Junkyard Find: 1984 Toyota Van, With Bonus San Francisco Beachfront Rust

Murilee Martin
by Murilee Martin

Unless they’re air-cooled Volkswagens, cars in non-mountain California don’t suffer much from the teeth of The Rust Monster. Sure, the rainy winters mean that leaky weatherstripping results in rusty trunk floors (especially in GM cars of the pre-1990s era), but plenty of 50-year-old street-parked California cars have solid sheet metal that leave Michigan residents in awe. However, all this goes out the window if you happen to live within a block or two of the not-so-aptly-named Pacific Ocean in San Francisco. During a trip to California last week, I spotted this victim of Outer Sunset District Rust in an East Bay self-serve yard (with a spectacular Halloween display).

Those of you who imagine California beaches to be warm, sunny places full of movie-star-gorgeous babes in bikinis are getting your imagery from Southern California. Go 400 miles north and you’ll find beaches that feature howling winds coming straight from the Aleutian Islands, gigantic waves, freezing-ass water that will kill you stone dead from hypothermia in minutes (that is, if the Great Whites or rip currents don’t get you first). That’s in August; it gets a lot worse during the winter. Why, it’s enough to make you shoot an OD in your squalid Ocean Beach hotel room right before your struggling band’s album suddenly goes multi-platinum!

So, with constant salt spray from the gigantic waves crashing into the beach, prevailing winds from the northwest, and heavy morning/evening fog approximately 362 days of the year, cars parked within a few hundred yards of the beach tend to spend their lives bathed in an eternal saline mist. Any nick in the paint, no matter how small, will become a horrible festering hole within a year or two. And, of course, cars parked on the streets of San Francisco get dinged, bumped, key-striped, sideswiped, and otherwise have their paint chipped on a depressingly regular basis (which is one reason my super-patina’d ’65 Impala sedan was such a practical daily driver when I lived there).

You don’t have to go very far east— a half-dozen blocks will do it— to avoid this problem. This residential parking permit is for the northeastern corner of the city, far from the ocean, but there’s no way you get rust like this in North Beach— clearly, 1996 was a brief respite from the joys of oxidation for this Toyota.

Because important structural components (being protected beneath the car) don’t get rusty, you can keep your 48th Avenue car going for as long as you’re willing to tolerate the ugliness and/or big holes that allow chilly winds inside.

This MasterAce got to 300,000 miles before the rust reduced its value to sub-scrap levels and/or parking tickets totaling more than 150 bucks landed it in the clutches of AutoReturn. These vans were as hard to kill as cockroaches, what with their indifferent-to-abuse pushrod Y engines, so we can assume that it was still a runner at the end.

The interior isn’t so bad for a 300,000-mile, 29-year-old van. Perhaps all the additional ventilation kept mildew from getting to be a problem.

Hey, because plastic paneling doesn’t care about salt water, you couldn’t see most of these holes from the inside!

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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  • Honda_lawn_art Honda_lawn_art on Oct 23, 2013

    Great Salty Oysters! The oxidation looks nearly complete. I'd love this to spawn some entries to the rustiest still running car on TTAC.

  • Emanistan Emanistan on Jul 30, 2016

    Hard to believe now, but back in the early eighties when these first came out in the states they were considered the pinnacle of cool. In my elementary school at the time it was almost every kid's ultimate dream car-either this or a Trans-Am. I remember lobbying my mom to buy one. They were considered so futuristic looking (of course under that avant garde angular sheet metal, they were basically just an old fashioned 1960s style compact van) that they starred in sic-fi TV shows of the period with some regularity.

  • Kwik_Shift_Pro4X As much problems as I had with my '96 Chevy Impala SS.....I would love to try one again. I've seen a Dark Cherry Metallic one today and it looked great.
  • Susan O’Neil There is a good reason to keep the Chevrolet Malibu and other 4 door family sedans! You can transport your parents and other somewhat handicapped people comfortably and safety! If someone can stand and pivot you can put them in your car. An armrest in the back seat is appreciated and a handle above the door! Oh…and leather seats so your passenger can slide across the seat! 😊Plus, you can place a full sized wheelchair or walker in the trunk! The car sits a little lower…so it’s doable! I currently have a Ford Fusion and we have a Honda Accord. Our previous cars were Mercury Sables-excellent for transporting handicapped people and equipment! As the population ages-sedans are a very practical choice! POV from a retired handicapped advocate and daughter! 😊
  • Freddie Remember those ads that say "Call your doctor if you still have...after four hours"?You don't need to call your doctor, just get behind the wheel of a CUV. In fact, just look at one.I'm a car guy with finite resources; I can't afford a practical car during the week plus a fun car on the weekend. My solution is my Honda Civic Si 4 door sedan. Maybe yours is a Dodge Charger (a lot of new Chargers are still on dealer lots).
  • Daniel J Interesting in that we have several weeks where the temperature stays below 45 but all weather tires can't be found in a shop anywhere. I guess all seasons are "good enough".
  • Steve Biro For all the talk about sedans vs CUVs and SUVs, I simply can’t bring myself to buy any modern vehicle. And I know it’s only going to get worse.