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  • Writer's pictureKate Halfpenny

My Corona! Ooh you make my memories run

It’s true you never forget your first love. A lot of us also never forget our first car.

As pandemic prices for secondhand cars hit “lunacy” levels – apparently everyone wants wheels to avoid public transport and hit the Aussie road – I’ve been wondering where my 1967 shovel-nosed Toyota Corona is.

Is it in a shed, sleeping and safe? Has it been restored and chugs around with club permit plates and a tartan rug slung on the back seat? Or is it in bits in a wrecker’s yard? ‘The Ronie’ was bought for $800 in 1985 from my year 12 Australian history teacher, Mrs Whiffin. It had beige duco, red bucket seats, wind-down windows, twin carbies that defied tuning. You could see the ground through a gap in the gear stick.

The heater was so effective a faint scorched vinyl smell lingered. There was no air conditioner – if it was hot, I drove in my bra. The AM radio had a dodgy antenna so I made a heart shaped one from a coat hanger. In autumn, I piled leaves into the back so they swirled when we fanged around corners.

Despite – or because of – the carbies, she was a touch underpowered. One Friday afternoon I drove my brother’s school tennis team to a fixture. Going up Toorak Rd, they had to pile out and leg it alongside until we crested a hill.

My best friend, Pies, bought a matching Corona, a pale-green automatic with a bench seat. For visual effect we would drive in convoy, wearing op-shop handknits and playing INXS’s The Swing on our Walkmans.

In 1986 I kidnapped a senior colleague in The Ronie. Under the influence of a carafe of Tiamo’s house white, I accused him of stealing my handbag while he was being run home. I was deaf to his protests of innocence and drove us both around Carlton until we ran out of petrol.

The bag was under the front seat. He waved away the incident. It wasn’t an era when kids routinely scored a safe new car for their 18ths so everyone had a used Asian model, sometimes with working seatbelts. My mate Walshy’s Torana is now probably worth more than a Benz. Same with Fincko’s lagoon-blue Datsun 120Y, which was hard to climb out of but had a tape deck. The priceless feature of a friend’s Daihatsu Charade was it was so light that if she had trouble parking, passengers lifted the whole car into the spot. The Ronie was sold when I went overseas and other cars followed (the Nissan ute I drove with no power steering at eight-months’ pregnant, the sensible Magna wagon and two Kia Carnivals) but nothing with the emotional gravitas of the first one. Until the HiAce minibus. It was ace for a family of five with surfboards, a dog, friends, guitars, drums, lacrosse sticks. We called it ‘The Bosom of Abraham’ and drove it to South Australia, around Tassie, to school formals. The family mover.It saw plenty of shouted renditions of Tiny Dancer and Drops of Jupiter, many a game of Uno and Super Trumps and Maccas drive-throughs. Once, groaning with two families, it rolled into Gundagai on a prayer, the petrol line way below red. After one sandy summer, The Bosom was booked in for a full detail. The duo who did the work recognised its old-school charms and strong heart. They put in an offer. It was sold on the spot. There were tears at dinner. Last year, the unicorn. A shovel-nosed Corona in Smith St, Collingwood. A photo was texted to my middle son. “The stuff of family legend,” he typed back. “Steal it.” Instead, I bought a gleaming beast, a Skoda Octavia VRS wagon, mostly because it reminds me all year round of the Tour de France. It can burn off everyone on the grid. It has seat warmers. I love it. But it’s no ’67 Corona. Originally published on Sydney Morning Herald

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