Autobiography: 1972 Toyota Corona Coupe – Fortieth High School Reunion

(first posted 8/22/2013)     High school: some say it was the best years of their life. Maybe for the prom queen. Intense and confusing, but the memories certainly are indelible. Finding this 1972 Corona Coupe parked in front of a local high school (Churchill) unleashed a barge-load of them. As did the old yearbooks my sister recently sent me, after clearing out our parent’s house.  So you’re going to have to indulge me a bit (what else is new?), but this CC is going to be a tad heavy on personal high school history, and a wee bit light on the Corona’s. But it’s not every day you run into an old flame from forty years ago, sitting in front of a high school, no less. And Facebook had nothing to do with it.

Oddly enough, old Corona coupes figure into both of my high schools in significant ways.

I attended Loyola Blakefield for my freshman and sophomore years (1967 – 1969). It was a typical Jesuit boys prep school, and a venerable institution in Baltimore. We were told to expect four hours of homework per night. I took that as a personal challenge, to see how long I would last without ever doing any. Literally.

Two years; last I heard, no one had broken my record. A true personal best.

Which makes this picture of me as a yearbook centerfold extra ironic. I’m thinking real hard…whose homework assignment can I beg, buy, steal or borrow before the next Latin period? Or maybe this is how they paid tribute to my forced departure shortly thereafter? Good riddance!

Loyola in 1967-1969 reflected the dichotomy of times: the Prefect of Discipline, Brother “BoBo” Schmidt, was a pugnacious former Golden Gloves boxer who inspired absolute terror. Here he is assigning tasks for detention, which assembled after school in a science classroom. The tasks might be doing work on the grounds, or if nothing needed doing, just walking around the circle for an hour while carrying a concrete block in each hand. Seriously.

There were characters like this Math teacher sat on his desk and smoked his pipe. Several of the teachers would light up in class, my one-armed afternoon English teacher being the most reliable. The wafting smoke of his cigarette always triggered a minor nicotine fit in me. Why couldn’t we all light up? Actually, the seniors could smoke in “Senior’s Garden”.

The new Corona was owned by the bearded art teacher, Mr. Iampieri? Who else drove a Corona in Baltimore in 1967?

Needless to say, he was my favorite teacher, as was his subject. It’s not like they offered auto shop there. Or better yet, Auto Design. Now that I would have done homework for! He excitedly came in one day and played “I Am The Walrus” to the class and had us ponder what it meant for the whole period.

That didn’t amount to much; good luck trying to get a bunch of preppy 10th graders to analyze and deconstruct “I Am The Walrus”. But Mr. Iampieri fought the good fight at Loyola trying to expand preppy boys’ minds from 1966 to 2007, like my 10th grade home room class pictured here . His gentle persuasions resonated with me, but then I had “turned on and tuned in” earlier that year, although one would hardly know from external appearances. The “drop out” part would take another two years.

Anyway, a couple of us rode in his Corona to an art exhibit downtown; my first ride ever in a Toyota; memorable indeed. 1968 reeked of portentous future possibilities and change, and the Toyota fit right into that.

Now the student parking lot of Loyola had some nice heavy metal, including a spanking-new red GTO, although it turns out it only had the 265 hp two-barrel delete-option engine. I was hoping there might be some shots of it, but the only one in the whole book with a car was this one, an already-tired looking Mustang.

Us freshmen would hitch a ride into Towson at the parking lot, and that meant goading the driver to make a full-throttle run up Chestnut Avenue, right past Pickersgill, the retirement community my mother now resides in. The fastest we ever hit was ninety, before backing off to stop at Joppa Street. That was in a strong-running 327 four-barrel, four speed ’67 Camaro.

No wonder there’s several speed bumps on Chestnut now.

In the fall of 1969 I found myself at Towson Senior High (TSH), a proverbial factory of education. This is the only picture that captures a tiny slice of the vast parking lot. There’s a Lancer, as well as my favorite bus, a PD-4104. And before we get to the second Corona coupe, I just have to show you some of these stereotypical snippets from the TSH 1970 yearbook.

