- The Washington Times - Friday, January 2, 2009

When you are 5 feet, 2 inches tall, many full-size cars do not fit very well.

Years ago, Linda Smith solved that dilemma by driving a 1963 Volkswagen Beetle that was more her size.

By the autumn of 2003, the Beetle was long gone and she and her husband, Dennis, were looking for another 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 familiar 1.9-liter, four-cylinder engine. Incredibly, the 31-year-old sedan had been driven only 1,900 miles, which works out to an annual average of 61 miles.

The Corona, still wearing the original coat of Diana Olive paint that was applied at the factory, was attractive to the Smiths, until the engine hood was lifted.

“A radiator hose had blown,” he said, “so everything was orange.”

He knew that he could clean the sprayed antifreeze off everything in the engine bay.

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 Florida, Georgia, both Carolinas and most of Virginia.

By the time they arrived at their Oakton, Va., 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 midsize Toyota of the day,” Mr. Smith said. “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, and Mrs. Smith pointed out, “There are no cup holders.”

An AM/FM radio is mounted in the center of the dashboard and the Smiths have an authentic original 8-track tape player still in the box ready for installation. The most unusual item in the car, Mr. Smith said, is the clock that “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,” he said. “It was reliable, easy to maintain and work on, very affordable to buy and economical to drive.

“Their sheer reliability meant most of them racked up hundreds of thousands of miles before finally going to the scrap yards,” he says. That 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. He said, “It might do 80 downhill 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 said, “I like to get it out and drive.”

• For your car to become the subject of the Out of the Past column, send a photo (frontal 3/4 view), plus brief details and phone number to Vern Parker, 2221 Abbotsford Drive, Vienna, VA 22181. Only photos of good quality will be considered. No customs or hotrods accepted.

Copyright, Motor Matters, 2008

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