Book value: $250. Reliability: Near 100%.
This morning, I had to drive down to Phoenix Deer Valley Airport (DVT) to pick up my helicopter for a charter out in Aguila, AZ. I have a 1987 Toyota MR-2 that I bought new in October 1986. That’s my airport car. It basically lives down in Deer Valley when I’ve got the helicopter out. The idea was to drive it down to Deer Valley, park it, do my flight, and then bring the helicopter back to its Wickenburg hangar so I could wash it before returning it to Deer Valley.
That was the idea, anyway.
This morning, the MR-2 roared to life, just like it aways does. But I had some trouble getting it out of first gear — I leave all my cars in gear when I park on our hilly driveway. I rolled back and got it half turned around. Then I attempted to shift into first or second to depart. The gearshift wouldn’t budge.
Understand this: the car is standard transmission. It was my first standard transmission car. I learned to drive stick on that car. A week after taking it home, I was driving back and forth to my job in downtown Manhattan from New Jersey, battling bridge and highway traffic. I got really good with a stick shift really fast.
And the car still has its original clutch.
It only has 133,000 miles on it. When I bought my Jeep in 1999, it became my secondary car. When I bought my Honda S2000 in 2003, it became my third car. I didn’t even need it for sporty drives anymore. That’s when it became my airport car.
I don’t think I put more than 1,000 miles per year on it after that. It spent the summer of 2004 at Howard Mesa or Grand Canyon Airport when I flew helicopter tours for one of the operators at the Grand Canyon. It spent at least two years in Prescott as an airport car — my mechanic was based there for a while — and then another whole season in Scottsdale — I used to fly there quite often. When the Scottsdale cops called and threatened to tow it away, I drove it home. It spent a year or two in my hangar. Then I brought it down to Deer Valley to be my airport car there.
It didn’t mind neglect. It just about always started up when I turned the key. The only exception was once in Prescott, when the battery had finally died. Fortunately, I’d parked it pointing down a little hill. I released the break, popped the clutch in second gear and got it started. Drove it to Sears, put in a new battery, and went about my business.
Every year or so, I get the oil changed. I bought it new wiper blades and sun screens about a year ago.
Today, when the clutch wouldn’t engage, I wasn’t very surprised. Hell, it was the original clutch! More than 23 years old! What the hell did I expect?
I took my Honda down to Deer Valley. I locked it up. I wasn’t happy about leaving my best car overnight at Deer Valley. The Toyota was disposable. The Honda wasn’t.
As I flew west to my gig, I thought about the Toyota. I wondered if this was how it would all end. It didn’t seem right to put hundreds of dollars into a car with a Kelly Blue Book value of under $250.
I did my gig. It involved over 3 hours of flying north of Aguila. It ended with a flight to Wickenburg to photograph some property. I’d drop off my clients at either one of the spec homes they’d built or nearby private helipad that they led me to believe was part of their property. We were doing the photo flight when I heard some chatter on the radio. Wickenburg Airport was closed. Turns out, an F-16 trainer had crash-landed there earlier in the day. So I landed on the helipad. I didn’t have enough fuel to get back to Deer Valley and I couldn’t land at Wickenburg. I wound up leaving it there for the night. As I type this, the airport is still closed.
Back at home, Mike got the idea that maybe the Toyota’s clutch wasn’t broken. Maybe it just needed fluid.
We pulled the owner’s guide out of the glove box and looked it up. We found the reservoir. It was bone dry. (Oops!) We grabbed some of the recommended DOT 3 brake fluid out of the garage and filled the reservoir. I pumped the clutch pedal. A lot. I started the car, pushed down the clutch pedal, and smoothly shifted it into first gear.
So my Toyota continues to run smoothly with its 23-year-old clutch. Best of all, it seems very forgiving of my neglect.
How can I not love a car like that?