When you’re a fan of a particular automotive brand, it’s usually hard to watch them change over time. Often, due to regulations, financial feasibility, or various other factors, things tend not to be the same as they used to be in the good ‘ol days. For example, this writer’s favorite American manufacturer, Buick, seems to have lost a certain charm and sense of style that it used to have in spades. Buick’s sense of style wasn’t as flashy as Cadillac’s and it wasn’t ever “on top”, but from the ‘65 Riviera, with its gorgeous design that won international praise, to the ‘80s Grand National, an inspiration to all American muscle enthusiasts in the dark days of the malaise era, Buick was so ubiquitous. Now Buicks are just rebadged Opels and joyless SUV’s. Chris, the featured owner for this month, feels much the same way about his favorite manufacturer, Toyota. Where Toyota once had a sporty model for everybody, unique souped-up editions of those sporty models, and so much else to love about the company, there only seems to be the small, Subaru-powered 86 and the larger BMW-powered Supra. While Chris does have some issues with the sportier models that Toyota has on offer these days, he appreciates some of Toyota’s advancements, such as intelligent rev-matching, that make driving stick more accessible for beginners. However, Chris still prefers his old school Toyotas, including his 2nd MR2 and the car we’re featuring this month, his Corolla All-Trac.
Chris’ 1991 Toyota Corolla All-Trac looks like not much more than a quirky rust bucket at first glance, but it’s quite the Franken-car underneath. The Corolla All-Trac was an all wheel drive wagon variant of the Corolla in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s. Stock All-Trac engines made around 100 horsepower, but Chris’ car has a powertrain swapped in from a Celica GT-Four, a limited edition, rally-inspired version of Toyota’s Celica sports coupe. A stock GT-Four makes around 250 horsepower, but the car was modified before Chris bought it to make over 450 hp with 350 of that making it to all four wheels. Added to the GT-Four drivetrain was a huge Garrett turbocharger, larger fuel injectors, and an aftermarket ECU. Needless to say, this little wagon hauls. Where did Chris find this awesome Toyota build? eBay, of course! Chris saw a link to the auction and read the seller’s long writeup on the listing. The owner was an experienced Toyota mechanic who very clearly knew what he was doing in building the car. Chris sniped the listing with four seconds left to win the auction and had the car shipped from it’s previous home in North Carolina to his parents’ home near Dallas, TX. Chris waited until dinner that night to bring up his auction victory with his parents. His father, as Chris remembers, wasn’t happy and insisted that Chris rent a storage unit to keep the car elsewhere.
When the Corolla arrived, it was a bit rough, but otherwise in good shape. Some of the rear body panels were super rusty, and Chris still has plans to replace them. The car runs reliably, but had cooling issues up until this year. In February, Chris replaced the radiator with a beefier unit and drove the car to a Radwood meet in Austin, TX and back with no issues. He says he was super proud of the little car during that trip and glad to be able to show off the car at Radwood Austin. The interior of the car, in the interest of weight savings for maximum speed and performance, is almost completely stripped bare. All that’s left besides the dashboard and the driver’s seat is a portion of the rear bench seat that was left after the rear bench was cut in half for reasons unknown. Overall, there’s a lot left to do before the car is 100% where Chris wants it to be, but for now, he enjoys taking it out every so often to cruise or for car shows. Fortunately, none of this is new for Chris. He’s been a huge Toyota fan for a while and his car history has been building up to his powerful Franken-car.
Chris’ first car that he bought by himself without any financial help from his parents or anyone else was his 1993 Toyota MR2, a car that he bought because he had been looking to buy something with a manual transmission and rear-wheel drive. He ending up choosing the MR2 because of how unique it is in the automotive world. Affordable mid-engine sports cars aren’t terribly common. The only other models that this writer can think of off the top of their head are the Pontiac Fiero and the Fiat X1/9, both of which ended production long before the MR2 did so. The Porsche Boxster is also a fairly popular option that continues being produced to this day, but the difficulty of maintenance on any Boxster makes the MR2 a much better choice for a first-time mid-engine owner, like Chris was. He later sold his MR2, but it sparked something in him that continues to this day. After the MR2 came something that was more akin to what he had grown up with. Chris’ father was very much into Corvettes and shared that interest with his son. After selling the MR2, Chris bought a 2007 Corvette Z06. He enjoyed it a lot and, with the help of a friend, corrected a valve guide issue that is common in the Corvette’s LS V8 engine. As much as Chris liked the Corvette, he really just wanted another MR2 and sold it a year later. These three types of cars he has owned, the MR2, the Corvette, and his Corolla All-Trac couldn’t be any more different, but the one thing that they have in common are their manual transmissions. Not long ago, this inspired Chris to do something special as a manual enthusiast that he’s still involved with today.
A couple years ago, Chris founded a Facebook community called Manual Elitist Jerks in order to create a place for those who will only ever drive manuals to come talk about cars. He was inspired by how he felt whenever he went to car shows and was disappointed to find a lot of newer cars with automatic transmissions. In response, Chris started a community where he could chat with like-minded automotive enthusiasts. Not only has it given him a place where he feels he belongs in car culture, but it has also allowed him to step back, look in the mirror, and even make fun of himself. In order to make the group as enjoyable as possible for others, he has a “no rules” rule and tends to speak to his group members like a McCarthyite propagandist. Often in group posts, he refers to those who drive cars with automatic transmissions as “Automatic Apologists”, a term which often inspires posts joking about how the group is being overrun by said Apologists and needs to be taken back. It creates a somewhat chaotic atmosphere in the group, of which this writer is a member, but allows people to joke about their disdain for automatic transmissions in a harmless manner.
From an outsider’s standpoint(this writer neither owns a manual transmission car nor has much experience driving one), the group is something positive that Chris has created. Instead of shouting into the void of the internet over and over again when he wasn’t having much fun and felt alone at car shows, he did something about it. Recently, the group reached 10,000 members and the growth shows no signs of slowing down. In a hobby as often tumultuous as car culture, it’s hard to find people who will create communities where they can’t find any, but people like Chris are on the right track. Even though he has strong opinions about cars, he swallowed his pride and got to work on creating a place where people could feel like they belong. He’s made a lot of new friends, met his girlfriend through the group, and has even hosted events as he’s grown into the group’s fearless leader. He still doesn’t like the new Toyota Supra, though.