San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Still cruisin'!

A friend came over recently and asked about buying our car. It was the eighth offer we’ve had this past year. But the car is not for sale.

Furthermore, the car is more than 30 years old – not old enough to classify as an antique, but definitely an old car. Why so much interest?

This is a Toyota Land Cruiser, which was the most popular car in Costa Rica when it was mostly a rural country, and you needed four-wheel drive to get through the rainy-season mud and the dry-season dust. That was back when roads were mainly made of dirt.

Land Cruisers are simple cars. They bounce and are hard on the hinder, and the roaring motor turns conversations into shouting matches. They have no power steering, no power brakes, no air conditioning and no PBS. You strain yourself trying to park and you tend to push going up grades. This car could write its memoirs.

Yet strangers make offers on the car?

In the parking lot, a security guard approached as I locked up. Was I parked wrong? An illegal maneuver? In some important person’s spot? No. He wanted to buy the car.

Putting up fliers for a spay-neuter campaign in our area, I idled along while my young, pretty companion taped up fliers and talked to dog owners. Meanwhile, a man on a motorcycle buzzed back and forth. “You have a novio,” I teased my companion. Then, while she went into the school to talk to the teacher, the admirer stopped at the driver side window and asked, “How much you want for this car?”

These cars may be old but they have advantages. Being head and shoulders above others, they are easy to spot in parking lots. Although that’s not always such a break. Parking in the shade of a leafy tree, a low branch crunched in the right front corner of the roof. Now I park in the sun.

Being a tall car, the roof never got washed. Who’s going to see it?  Until I parked at a shopping center with a second floor walkway and looked down. Someone had actually written láveme on the roof. Now we get out a ladder to wash the whole car.

Over the 30 years our car has seen a lot and carried cargo not normally carried by cars. For instance, five sacks of chicken manure. Bumping up the rutted road the cargo shifted, blocking the back door. After studying the problem a few minutes, our young neighbor plunged in and crawled his way across all that manure and opened the door from the inside. He emerged ashy gray and covered with feathers.

Coming back from a dance at our village turno, at least 13 teenagers jammed their way into the back of the car. They didn’t seem to mind cuddling back there. Unforgettable, too, is the time three adolescent girls thought it fun to open a bottle of Coke and watch the geyser spray the inside of the car. Those girls now have kids of their own but the Coke stains are still on the ceiling.

Also fascinating were the bean stalks that grew inside the car after someone spilled a bag of frijoles. The car is green but I never thought it would become a greenhouse. That car has also transported a body to the morgue. You don’t do that in a BMW.

Now that we have good bus service, it’s easier to take a bus into town, so the car spends most of its time in the garage. The last time I drove it, I had to clear away the cobwebs less anyone think the windows had lacy curtains. Cobwebs, beans and bodies, the car still passes the Riteve test each year.

Like the Cruiser’s counterpoint in England, the Land Rover, Toyota’s model was born of necessity following World War II. Japan was in rubble and dependable heavy duty vehicles were needed to help in the reconstruction. Toyota’s first Jeep BJ was built in 1951 and test driven on Mt. Fuji. With the Korean War under way, Toyota began full production in 1954 when they were renamed Land Cruiser. With the growing demand, Toyota opened assembly plants overseas including one in Pavas, Costa Rica, which was closed during the 1980s.

These old cars, with their diesel fumes, raucous motors and stick shifts, are not too popular around San José. They are not city cars! But go out to the rural areas of Alajuela, San Ramón, Cartago or the Northern Zone, and you will see a colorful line of aging but worthy Land Cruisers.

And they are not for sale.

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