The Infamous And Diabolical Brownmobile

Brownmobile 01

In March 1996, my Toyota 4×4 was totaled by a Chevy Suburban. The accident almost totaled me along with the truck. After that, we were down to one car – a Corvette – and needed something that could haul more than two people and a sandwich. So we went searching for a cheap Toyota to replace our totaled Toyota. We found the Brownmobile for $1200 on a car lot in Seattle’s University District.

The full name was actually “The Infamous & Diabolical Brownmobile.”

It was brown, and had been sitting on the car lot for a long time. Hey, it **must** have been diabolical in some way. The Brownmobile was a 1979 Toyota Corona wagon, grandfather to the Camry. It was powered by the famous Toyota 20R 4-cylinder engine and a 5-speed transmission. One unusual feature was its hydraulic clutch, instead of cable or linkage. Having a juice clutch made the car very easy to drive. With 124,000 miles on the odometer, it was not perfect; the power steering howled slightly, the second-gear synchronizer was just about shot, the windshield had an annoying (but legally acceptable) crack along a lower corner, and the rear of the car had been upholstered in beige shag. But it had an factory AM/FM radio, front seats that would adjust in a gazillion different directions, and a roof rack.

The Brownmobile put its dark-colored hook in us.

It was cheap, drove very well and had a certain worn familiarity that many Toyotas get after 100,000 miles. The engine burned oil; oddly the oil level would remain full for the first 1500 miles after an oil change, at which point it would require a quart at 2000 miles (I usually just changed it then). Tune up took about ten minutes. With the purchase of a Thule bike rack, the Brownmobile became the car of choice for trips and commuting. For the next 27,000 miles I drove it everywhere on little more than a tune up and a new set of tires, and was rewarded with steadfast dependability.

I considered keeping the car forever, but it went through 2 fuel pumps over the course of 8 months; on Brownmobile, the fuel pump was in the tank ($$$). It also failed Washington’s emission test. At that point I decided that it needed to go elsewhere. The Brownmobile was sold for nearly the amount we paid, and the bike rack went to some bike-loving friends. About a year later, I got a notice in the mail that Brownmobile had been sitting – abandoned – in Renton for several months, and that I was still the registered owner.

I suspect it went through a third fuel pump.

Brownmobile 02


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