Sunday, March 5, 2017

Toyota dashboard memories

Waiting for my father, sitting in the passenger seat of his new 1970 Toyota Corolla, I was quietly admiring the beauty of the modern dash of the small car. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder for sure, but that simple white metal dash with its two big gauges surrounded by a piece of black plastic, looked like nothing else in the entire automotive world for me as a young 12 year old at that moment. Because this was my father's first new car in many years. And with each subsequent new car, at an average interval of every two years back then, I witnessed progress in technology and luxury. How easily satisfied we were.

A Japanese family happily enjoying their late 1960s Corolla.
The 1970 car my father owned for a couple of months had a slightly different grille.

Of course, that Corolla was not a marvel of advancement. It was modestly handsome, and the Japanese early fame for offering a lot for bargain money was somehow lost on this car. It offered nothing. Not even headrests. And this Corolla did not last long with us. It was part of the household for a mere three months. When my father ordered his car, nobody knew that a new Corolla, the swoopy 1971 model, was waiting to be launched. And boy, was that new model an improvement over the old one. Flashy styling, bigger, and my father immediately felt old school with his 1970 Corolla. Since he worked at a Toyota dealership, he could order the new 1971 model while selling the 1970 Corolla without a loss. So, what did bring the 1971 car us, except new styling? Well, actually not a lot. Still the rear wheel drive setup with leaf springs at the back and recirculating ball steering. But wait, there was nylon carpeting and two vents at the far ends of the dash, which was now a black plastic affair. And the seats had fixed headrests, which made this car's cabin look like nothing else available then. Otherwise, there was nothing. No rear window demister. No tinted windows. No trim. Not even seat belts. But to compensate all that, it was bright yellow! “I saw your dad driving a big car”, someone in my class said to me. “What is it?” Well, a Corolla...

Two years on, and my father considered it time to trade the Corolla for the new facelifted model. And what a major step ahead it was, now that the Toyota Motor Company finally decided that Europe would be pleased with a Deluxe version, that had been available in North America since 1970. And the premium over the standard price brought our family some high luxury features in the now orange car, like full width wheel covers to compensate for the lack of the previous standard white walls, tinted windows, bright trim, silver rings around the gauges, a cigarette lighter and lap belts. But still no rear window demister, so my father took things in his own hands and ordered a kind of dry blower that was attached on the inside of the rear window. How my sister and I, the usual backseat passengers, loved that device from hell. Imagine the noise your hair dry blower makes, and amplify that by two. Because that darn thing always had to be on full speed, since the lower speed did not do much.

Our ordeal was over when in 1975 the Corolla had to step back for a larger car with a stronger engine, the Carina 1600 Deluxe. A silver car with that quintessential proof of good taste and decorum, the black vinyl roof. To us, it looked like a small version of the Continental Town Car. The steps made ahead may have been small for mankind, but huge for the Van Duijn family. Take this: standard AM radio, cloth seat upholstery, a clock and finally a rear window demister. Let me not forget to mention the excessive luxury of a remote spring operated antenna, never did my father have to stop anymore when we wanted to listen to the radio. It only emerged from the right wing for some ten inches, but that was enough for the AM reception. Putting it back was a manual job, but who cared?

As in real life for a teenager, everything evolved in big steps. And just like in real life, then at some point progress halted. The next cars did not really have any groundbreaking advancements over the 1975 Carina. The red 1977 and especially the white 1980 model looked more modern, but apart from the optional introduction of three pointed belts in the '77, there's little that stuck in my memory as standing out. But these were the malaise years, illustrated by engines that did not perform like the '75 because they had to meet stricter emission standards. The 1980 eventually became my car, and I liked it for what it was – a nice looking automotive interpretation of the Labrador dog. No, the real change for the family car came in 1987. When my father retired from the Toyota dealership, he ordered a Carina II, that gratuitously was donated to him for 50 percent by his employer. Here was our first four door car, with luxurious velours upholstery, magnificent seats with lumbar support and adjustable height for the driver, mirrors that could be adjusted from inside and above all, there was front wheel drive now and rack and pinion steering.
There is something to be said however about the handling of this front wheel driver. As attractive the beige metallic Carina II was, Toyota sneakily stills denied its European buyers the option of power steering. And was that Carina one heavy car to park. On the plus side, you did not need to go to gym if you just kept managed to parallel park a lot. There was more. Being the first British Toyota we had, it kept true to its heritage. Never did my father have a Toyota with so many irritating faults. Seat back upholstery that came loose, heating system that did not work because the hoses were not connected, and various rattles coming from the dash that were never solved. Let me say this boldly, it was the first Toyota in the family that I did not like. And my father, now a pensioner, kept it for quite some years until 'the last car he was going to buy' had to be traded for a new one after all in 1994.

That my mother and I had decided that it was time to scale down to a Corolla again, is not something I am proud off. We did not consult my father about this, and in the dealership showroom, still the same business where he had worked for many years, truth became apparent. My father simply wanted a Carina again. So that's when his final car arrived, that still survives eleven years now since my father passed away, still going strong 23 years after it left the British factory. The red Carina Executive edition is big and roomy, and came with electric windows, central locking, a rev counter, power steering and an adjustable steering wheel. The fact that the car had to do without power adjustable mirrors was somewhat of a letdown for my father, since my Civic Coupe, that I bought at the same time, was blessed with that feature. More serious omissions however were the still missing air conditioning, airbags and anti lock brakes – features that became standard on the Carina only two years after my father bought this car. In his younger days that would have been reason to trade the car again, but pensioner's sensibility prevailed. But it was and still is a great car.

The day my father picked it up at the dealership was memorable. The first drive had to be enjoyed with electric opened windows. However, Pluvius had no consideration with the elderly couple enjoying their new car, so when rain came down, the windows had to be closed. Always best to make yourself at home with all the controls before you drive off in a new car. Instead of one open window closed, my parents ended up at the side of the road with all four windows down and reaching for the manual. Cars evolve, but get more complicated in the process. Just like life.

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