Miss Ziegler, my endless nemesis. Is she straight from Central Casting? I probably set some records in unexcused absences too. And in forged notes from my father.

If I told you the school nurse’s name was Mrs. Payne, you wouldn’t believe it, so I submit this as proof. I spent a couple of very difficult hours on one of her cots trying to metabolize something that I shouldn’t have swallowed during school hours. I can still see the swirling ceiling tiles of the Health Suite. If only she knew how close I was to…

TSH was very different from Loyola, in so many ways. This was just one of them. Not that a cheerleader would have had anything to do with me, other than possibly find herself in my imaginations, without her consent. Not that I was that unattractive, but they stuck to their tribe (the jocks), and we to ours.

I was a one of this hairy and bra-less tribe (can you find me?). The Student Union wasn’t the Student Council, but an activist group. I show it not to relive the politics of the time, but because the driver of the 1971 Corona coupe is in it too. But maybe I won’t tell you which one she is. Let’s just say my politics have taken a bit of a roller coaster ride over the decades. It’s better to actually try things on before adopting or discarding them, in parts or wholesale. And that goes for both ends of the spectrum. And that goes for girls too.

Anyway, she was a very smart Jewish girl, and her lawyer daddy bought her a spanking new 1971 Corona Coupe in the winter of 1970. Tell the truth, I was more attracted to her car than her. She reminded me a bit to much of Yoko Ono. And I was Paul, not John. And I think it took me too long to figure out what exactly she saw in me. It wasn’t meant to amount to much, but we had some fun until we figured that out. That’s what High School’s for, right? An endless Chemistry or Biology Lab. Too bad this experiment fizzled out; I sure loved that Corona coupe. Wrong girl, right car.

Anyway, fitting in was always a bit of a problem. I may have hung out with the Student Union crowd at lunch, but none of them worked at a Ford dealer after school and read Hot Rod as happily as the new underground paper in town. I was an oddball, like the grille of this Corona. Nobody did grilles better than the Japanese during their long dark night of the designer’s soul, trying to create a new design language out of the dumpsters of Detroit’s studios. It came, eventually. And it was fun watching them get there. Kind of like the sixties in general. Wow; cool! I if you say so.

Almost as much fun as driving the Corona. Not that the Corona could match my buddy’s Datsun 510, but fun nonetheless. It probably would have taken his 510 in the straights, given that the Corona had the new 2.0 liter SOHC four that was rated at 97 hp, exactly one more than his Datsun. And true to the  Toyota DNA, the 18R-C had a healthy torque curve, quite a bit fatter than the rev-happier 1.6 liter Datsun.

The Datsun was a better handler, and had better steering too. But the Toyota’s stick was every bit as good as the 510’s, and even though it was hardly brilliant, for the times, the Corona was amusing. But then, it didn’t take much to be amused in high school. Or we found ways to make anything amusing.

This girl was devious too. She rigged a seance in the basement of her house, with fairly elaborate sound effects from an accomplice behind a curtain, with a very dramatic finale. I was one of her dupes, natch. Of course, we were all stoned out of our gourds, and it scared the shit out of us. But I knew right there and then that we were not meant to be. She’s probably a psychotherapist now.

Enough of my high school years. Let’s just say I didn’t attend what would have been my fortieth reunion this year, given that I never graduated. I dropped out in February of 1971, packed a back pack, and hitchhiked towards the the West. Although if I could have arrived in this Corona, it would have been very tempting indeed.

Somehow, I suspect running into this Corona and unleashing the memories is probably better than the real thing might have been. Thank you, owner of this car; you saved me a lot of time, money and possible disappointment. Or am I still smarting from that seance? Anyway, my hat’s off to whoever is driving this thing. Can you imagine a forty year-old car in your high school parking lot?

[Update: here’s this car (and a second one) in more detail. ]



So how were your high school years?