Every generation of car culture should have a basic, sturdy, dependable vehicle to free them from their family homes and open the road to adventure. Now, I’m completely aware that car culture is dying, but this post is not about the future. It’s about the past.

For the Boomers, the general-purpose automobile was the VW Bug. For my generation, the one formed by the tail end of Boom, that car was the Toyota Carolla. If there was ever an automobile analog to the white cans with BEER written in black letters on the side, it was the 1974 Toyota Carolla Sedan base model.

Standard four-on-the-floor transmission, power nothing, no air-conditioning against the Austin summer, black wall tires. It had seatbelts, but I didn’t use them back then. The four-cylinder engine had no acceleration but it also didn’t have much top end.

The Boomers were stuck with a wobbly, imprecise gear shifter in the VW, but the Carolla had one of the nicest, strongest transmissions I’ve ever seen. In the VW, pushing the shifter forward could land you in 3rd gear or Reverse, odds were about even. With the Toyota, it was almost point and click; a must for newbie drivers not used to a standard.

There was no fuel injection and there should have been a tune-up every six months, but the sturdy, well-machined motor could go a lot longer before the points collapsed and left you with two speeds: puttering along at idle and red zone 70mph. Again, very important for a forgetful seventeen-year-old.

Gas wasn’t cheap by the time I got my license so the stingy 1.6L four-cylinder engine was important to a starving college dropout’s budget.

With no power controls, it could be a real hassle rolling up all four windows once you were done driving in the heat, but that’s where the hardy and damn near indestructible vinyl upholstery came into play. Why roll the windows up by hand when rain would have no effect on the interior?

One of my great regrets was selling the Carolla for a treacherous Mustang II that never missed an opportunity to strand me on the side of the road or wipe out my savings account with a major repair. The only car I ever loved more was the Alfa Romeo GT I owned while living in Italy. Had to give that one up when we couldn’t fit a child carrier in the meager backseat.

Here is a rated list of all the cars I’ve owned:

  • 1969 Mustang – Unreliable but so beautiful
  • 1974 Carolla – As described above
  • 1976 Mustang II – Nightmare
  • 1980 Citation – First car with a working air-conditioner. Only had it for a year, but it was fine and just a joy to have A/C against the Texas summer.
  • 1972 Alfa Romeo GT – The one that got away
  • 1987 LeBaron – Nightmare, never bought another Chrysler
  • 1990 Hyundai Sonata – Another nightmare, never bought another Korean car
  • 1980 Accord Hatchback – Super reliable, very ugly, would do a complete 180 if you pumped the brakes too hard
  • After that, it’s just a bunch of Accord sedans. Always reliable, never fun to drive.

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