Once upon a time, a much younger Matches was full of optimism and bad ideas and utterly passionate about cars and motorcycles and pretty much any fast noisy thing with an engine. Literally nothing has changed about me in that regard except that I’m no longer all that young and have acquired a job, a wife, a couple of kids, and a hernia. There are lots of awesome things about getting older, but a hernia isn’t one of them.
That younger Matches daily drove a 1996 Nissan 240SX that was dumped on coilovers, had a turbocharged engine, a noisy ratcheting diff, and track day brake pads that wouldn’t stop the car when cold and would lock up the wheels when warmed. The car was loud, low, and stiff, and I couldn’t smog it. And I got pulled over a lot.
Also, my girlfriend at the time didn’t like being in the car because it was low, loud, and had a firm ride that made her boobs bounce. And we got pulled over a lot.
That optimistic young fella, full of bad ideas, was certain the solution was not to buy a sensible commuter like a 90’s Corolla with air conditioning but instead buy a cool old school car that had style. The solution to my commuting woes? A 1977 Toyota Celica GT liftback that was for sale in near by San Francisco. A handshake, some paperwork, $300 and a tow truck later, the Celica was mine. I got it running after a few days of work, and really liked everything about it except that it leaked water through the rear hatch (and most other seals as well) and the engine would continue running even after shutting off the ignition. Also, it was low, slow, not very quiet, and I couldn’t smog it. Honeymoon over, I sold the Celica for a handsome profit of $700 and set about searching for its replacement.
Apparently I had learned nothing from my previous misadventure, because while browsing Craigslist I stumbled across a listing for a 1973 Toyota Corona Mark II, right nearby in Oakland, CA. Never had I seen one before. Never had I seen such an odd looking car that wasn’t French. And, as the French say, the car had a certain “jolie laide” to it and I was utterly smitten.
A handshake, some paperwork, and $850 later the Corona was mine.
After the discontinuation of the Crown for the 1973 model year, the Corona Mark II was Toyota’s premium car in the U.S. market. You could choose from the sporty Coupe, the spacious sedan, or the practical wagon. The Mark II featured a smooth-running 2.3L inline six engine, a four speed manual or an optional automatic transmission, and was overall a well-appointed car with lots of ash trays and excellent build quality. Price when new was about $3,500, which was right in the middle of the market. At 170 inches in length, the Corona was about the same size as the door mirror on a Cadillac of the same year.
My car circa 2004 when I acquired it had some additional age and use related features like minor crash damage at the front and significant damage at the back. The left front fender was convex on the bottom just behind the wheel due to maybe parking on top of a bowling ball, and the left rear quarter was creased and crushed where some truck had backed into it. Despite all that, it was the most beautiful car I had ever laid eyes on.
The brakes squeaked and shrieked. The engine leaked oil out of every seam. The engine burned oil so rapidly that it looked like I was fogging for mosquitos while driving. The car was loud, not as low or stiff as my Nissan but made my girlfriend’s boobs bounce anyway. Also, we got pulled over a lot.
After some consideration and self-reflection, I realized that perhaps the tired old Corona hadn’t been the best choice for a daily driver. Thankfully, I am unreasonably optimistic and never short of bad ideas. The solution, I decided, was to swap the old 2M engine for something more modern. A newer engine and transmission would be quieter, run at lower revs, and get better gas mileage. So I bought a non-running 1987 Toyota Supra, along with a hatch full of spare parts and a W58 transmission. A handshake, zero paperwork, and $500 plus a tow truck later the Supra was mine.
Out came the old 2M, and in went the 7M-GE with surprising ease. Wiring up the engine was a different animal all together, and that’s where I faltered. I was stuck, and life started getting in the way of things and next thing you know I’ve stored the car at my mother’s house in the Sierras. Before I knew it, seven years went by all the while fending off one of my uncles who repeatedly threatened to tow the car to the crushers, “where it belonged.”
At last, the time came where I was in a position to reclaim the car. With renewed determination to resurrect my beloved Mark II, I did what anyone lacking advanced automotive knowledge does and consulted YouTube. Before long, I had figured out the wiring and had the car on the road again. My Corona was low, a bit loud, and I loved
it. I never got pulled over but I did get a lot of thumbs up, even from the CHP one time.
Fast forward a few years and I had converted the 7M to turbo running Megasquirt II, and I’ve enjoyed thousands of miles all throughout Northern CA. Even all the way to my uncle’s shop to help a cousin replace the oil pan gasket on his 1968 Mercury Cougar. At the shop, my uncle circled around the Mark II, quietly evaluating the same old car he had tried to junk. He then nodded his approval and walked off without a word.
If you’re still with me, I apologize this is such a long story, and I promise we are nearly to the present. 3 & 1/2 years ago I decided it was time to fix the body and paint the car. I won’t make you suffer through all the details of that, because bodywork is nothing if not tedious. The rewards however, have been tremendous I feel, and I’m finally in the home stretch. I did everything myself: welding, grinding, hammering, sanding, priming, and finally painting. I bought a cheap banquet tent off Amazon for $107 and taped up the edges for a home spray booth. Never sprayed a car before. Definitely made a lot of mistakes and I won’t win any car shows. I am proud, however. The final step will be to have a professional re-install the windscreens. These old school gaskets and chrome are challenging, and as you well know any leaking water is just the death of pretty much everything whether it be a car, a house, a boat, or a houseboat.
Thanks for reading!
Before work started (the pretty side)
Work in progress
New color! Factory color from 1973, called Blue Star Sapphire