Humour, Travel

For the love of Toyota

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WE’RE ALL SET for our annual camping holiday. In the midst of it all, our trusty Toyota Prado circa 2000, perhaps in a covertly defiant act of consolidation with Toyota’s workers, has decided to give up the ghost.

It hasn’t entirely broken down, but personally, the air-conditioning suddenly only working on number four-speed and sounding like a tractor is tantamount to giving up the ghost. We are in the midst of a Queensland summer, after all. We have a rich history with our workhorse. It has endured the craters of Fraser Island tracks, several camping trips to remote areas of Moreton Island and Stradbroke Islands, a few family road trips to Sydney and more.

It has also pulled lantana out of our creek, bears the scars of my then three-year-old daughter’s artistic swirls with a disco ball on the tinted windows. It has been hailed upon, scratched by overhanging trees, dodged kangaroos … and all the while, its air-conditioning has soldiered on, giving us a reprieve on those long, hot trips.

The good news is that a new fan will fix the problem. The bad news is that the spare part will not arrive before we leave. Alas, cramming a family of five plus camping gear into my little run-around Yaris will be impossible. The family announcement that we will be travelling three hours to our destination trapped inside what boils down (no pun intended) to the bowels of a tractor engine has not been met with great glee by our teens. My attempts at reminding them all that this is the stuff of which memories are made has fallen on deaf ears. Visions of National Lampoons Vacation come to mind …

We have attempted a little humour – even suggested we hire the preposterous sign language imposter from Mandela’s memorial because we certainly won’t be able to hear each other speak. A friend suggested loud music, but we’re not talking gentle white sound here, we’re talking full-throttle tractor!

I am painfully reminded that perhaps I am not destined for car comfort. Years ago, as a young reporter, I also drove a Toyota – an old green Ute nicknamed The Green Mamba. It was fairly trustworthy if it were not for the passenger door which flew open when I went around corners. My safety mechanism was a belt tied around the passenger handle, and I’ll never forget the look on my colleague’s face when I forgot to tell her to hold on.

My love affair with Toyota’s, however, endured. It turned out South African thieves liked them too. I optimistically bought a Corolla which was stolen in broad daylight outside my work one morning even with steering wheel lock firmly in place.

So I changed to Datsun’s – one of which was bright orange Datsun 120Y nicknamed ‘Fanta Spew’ for obvious reasons. So popular was that one that I had locals hopping off buses at stop streets and begging me to sell.

I finally gave in and sold before it was stolen and bought another Datsun in a less conspicuous colour or popular model. Thieves gave me a reprieve of three months before they stole that one. I had a flutter with an Opel Cadet, and a Renault as thieves apparently didn’t like those, and then finally acquired the love of my life, a vintage Datsun Sunny 1000.

While not exactly a getaway car, it was quaint, quirky and a match made in heaven. It was faithful right up until it caught fire while I was driving. A passing cyclist helped put out the flames, but I’m afraid, that was my last encounter with my adorable vintage car.

I felt as though I had come home when we settled in Australia and bought our Toyota Prado. Here was a  reliable car that would not be stolen in this safe-haven and could outlive the dog. And it looked set to do that at just over 270 K on the clock and not missing a beat – until the air-con fan died, that is.

All I have to say is Toyota; please don’t go!

There’s one happy camper that still needs you …

© Lois Nicholls

This article appeared in The Courier Mail, 25th December 2013