Yesterday was one of those days when I was glad that I do not have more money than brains. It was also a day that really made me wonder why people do the things they do. I got a phone call from a real nice guy who apparently owns my old Toyota Tacoma. He was looking to sell it and was kind enough to track me down and give me first dibs on the truck before he put it up for sale. I appreciated the call, and for a brief moment I was more than tempted to say yes without even asking what the price was. Nostalgia is a powerful thing. Nevertheless, I put the nostalgia I was feeling to once again drive my first custom truck in check when I recalled what my old truck looks like today.
Over the years, I have kept my ear to the ground to keep track of the truck because that is what you do after you have invested thousands of hours and dollars into a build and then are forced to get rid of it. I had a pretty good idea what condition the truck was in, even without seeing it in person. I knew that after I let it go to the next owner, that it had been backed into a pole, smashing the custom tailgate skin and ruining that portion of the airbrushed, multicolored paintjob. The owner didn't repair the truck; rather, he sold it for a tidy profit to the next person who wanted to own this semi-infamous mini-truck. I'll never understand why anyone wanted to own that truck, because after appearing on the cover of Mini Truckin' magazine and in a poster, and going to the SEMA Show, everyone had seen it and knew it was mine. But, I digress.
Later on, I learned that the next owner sent the truck from California to Las Vegas to have the 72-color paintjob stripped off the body of the truck and resprayed it a different color in a good attempt to disguise the truck's identity. Evidently, having people come up to you and say, "Hey, isn't that Mike's old truck?" got a bit annoying. The Burnt Taco languished in a Vegas body shop for more than a year before showing up at a local Cali' truck show with a purple paintjob, an ugly set of import tuner wheels, and most of the custom interior missing. From what I could see in pictures posted on the internet, the turbocharged four-cylinder engine was still intact, but the fiberglass center console, subwoofer enclosure, amp racks, and other various parts that made the interior interesting, were long gone. People were still asking the owner if it was my old truck. The truck disappeared from my radar to a backyard somewhere in Temecula for a couple more years.
The truck reappeared again, this time in the hands of another new owner who had a shop somewhere in Oceanside, California. He called me to say he had bought the truck, that it didn't run properly, and that the new paintjob was in bad shape. He also had trouble registering the truck because apparently Toyota never released interest in the title of the truck after the loan was paid off when I originally sold it. So, for all those years the truck had been sitting in various places unregistered and undriveable. He offered to sell me the truck, but I was so disheartened to hear about its sad shape, and the fact that I was broke prompted me to decline his offer.
A few months later, he called me again, this time telling me he fixed the purple paintjob by adding some silver scallops to it. He sent pictures to my email box that only served to bum me out even more. The truck still had wheels on it that belonged on a Honda Civic, and the silver scallops no more fit the identity of the truck than the purple paint did. Both clashed with the blue and grey seats and blue painted cab pillars that still betrayed the truck's true identity. People still asked him if it was my old truck.
The phone call that prompted me to write this column came yesterday, which is about a year after I once again turned down an offer to buy the truck back. According to the current owner, the motor had been overheated and rather than tracking down the cause and fixing it, he simply removed the air conditioning system and heater core from the truck. Hearing that really bummed me out because I spent a lot of time channeling the body down over the frame and reworking the transmission tunnel so that the air conditioning unit and blower motor still cleared the floorboards. Having working air conditioning in a brand-new body-dropped Tacoma was something I was quite proud of back in 1998, and I enjoyed the hell out of it when making 15-hour road trips in the middle of July from New York to Tennessee to drag the truck at truck shows.
As nostalgic as I am about that truck, it would need a hell of a lot of work to restore it to its former glory. I'm sure the current owner will take what he thinks is great care of it, but the fact is that no one will ever love that truck the way I did. Unfortunately, there's not much left of the Burnt Taco that interests me anymore. About the only thing that still makes it unique is the turbocharged engine, and it's debatable how well it even runs now. Plus, I've got two other trucks that need work and zero room for another one in my life right now, not that my wallet has anything left in it for a ground-up restoration of a '97 Toyota anyway. Still, I'd be lying if I didn't acknowledge a desire to have my old Toyota back.
I guess I'll just have to keep my ears open, and maybe down the road our paths will cross once again and maybe, just maybe, the time will be right for me to own that truck again. In the meantime, I'll try to ignore the indecencies levied against that poor truck and focus on the trucks I still own. The lesson here is this: Don't ever sell your first truck. Trust me; you are going to regret it. See ya next month.