The College Car
Transitioning from life as a college student to a member of the workforce is a big step, and it helps to have a car you love. When Beth walked across the graduation stage and headed out into a bright new world, she needed a car that was up to the challenge. No, she didn’t want one of the usual suspects, like a Miata, GTI, or one of the 86-chassis triplets. What she wanted was a silver Toyota Celica GT.
I’d say this is one happy customer.
The year was 1976. With a whiff of new car smell, Beth packed her belongings in the back of the car, loaded her dog into the passenger seat, and set out to find her place in the world.
“I wasn’t making that much money when I first got out of college,” she said. “I was a schoolteacher in the Ozarks in Missouri. I brought home $500 a month, and the car payment was $153. I lived off of $350 a month, and I never missed a payment.”
That’s the kind of math car people can relate to, and it takes serious dedication to make it work. In a world where so many insist on all-wheel drive and cavernous cargo areas, it’s wild and a little bit refreshing to imagine a recent grad happily commuting, running errands, and road-tripping year-round in a rear-wheel drive coupe.
“That represents my life,” Beth said, smiling out the window of our local coffee shop and nodding at her car. “When I moved down here from Missouri, everything that I owned fit in that car. And me, and my German Shepherd, and the stuff in the back moved to Texas. To this day, in the little nooks and crannies, I’ll find hair. I’ll find dog hair.”
Married life introduced new challenges to sports car ownership, and Beth continued to make it work. When she and her husband welcomed twin boys to the family, they alternated cars and, when necessary, wrestled kids into the back seats to make do. She acknowledges that it wasn’t easy, but assures new parents that it can be done. The balancing act is just a matter of setting priorities and working around them. Four doors and roomy back seats are nice, but if you want a two-door sports car you might have to get creative and be a little more tolerant of its limitations. Figure that out, and you just might find a forever car.
“Just the whole car is a memory,” Beth said. “Everything about it. Underneath, you know, some things will trigger different memories when I’m working on it or driving it. The two stickers in the window – the one on the bottom, when I bought it in Cape Girardeau, Missouri, and they made me buy a city sticker and I was only there for the summer and I was going to move away. They said ‘You’ve got to buy a city sticker.’ But now, you know, that’s part of the car. And the top sticker is the Toyota 100,000-Mile Club sticker. They don’t have those anymore. I just love it.”
It turns out this article is the Celica’s second moment in the spotlight. The police officer in this photo is no relation to yours truly.
Fast cars have come and gone. Beth has a proclivity for collecting raucous V8s (and discerning taste, in my opinion). Nevertheless, the only one she can’t say goodbye to is the little Toyota liftback with a carbureted straight-six.
“You’ve seen the other cars I drive,” she said. “I still get a thrill driving it. It’s got, what, 98 horsepower? You know, it’s bone stock, I’ve done nothing to it other than maintain it.”
Make no mistake, this car still gets plenty of road time. Come Sunday morning, it’s the one that gets shown off at cars and coffee more often than not.
“I love driving my Corvette,” Beth admitted. “That’s my daily driver and I love it. I love that, but I probably enjoy this one the most. It gets the weirdest looks, it gets the weirdest comments. People look at it more than any other car. You’ll see another ’68, you’ll see another ’15. I bought the Lexus LC500 – nobody looked at it. I was shocked. It’s a great-looking car and it fits in when we have this cars and coffee here. But nobody looked at it! But I bring this? It gets an audience.”
I’ve also noticed that she’s a great ambassador of car culture, even if doing so hasn’t always been easy. Regulars at certain car meets took years to understand that a woman can show up by herself with a car she loves and have just as much experience and passion for cars as they do. That’s unfortunate, but those people came around in time. Maybe they took a cue from how welcoming Beth is to newcomers.
“I’ll never put a sign on my car that says ‘don’t touch it,’” she said. “You want to touch it? You want to lay on it? You want to roll around in it? Yes. You want to sit in it? You want to hear it? I’ll start it up for you. Especially in the Corvette, if I have a young person with me, I’ll have them put their hand on the gear stick and shift, and give them that experience.”
So where did this infatuation come from? Who knows; Beth has been car crazy and feeding the disease for as long as she can remember.
“I worked at a gas station in high school because you could see cars,” she said. “And it was an all-girl gas station – Metro 500 in Minnesota. We wore crop-tops and hot pants, and go out, ‘You want regular or premium?’ I got to see a lot of interesting cars that way because we were the cheapest gasoline in the area. I remember during the gas wars selling for 19.9 [cents per gallon]. So I could see a lot of cars that way, but I’ve always been fascinated by cars; all things cars. I can’t decide what part I like most.”
A garage full of cars and an eye for detail means Beth spends her share of time cleaning and detailing. It helps that she enjoys the process and finds relaxing zen in spending time with them. One way to make it easier is to buy only silver cars. Another is to buy cars that aren’t mechanically needy. Old cars have their quirks, though, and a Toyota that was designed more than 40 years ago is no exception.
“The weirdest idiosyncrasy on the car – and it was designed this way – the gas pump won’t work until it’s started,” Beth said. “And the gas pump is in the gas tank. For a while there when it was really wonky, I’d actually have to lift up the hood, open the carburetor, spray that stuff in there to get it primed. Now it’s working the way it’s supposed to, and I’ll pump it three times and it’ll start. Sometimes she’s like ‘Yeah, no, I don’t have enough gas, yet.’ That’s one of the quirkiest things about that. Why would you do that? I can’t start the car until the engine gets gas, but I can’t get gas until the engine is started. That’s sort of like a vicious cycle!”
No matter what repairs need to be made, what rare parts need to be tracked down, or what technological advancement comes along, Beth can’t see herself ever letting go of her car.
“Every time I think about [selling it] it just makes my stomach flip flop,” Beth said. “I mean, I probably should be buried in the car.”
As much fun as it is to chase new driving experiences, it’s also nice to see someone devote so much time and commitment to their first car. In fact, Beth carries two notebooks that track every tank of gas she’s ever purchased, including the car’s mileage, fuel economy, price per gallon, and number of gallons purchased. These two have been through a lot together, and they’re still the center of attention everywhere they go.
“Over time I’ve gotten ‘Oh, I used to have one,’ then I got ‘Oh, my dad had one,’ now I’m getting ‘Grandma had one,’” Beth said. “So that’s pretty fun.”
That is the original dealership tag on the original keys. What a lucky car.
Scott is a lover of motorized fun, whether on four wheels or two. A child of the ’90s, he has a particular soft spot for hatchbacks and believes all aging cars deserve a second chance at life. Scott works as a freelance marketer for Dingo Productions in Fort Worth, Texas. If he’s not behind a camera or a computer, he’s probably chasing down new coffee shops with his wife or throwing a frisbee for his dog.
The views and opinions expressed here are his own and may not align with the founders of Everyday Driver.