Back In Southern California: Rare Survivors Abound

Murilee Martin
by Murilee Martin

When was the last time you saw a mint-condition first-gen Tercel on the freeway? This early-80s Tercel (Corolla Tercel, according to Toyota’s goofy “tack on the model name the Americans already know” branding experiment) apparently drove into a time machine around the time the Iranian hostages were released and reappeared on the 405 yesterday afternoon, as I was driving an RX-8 out of LAX. Since that sighting, I’ve seen a half-dozen Alfa Spiders, an Early Malaise Colt, countless GMC and Ford pickups from the 1950s and 1960s, two Darts, a Wildcat convertible, and a BMW E9. Oh, and a showroom-condition ’76 Mazda GLC with 7,000 miles on the clock. Much more on that car later.

Murilee Martin
Murilee Martin

Murilee Martin is the pen name of Phil Greden, a writer who has lived in Minnesota, California, Georgia and (now) Colorado. He has toiled at copywriting, technical writing, junkmail writing, fiction writing and now automotive writing. He has owned many terrible vehicles and some good ones. He spends a great deal of time in self-service junkyards. These days, he writes for publications including Autoweek, Autoblog, Hagerty, The Truth About Cars and Capital One.

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  • Steven Lang Steven Lang on Oct 20, 2011

    Georgia is the exact opposite. Old domestics outnumber the 'classic' foreign vehicles by a near ten to one margin. Ford and Chevy trucks are so prolific that you don't even pay attention to them. A lot of GM and Ford vehicles from the 60's to mid-80's as well. Most of which are daily drivers although that tends to thin out by the time the vehicles hit their 30th birthday. As for imports? You will see old Civics and Celica Supras. This area also seems to be a hotbed for the 1st gen Celicas. But the domestics completely rule this part of the world. You name the 70's car, someone will have it here to some level of running condition. Is it as friendly for cars as inland California? No. The heat wears out the paint, dashboard, seats, and door panels. But a lot of folks use their garages and carports for all the right reasons. Just make sure the A/C works well with whatever you buy because without it, you and your ride are screwed.

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    • Econobiker Econobiker on Oct 21, 2011

      Saw a 1980s Hundai Excel 2dr in metro Nashville,TN within the last year, and recently saw a Subaru Justy with MS antique vehicle license tags within the last 3 months in Northeast MS. In the last two months also saw a beater primer black hot rod type Pinto wagon and Ford Mustang II beater hot rod though this had a V-8 of some sort in it sans- completely functioning exhaust system- probably to "make it fast". The South tends to eat up average cars from mileage and family use (camry, accord, caprice/crown vic station wagon, etc) but the odd ball outlier car models end up living for years if they are parked or collected by the "right" owners. If you watch the show "American Pickers" regularly you will see that the pickers often find weird car models in the US South. During the mid 1990s in central Alabama I saw a 1960s Saab that had done Europe time (West Berlin Checkpoint Charlie plus military base parking stickers) and it was still going strong (ford V-4 motor) with no rust. (And also found out that you can register the little Diahatsu HiJet utility pickup trucks for the road in MS. Go figure.)

  • Zackman Zackman on Oct 20, 2011

    Oh boy, here I go again; When in the air force in NoCal 40 years ago, it was also a car paradise, hence my 1964 Impala I owned. I sold it three weeks before I got out of the service in late July, 1973 because I knew the St. Louis climate would kill it in no time. Zbart? Never heard of it 'til after I went home, or...well, enough to bring a tear to my eyes, but I digress... Speaking of the 405, I mentioned this a couple of weeks ago, but a pristine pale yellow Caddy converible, mid-late 60's zinged by us. Beautiful! It's true about the domestic trucks, new or vintage, and a lot of vintage stuff rambling around still. The "California" the Beach Boys sang about isn't quite dead, yet.

  • Brettc Brettc on Oct 20, 2011

    A girl I went to highschool with had a Tercel of this vintage. It was a weird gold/brown colour. She was driving it in about 1995 and it was still in decent shape. Her parents owned the local Toyota dealership, so that would explain the condition it was in.

  • Sco Sco on Oct 20, 2011

    I'm always surprised that there are not more classic vehicles on the roads in California, esp Northern California. No snow, no salt, less sun than the desert, a temperature range from 30-90F that will never challenge your starter or your radiator, no need for AC, and at least 6 months that are totally rain free for those cars that are challenged in the leak department. Not to mention that the supply of nice curbside classics is large, diverse, and extremely affordable relative to new cars. No smog test either for pre-75 (i think) vehicles and also numerous salvage yards much like the ones Murilee visits for those rare/cheap parts you will need. It couldn't get any easier.