The Charm of Driving a Really Old Car

Illustration: Toyota Corolla (AE92) CS Sedan
Do you own a really old car with lots of quirks and "personality?" Read about a 27-year-old family car that's still going strong--quirks and all!

Do you drive a really old car? Whether you do so mostly by choice, or because of straitened circumstances, you’ll relate to this lovely essay by one Leah Birnbaum of Toronto. Leah’s car is 27 years old, or as she puts it, “My kid’s classroom teacher was born the same year it was made.”

Old cars have character, but not always in a good way:

Sometimes the doors stop working. Once, during a cold snap, the only door that would open was the hatchback so I crawled in through the trunk, over the back seats and into the driver’s seat. I’m proud of the car and embarrassed by the car at the same time. I’m proud that it works. I’m proud that I don’t need a fancier model. I’m embarrassed when I have to shake hands with my client and then walk past my car and wait until he leaves before I can circle back and crawl in through the trunk.

One summer, for about a week, the doors reversed themselves so that the only door that wouldn’t open was the hatchback. The kids and I were coming home from a camping trip and immediately repacking to go to a cottage. I had to flip the back seats down and load everything in and out (and in again and out again) over the back seat, planning carefully since nothing could be retrieved without taking the kids out and flattening their seats. Without explanation, all five doors now open and close perfectly.

One suspects that part of Birnbaum’s enjoyment of her aging Corolla is the confusion of her kids’ friends, who grew up in a hi-tech world.

The car is more than twice as old as my children, which means that most of their friends have never seen anything like it on the roads. When I drive their friends around they are entirely perplexed that I have to first unlock my own door, then get in, then lean across the seat to pull up the lock on their door before they can get in. They are used to lunging for a door handle the moment they hear the unlocking chirp from the key fob. “Can you please lower my window?” they ask innocently from the back seat. “Nope. I can’t. But you can do it yourself.” After a few uncertain moments, the friend leans over to my kid and whispers, “How?” My kid will point to the window crank and demonstrate. One time, a friend opened his door while I was driving (not fast). He was shocked, pulled it shut and looked terrified. He never dreamed that any of the levers or cranks on his door would actually respond to him. He’d spent his life in a child-locked backseat safety-bubble.

Birnbaum’s charming first person essay was a joy to read. Take 10 minutes to get a cup of coffee and read the whole thing from start to finish. You will inevitably think of someone to share it with, and it will brighten their day, too



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