Monday, August 6, 2012

My First Car

Was a real piece of shit.  It was a faded red 1989 Toyota Tercel equipped with a 1.5L SOHC 12 valver pumping out a rampant 78HP - through a three speed slushbox.  I bought it from my mom in 1998 for $400.

The pink hatchback and I immediately embarked headlong into a dysfunctional and abusive, love/hate romance.  I would spend hours a week detailing and waxing rusted, dented panels and vacuuming interior panel fit crevices to perfection, waste money on frequent Mobil 1 oil changes and 93 octane gas - then turn around and beat the living tar out of it every second I was behind the wheel, which as it turns out, was quite a bit.

I racked up nearly 75,000 miles in a little less than three years, adding to the already hefty tally that was on the odo when I was first handed the keys.  For what was the equivalent distance of three times around the earth the car was off-roaded, drifted for hours on end in snowy parking lots, neutral dropped from 8,000+ RPM (no rev limiter!), driven in low-speed destruction derbies with idiot friends, three-wheeled around corners and just generally hooned to hell in every way imaginable.  I remember once I hit an indicated 85 MPH - while stationary on ice.  Had the front wheels suddenly gained traction, the resulting shrapnel field from an exploding transaxle would surely have covered all of greater Chicagoland and perhaps reached northwesterly parts of Indiana.

far too nice to be mine - sadly I don't have any pictures of it

It was slow, ugly, dangerous, utterly bereft of character and had absolutely evil handling characteristics - 13" tires and a beam axle rear in conjunction with suspension "tuning" geared towards low cost of manufacture, not to mention years of neglect and an enthusiastic but completely inexperienced driver, saw fit to that.  On one occasion it nearly tossed me off an on ramp into oncoming traffic. There exist alternate planes of reality wherein I certainly died in that car.

At 20 I upgraded to a '91 2WD Geo Tracker softtop with a five speed and bald Mickey Thompson sand tires - driving that thing in winter, with its approximately six inch wheelbase and aforementioned improvised drag slicks, is what taught me all about car control.  Imagine pushing a rectangular ice cube up a greasy, hot metal cookie sheet set at a 45° angle with the sharp end of a pencil - now imagine trying to keep that ice cube headed straight.

But I digress.

The Tercel was handed down to my freshly licensed little brother.  At this point it had 250,000+ miles, collapsed front strut towers, a bad habit of dieseling for a while after being shut off, a windshield nearly opaque with spiderweb cracks, four bald bicycle tires and a rust hole in the passenger footwell that shot water and mud all over the interior - it also let in a lot of fumes.  It still started every single time and never, ever broke down.  After six months or so, my mom's exponentially growing terror inspired her to buy Nick a clean, well cared for '87 Sentra.  We both cried when they towed the Tercel away to the wrecking yard.


  1. Great story! A guy I knew in high school had the Tercel EZ new. And even then, it was not much to write home about.

    1. Thanks!

      I have a lot of fond memories of good times in that car. Writing this early after work today has put me in a really weird nostalgic mood.

      Mine wasn't the EZ, it had flush headlamps, cassette, AC and luxury of luxuries - a passenger side sideview mirror.

      I once got it up to 100 MPH, which was scary because traffic wasn't light and it took a good two minutes to accelerate the last 10 MPH.

  2. “We both cried when they towed the Tercel away to the wrecking yard.” – I perfectly understand you and your brother. It’s kinda hard to let go of things that we have come to cherish a lot, like our first autos. But if the vehicle is already breaking down on you, it is time to let it go. I’m sure you and your little bro can find a vehicle that will mean much to both of you, like the first one.