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OUT OF THE PAST: 1972 Toyota is a perfect fit

- The Washington Times - Friday, November 7, 2008

When you are five-feet, two-inches tall many full-size cars do not fit very well.

Years ago Linda Smith solved that dilemma by driving a 1963 Volkswagen that was more her size. By the autumn of 2003 the Beetle was long gone and she and her husband, Dennis, were looking for a car that was the right size for her.

Mr. Smith had grown up with a Toyota Corona in his family and was familiar with the intricacies of the Japanese car. He convinced his wife that a Corona would fit her just fine.

As he was scrolling on his computer through cars for sale he located a 1972 Toyota Corona in Key West, Fla., and shared his discovery with his wife. "We ought to check it out," she said. "It'll be like a mini-vacation."

When they arrived in Key West they found a 13-foot, 11-inch-long Corona with a 1.9-liter, four-cylinder engine. The then 31-year-old four-door sedan had been driven only an incredible 1,900 miles.

The Corona, still wearing the original coat of Diana Olive paint, was attractive to both the Smiths until the engine hood was lifted. "A radiator hose had blown," Mr. Smith says, "So everything was orange."

They purchased the virtually unused car and, with 108 horsepower at their command, set out on a journey in the 2,170-pound car across the length of Florida, Georgia, both Carolinas and most of Virginia. By the time they arrived at their Oakton home on the little 13-inch tires they had almost doubled the mileage recorded by the odometer. Fuel economy of 30 mpg was delivered on the trip.

"The Corona was the mid-size Toyota of the day," Mr. Smith explains. "It was larger than the Corolla and smaller than the luxury Crown model."

The cozy deluxe model Corona is 62-inches wide and 55-inches high. Under the white headliner the rest of the cabin down to the carpet is black. The automatic transmission gear selector is on the steering column because the front seat is of the bench variety.

Beneath the dashboard is a dealer-installed air conditioning unit. A small, unlit vanity mirror is attached to the back of the right visor.

On the outside of the car at either end of the rear window is a vent to encourage air to flow through the cabin.

Each of the three spokes supporting the steering wheel has a separate horn button. Typical of the era is the existence of four ashtrays in the car. However, Mrs. Smith points out, "There are no cupholders."

An AM/FM radio is mounted in the center of the dashboard and Mr. Smith has an authentic original 8-track tape player still in the box but ready for installation. The most unusual item in the car, according to Mr. Smith, is the clock which, he says, "actually works."

The Corona came to the United States just in time for the first energy crisis in 1973 and the thrifty car became quite popular. "It proved to be a great value," Mr. Smith says. "It was reliable, easy to maintain and work on, very affordable to buy and economical to drive."

About his car, he observes, "Their sheer reliability meant most of them racked up hundreds of thousands of miles before finally going to the scrap yeards."

That theory explains why not many Coronas are found wearing antique license plates.

The small car has a number of deluxe features including backup lights, power disc brakes and a dozen red defogger lines in the rear window.

An optimistic speedometer has a high figure of 120 mph. Mr. Smith says, "It might do 80 down hill if you're lucky."

The odometer in the Toyota Corona has now recorded 3,700 miles but is certain to be accumulating more miles because, Mrs. Smith says, "I like to get it out and drive."