, this wee rant is attributed to Socrates by Plato over 2000 years ago. Of course, if they’d had cars back in those days, there’d probably be a similar quote bemoaning the fact the wooden axle had been replaced by a metal one. All of which brings me to a 1993 Toyota Corolla Seca that recently came into my possession.

I’ve been writing owner reviews about cars of my 1980s youth. Namely, a Porsche 924 and, more controversially, a Ford Falcon XD where by genuine mistake I inserted a picture of an XE. These cars, plus others of that era, are recalled in my conversations quite fondly and I often pine 'they don’t make them like they used to'.

But, after a week with this Seca, I now add 'Thank goodness!'. First, and before all you pitchfork-wielding-flaming-torch-waving Toyota fans come bashing at my door, let me add that the Seca is not a bad car per se – particularly for its time when it garnered glowing reviews. The problem is that 25 years is a long time in automotive technology and the cars of today – even bargain-basement ones – have features that, if they existed at all, were only available on the most expensive automobiles back then.

The 1993 Toyota Seca is missing ABS, even as an option, it has no airbags, electronic brake force distribution, emergency brake assist, traction control, electronic stability control, automatic wipers, automatic lights, heated seats or automatic dimming mirror.

On the plus side, it doesn’t have a start-stop button and the engine doesn’t cut out at the traffic lights for fuel efficiency. Needless to say that it’s so unsafe, compared to today’s cars, that driving in heavy traffic makes me break out in beads of perspiration knowing that in any collision it’s likely the Seca and I will form part of the other car’s crumple zone. Of course, this means it’s exhilarating to drive!

The Toyota Corolla, like the Ford Falcon, is a name shared across numerous generations of cars and, even within the one generation, different body styles. This Corolla is from the sixth generation and sold in Australia between 1989 and 1994. In this generation there were a number of different engines ranging from a carburettor, such as the 1.4-litre 4A-F, to the highly desirable 1.6-litre 4A-GE, and this particular Seca has the fuel injected 1.8-litre 7A-FE producing 85kW of raw power.

Acceleration was probably good for the time, and in my trials 0–100km/h eventually happens. The RV is a five-door hatchback with reasonable room in the front at the expense of any rear seat passengers and boot. The steering wheel, bereft of any airbags, looks somewhat small and thin, and there is play. Nevertheless, cornering is more precise than I imagined – i.e. more car, less barge – and the car has all ’round disc brakes with a reasonable stopping distance. A fact I was very grateful for on my first drive.

This Seca has a five-speed manual with a clutch forgiving enough for someone who hasn’t driven stick for about 20 years. The ratios seem well spaced, and it reminded me of the time when most manual drivers could accelerate better than an automatic transmission. Indeed, acceleration times back then favoured the manual driver, whereas with the rise of the dual-clutch systems and bazillion-number-of-gears automatics, these days it seems the reverse. Between fears I would stall the car and the thorough enjoyment that comes from changing the gears myself, I found time to explore the interior. That time was brief.

That is because the interior is, compared to today’s automotive supercomputers, from an era when things were an awful lot simpler. Aside from the analogue gauge cluster and the usual switches for the rear demister and wiper, I found a cigarette lighter and the original Fujitsu radio-cassette. Yes… A cassette player. Now if only I hadn’t thrown away my cassettes!

Further, there are… What do they call those things you turn around to wind windows up and down? Well, whatever they’re called, there are four of them. Plus manual adjustment for both side mirrors. Finally, an outside aerial to complete the picture. Strangely, driving this car makes me feel as if I’m on the TV show Life on Mars since it tricks all my senses into thinking I’m back in the ’80s.

Now why do I own this relic? Here’s where the story becomes somewhat more sombre. Earlier this year, a very old family friend passed away and this was his Toyota Corolla Seca he bought new in 1993 for about $28,000. I bought it because I shall be assisting a friend who’s going to ride a recumbent tricycle from Perth to Canberra. You see, due to logistics and my needing to fly back in to Canberra because of prior engagements, I either needed to hire a car for a one-directional trip or buy one. When I costed hiring a car, the cheapest amount I could find was over four times the price of this car – which I’d been offered by the beneficiary.

Furthermore, this Seca’s been kept in excellent condition, despite some recent body damage, and I knew it would be able to make the journey from Canberra to Perth where I could auction it. Finally, there’s even a more poignant reason for me to have bought it for this journey.

Otto, the old family friend who passed away, also owned a 1980s LandCruiser and he, with Connie, would spend months exploring some of Australia’s most remote regions. While I would watch the Leyland Brothers on TV, Otto and Connie were living it. So there’s something fitting about driving this Toyota Corolla Seca RV on a 3700km journey from Canberra to Perth. It’s a minor testimony, if you will, and for me, a journey within a journey as I remember the lives of Otto and Connie while struggling to change those stupid gears in a Toyota Seca hurtling across the Nullarbor Plain.