Eulogy to a Little Red Tercel

All the smouldering parts on the ground were of the finest Japanese manufacture, I can assure you.

Written by Leo N.

We're gathered here today to remember my trusty, cherry-red, 1984 Toyota Tercel Hatchback, which died on the fine morning of December the 30th, 2004. It died a not so valiant death, in a loud boom, followed by a big, black cloud of smoke and assorted parts. All the smouldering parts on the ground were of the finest Japanese manufacture, I can assure you.

Nothing could be done to save her, nor does Toyota even make the parts for it that broke, being first-generation for that particular "edition." They were quite amazed this version, with the carburetor and all, was still on the road, apparently.

Ironically, it had passed her emission tests with flying colours, just the week before.

The car with no power steering or power braking. To open a window you had to turn this huge handle that felt super heavy. When you shifted gears, the unforgiving clutch wanted you to press it all the way to the bottom. Each time you moved the stick, it felt like it was being moved about four miles, between each gear. There wasn't a single item in this car that was a luxury. Spartan in everything that could be trimmed down of any type of glorification.

After nearly twenty years of service, its built-in AM radio, the 1.5 litre engine, only one sideview mirror, the seats in the back designed for people with no legs, the heat with only two settings ("hot" and "very hot") and its overall ability to pull out of everything it fell into, including the lack of a fifth-gear, it will be missed. Except, maybe, on cold winter mornings, when it took better part of the week to warm up and stop sputtering.

I removed the licence plates. Then I went inside the cabin and removed anything else that had become a part of this car. The tools. The start-up cables. The variety of fluids in bottles I kept handy when something went wrong on the road. The bar of soap to patch eventual holes in the fuel tank. Assorted parts for emergency repairs. A roll of duct-tape and the can of WD-40, the first aid for any problem. Extra fuses. Spare light-bulbs. Battery-charger. The Jerry can. A broom-stick with no broom to hold the rear hatch open, as the pistons that used to hold it up automatically had died long, long ago. The cups of Tim Horton's coffee that for some reason had never been tossed out.

This car had such a simple engine to it, that whenever it broke down in the middle of nowhere--and this car knew it was in the middle of nowhere, as it never sputtered to a halt anywhere near civilisation--I could do some makeshift repair and get started again. Even when the battery was acting funny, it was just a matter of rolling it down a hill, shift into first gear and it roared into life.

I took the screwdriver and removed two of the light bulbs from the brake lights. These were the super-cool L.E.D.s light-bulbs. While it didn't make the car go faster, they never burnt out, assuring me that at least two out of the four brake-lights would always function. The Toyota went through light-bulbs faster than a girlfriend will go through toilet-paper.

I opened the glove compartment and took out all the maps and at the very bottom of it I found the original owner's manual. I can't believe that was still in there. So I took that too, mostly for memories. I took one last glance and left her to the great parking lot in the sky. The mechanic will take care of disposing her.

Driving back with the Ford Excreta, which is diligently living up to its reputation of being a Ford (the mechanism that locks the driver side door broke, so the door only locks partially and at every turn you hear this annoying rattle-like sound) I felt terribly sad. I know it's a car. It can't feel pain. Tears should not be shed over a vehicle. It could care less to be scrapped. But it made me incredibly sad anyway. I even had named her. Tiny, because she was so fucking small.

The old Nissan that died recently this year was named Caroline. The Ford Contour I drive now was called Chaldi-Car, a joke using a Hindi word (chaldi-car means, "let's go, fast!" in a rude manner, to boot) but Excreta has replaced it considering the number of problems it has been giving me. Don't buy Ford.

There are memories that are attached to the Tercel. One time, while still in college, we were told to meet the professor at a certain location to visit some boring display of art made with video. Somehow four people piled in the Tercel, and four more in the car of one of our class-mate and we went racing down Highway 401, trying to pass each other. Both our cars strained to reach more than a 100 kilometres per hour under such a heavy human load. More than a race, we were actually holding traffic back.

I had my driving exam in this car. Being a stick-shift, the thing sounded like it was going a zillion miles an hour, rather than a meagre 20 clicks. The examiner scolded me for going so fast.

It took me to and back from work, in any kind of weather. One particular snow-storm was so bad, I could barely see more than a dozen feet in front of me. But relentlessly, she went.

It kept me warm one night when the heat in one of the places I worked at had broken. I sat in the car, turned her on and set the heat to "very hot." It was in the middle of one of the coldest winters ever, and I was working nights at a crappy job I had hoped was temporary.

It survived a treck up North when a group of us went camping. By the time I returned, she had gone from red to brown, so completely covered in mud she was.

I made out with three women in that car. Not all at the same time, mind you. The car is tiny enough for one person, I'm actually kind of puzzled as to how the heck we managed, considering there is barely any room to yawn, with that stick shift that kept jamming itself in my ribs. Some of the stains on the seats are probably from back then. I ended up dating one of those girls for seven years, and this car valiantly took us around on our dates.

One time it took Colin in record time to the airport, zipping in and out of traffic, in under twenty-minutes, for a trip that usually takes about thirty-five minutes. Without traffic. It was either that, or losing his flight. As we stopped in front of Pearson International's Terminal One, Colin stepped out and before leaving, stated: "I am no longer afraid of flying."

When I got dumped by my girlfriend, so lost I was in my thoughts, I had an accident in this car. Some guy was crossing with a red light. I swerved and slammed the brakes on the snow. The passenger door became a permanent part of a cement square holding a tree on the side of the road. Better the door than crushing the pedestrians that was jay-walking. It was replaced with a dark blue one, making the car look quite odd. The door was eventually spray-panted red, which turned out more of an orange. I felt like putting a 01 on it and calling the Tercel the "General Lee."

Colin, Jeff and I used to go for our midnight run to Golden Embassy, the only Chinese restaurant that was more Chinese than Chinese. Three big guys in a car designed for half of one of us. The restaurant is now closed, for reasons that still remain a mystery.

The last valorous trip performed by the Tercel, was on the day my girlfriend (at least, the one at the time of writing this) was leaving Canada. We rushed to various buildings of her university, dropping off papers and books, then we scuttled for some last minute pick-ups and took off for the airport. She didn't lose a beat.

I shouldn't really be surprised, I suppose, that the Tercel died. After twenty-years of running around, with enough kilometres registered on the odometer to show it had gone around the world some four times, with some mileage to spare, maybe it was time. At the same time it felt as this was the final piece that had to go, in order for a particular chapter of my life to end.

There will be new memories that will be built upon the Ford Excreta. Most of which, I'm sure, will involve me screaming obscenities while we drive, yet again, to the mechanic.

Toyota Tercel Hatchback
December 1984 - December 2004