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  • Writer's pictureJim Martin

The Beloved Corona - Part 1

Updated: Nov 11, 2023

So, my dad swore like a sailor. Colorful language seasoned his everyday speech seemingly no matter who he was talking to. He had all kinds of pet names and slang terms for things. What was funny, and sometimes awkward, was that most of these names involved profanity. The most memorable example is that he always referred to his car as a Sh*tbox. (This term of endearment is probably not limited to him, I'm guessing.)


My current commute to work involves a 70 minute train ride in each direction. I recently started using the train time to write about some of the (many, many) crazy stories involving my early experiences with my first few cars.


Why I'm posting these on the Tiny House blog is that in many ways, these stories are part my history of tinkering that leads to things like me wanting to build stuff in the first place.


Anyway, when I shared the first few installments of these stories with my brother, he immediately responded by saying, "You have to call these The Sh*tbox Chronicles!"


So, here it is: I give you, the first installment of The Sh*tbox Chronicles.


My first car was a 1971 Toyota Corona. I purchased the car in summer of 1984 from my uncle Charlie for, as he described it, the cost of a nice dinner for himself and my aunt Sheila—or 35 bucks. Charlie loved that car, but it was old. The battery was failing. And then he got rear-ended. He was happy to trade it for a dinner. I was happy to own my very first automobile.


I don’t remember if Brad was my brother-in-law yet, or if he was still auditioning for the role. But for some reason he offered to drive me the 10 miles to pick the car up—which was great because the car wouldn’t start, and I knew absolutely nothing about cars. Brad had spent some time working as a mechanic, which at the time, to me, seemed like a coincidence. (The ensuing decades of experiences would teach me that Brad somehow always manages to know, and to have, whatever it is that you need. And he always seems to be willing to provide it. So much so that the family began referring to him as E.N.A.B, standing, of course, for: Everyone Needs a Brad.)


E.N.A.B and I arrived at my uncle’s house and there sat the Corona, looking a little bit crumpled, but beautiful to me none the less. Brad wasted no time in looking under the hood. I of course joined him enthusiastically, having now idea what we were looking for. He tried to start it. Dead. He popped the hood of his truck (E.N.A.B’s a truck kind of guy) and pulled out a set of jumper cables from behind the seats. After letting the Corona battery charge for a few minutes we tried it again. It cranked slowly and then came to life. I was elated!


What a beauty

As dusk settled in, we set out on the journey home. It’s hard to describe the peculiar elation of driving your first car. That feeling of taking in the expanse of newly acquired beauty. The column shifter, the bench seat, the balding tires, the crushed rear-end. I was in love. I wasn’t even bothered when the engine sputtered to a halt within the first 6 minutes of driving. Because by now I had an almost religious faith in E.N.A.B.’s abilities in the auto resurrection line.


He wasted no time pulling his truck around in front of the Corona and stepped out, jumper cables in hand. Again he charged the battery, and again, obediently, the car started. Off we went into the twilight… for about 4 minutes this time.


Man of infinite patience, E.N.A.B. again charged the battery—for longer this time, and again the car started. “You know,” said E.N.A.B., “I think your voltage regulator might be bad.”


“You think?” I replied, trying to disguise the fact that I had no idea what a voltage regulator was, or what relationship such a thing might have to a dying Corona.


“Well yes,” he said, doing his best not to let on that he saw right through my subterfuge.


“If it were the alternator that was bad, the car wouldn’t run at all, especially now that we have the headlights on.”


“Ahhh.” I replied, desperately trying to sound like someone who would have come to the same (obvious) conclusion given about 30 more seconds.


“Just a thought,” said E.N.A.B. as he coiled up the jumper cables.


We made it home in the dark. I parked the Beloved Corona in the driveway and went into the house glowing with the sense of good fortune that must be felt by all those who achieve great wealth before the age of 20.


I’m not sure I even remembered to thank E.N.A.B.. But of course he’s never held it against me.


That weekend, I rode my bike to the local auto parts store. I strode up to the counter and confidently told the man I needed a voltage regulator for a 1971 Toyota Corona. The man searched through what seemed like an endless bank of parts catalogs, then disappeared into an equally endless bank of shelves. He was gone for a long time. I started to worry. Finally he emerged holding a small brown cardboard box. He placed it on the counter between us and said, “That’ll be $17.50.”


Delighted, I wanted to tell him that ironically, that was only exactly half of what my car was worth (or half the price of a nice dinner). But on second thought I didn’t think he would find these things relevant.


I couldn’t seem to ride home fast enough. Which is funny, because it occurred to me when I got there that I still hadn’t the slightest idea what a voltage regulator was, or where to find one in a car, and even if I could find it, and even if I could manage to replace it, whether it would actually fix anything.


Tossing these concerns aside, I decided the best thing to do was grab my dad’s toolbox and pop the hood on the Beloved Corona. It seemed the logical place to start—never mind that it was the only thing I knew how to do—and I only knew because of E.N.A.B.

I removed my shiny new voltage regulator from its cardboard box. I looked at it. I stared into the engine compartment. I looked back at the voltage regulator. Back into the engine compartment. And… there it was! The old one was bolted somewhat conspicuously to the sidewall of the engine compartment. I disconnected its wires, unbolted it, and reversed the process to install the new one. ‘That was easy,’ I thought with self-satisfied youthful exuberance.


At this point I yelled for my little brother. I say “yelled,” because I stood in the driveway and summoned him in a loud voice, “BOB!” BOB! himself will attest (complain) that this used to happen often. But in my defense, he always came when summoned. He gave me absolutely no incentive to stop calling. After all, BOB! was only in high school, and I, his older and wiser brother, was in college.


Predictably, his head popped out the front door of the little house. “Grab dad’s keys and help me jump-start this thing,” I said, now in a more conversational tone. Predictably, he complied. We hooked up the jumper cables, and the Beloved Corona turned over yet again. I smiled at BOB! and said, “Let’s go for a ride!”


We drove around for five minutes, then ten minutes, then fifteen whole minutes. The car continued running. It was like a Christmas miracle. “How did you fix it?” BOB! asked as we drove along.


“I had to replace the voltage regulator.” I said with just the right amount of understated confidence accompanied by a far-off, older-and-wiser gaze through the windshield.

“How did you know it was the voltage regulator?” he asked.


“Well,” I explained patiently, “if it had been the alternator that was bad, then the car wouldn’t have run at all, especially with the lights on.”


“Ahhh.” BOB! replied.

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1 Comment


Melinda J Hawkes
Melinda J Hawkes
Sep 03, 2019

Brought back memories of my first car. Thanks. There is nothing like that!

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