Nightmare Garage: My Old 1994 Toyota Corolla
A 1994 Corolla, not mine, because who would want to document that?
I credit my fascination with cars entirely to my first car, a hand-me-down 1994 Toyota Corolla. As my first car, it also played host to a slew of other firsts: first manual transmission, first taste of freedom, and first accident caused by me. It was an embarrassing car when I first took ownership, and it was infinitely worse after I hit a truck’s tow hitch one day and crumpled the hood in addition to pushing the front fender backward. From then on out, it was open the driver side door and attempt to needle my 6’3″ body through a 2 inch gap (which also scraped the door and fender, resulting in a sound not unlike a a deranged guinea pig attacking a screaming cat) , or climb in through the passenger side. The entire entry and exit ritual was rather undignified, as was the bright orange bungee cord that kept the hood from flying upward. Post accident, my left headlight terrorized owls and other critters that slept in trees, as it was permanently pointed upward and to the right. And then there was the time a friend of mine backed up right in between both passenger doors and disabled those in addition to leaving a bright red kiss against the dark green color scheme. It was an uncomfortable car that I hated forever, and I will only visit it again if my Nightmare Garage becomes a reality.
I was blessed with the Base model Corolla that had undergone such severe cost cutting on Toyota’s part that a clock was only available on the upper level DX trim. In its place was a piece of hard plastic emblazoned with a Toyota insignia. Getting an accurate time reading was a job for the trusty monochromatic flip phone. Also absent was a tachometer, which I found really comes in handy when driving a stick. The engine was rated at something like 110hp, but I never got a chance to use half of it because I had no idea how quickly the crankshaft was rotating; the loudness of the engine was my barometer. Shifts were rubbery and far reaching, which was a fun challenge considering I was so tall I had to jack the seat back as far as the runners would allow to even fit in the car.
The sheetmetal, which I am convinced was made of tin foil, was consumed by the awful paint that Toyota and many other manufacturers used in the ’90s, which faded in splotches after a few years. The rest of the car was anonymous, which was the only respectable thing about it when you’re young and carrying passengers when you aren’t allowed to, in the eyes of the law. The Corolla became a lot more noticeable with the crumbled hood and crosseyed headlights, but I really can’t blame Toyota for that one.
After I got a job, I began searching for a suitable replacement. On the order: something that could make enough power to actually get out of its own way on the road, had enough room to sit in, and was relatively cool. Oh, and it should have a tach. In retrospect, I went a little too far in the opposite direction when I bought the Mustang, but that’s what I wanted at the time, so that’s what I bought. I had a budget and did my research to find out the most car I could get with my constraints. I started reading Automobile, Road & Track, Motor Trend, and Car and Driver to find something that matched my tastes. As much as I hated the Corolla and its complete lack of fun or comfort, I do credit it with sparking my long-running obsession with automobiles. And I will give it that one tiny victory as long as I never have to drive one again for as long as I live.
Photo courtesy of Toyota