CC Outtakes: Keepers Of The Flame

I’m taking my bi-annual restorative trip to the great southwest this month. It’s a great place to take stock, clear your head and…spot cars. West of the 100th meridian, the air is drier, and cars last longer in running condition if the owner doesn’t get bored with them. All too frequently the driver/owner of an entry level car invents an excuse to junk them at the first sign of trouble. I always spot a few models out here that are simply non existent on the roads back in my part of the south.

That’s why my heart skipped a beat this week in the dusty northern New Mexico town of Belen. Thats where I spotted not one, but a pair of rust free Toyotas from my misspent youth being lovingly preserved and restored by their twenty-something owners. These guys hadn’t even been born when these cars came down the assembly line halfway across the globe, but they knew just what these rust free time capsules need to make sure they stay on the road for another 20 years or more.

This ’81 Tercel has the typical bulletproof Toyota history- It shows 311,000 miles on the clock and runs like a sewing machine. The polite and courteous young owner told me that he and his father redid the 1.5 L  engine about 85,000 miles ago and swapped the factory issue 4 speed for a 5 cog from another Toyo. He’s also searching for some 14 inch wheels and tires that will fit in the confined wheel wells to squeeze a few more miles from each gallon of regular.

Toyota borrowed the Corolla name for its Tercel to take advantage of the former models’ already sterling reputation for economy and reliability. It’s hard to think of a Corolla as a “halo” car today, but the world was in a different place in 1981.The Tercel was the first front driver for Big T, and as such, buyers needed all of the reassurance they could get.

Toyota picked a great engine to introduce drivers to FWD-The 1492 CC straight 4. It has been used in one form or another in literally millions of Toyo products worldwide. Its lineal successors are still being built in China to this day. The first two generation Tercels had the motor in a somewhat unusual north-south arrangement, for a fwd car. The third gen Tercel would remedy that and put the motor in its “proper” transverse configuration.

Not to be outdone, the Tercel owners friend gave me the low down scoop on this cherry ’78 Celica. With just over 85,000 miles showing, this car has many years of life left in its 2.2 L 20R engine.The 3 speed automatic still shifts just like it was designed to when Jimmy Carter was in the White House and the paint makes the car look like it fell through a crack in time outside a multiplex showing Grease.

It’s always fun to spot the unusual, the well preserved, but its’ even better to see the next generation understanding the significance of these rigs. We spent a good part of the (hot) afternoon talking, swapping tales and feeling the love for these well preserved machines that are disappearing at an alarming rate. It was fun to drive away and realize that these pieces of our auto heritage are in good hands.