When I graduated from high school in 1972, I moved to California to live with an aunt and uncle. We knew I would need to buy a vehicle when I got to California, so on my uncle’s recommendation, I studied Consumer Report’s Used Car Ratings. The vehicle that seemed to get the highest overall ratings, in my price range, was the 1968 Toyota Corona Mark II.
As soon as I arrived in Fresno, I started test driving vehicles that fit the criteria. I ultimately chose a little station wagon model of a ’68 Toyota Corona Mark II, manual 4 on the floor model. Light blue with a faux leather cap, that little station wagon was my pride and joy.
It was not without its problems though and some might say it tried to kill me several times!
The first problem that plagued this vehicle was an almost stall on acceleration. Because it was a manual transmission you really wouldn’t expect the kind of behavior it was exhibiting. That mystery was solved by taking it to a specific Toyota service center. God love my Uncle Ernie, but his choice of car mechanics for my Toyota had been a bum steer. So, the fact that I would accelerate from a dead stop and get up to about 20 miles an hour and then lose all power, but not stall – just sort of putt, wasn’t so much a faulty manufacturer as a bad mechanic. Perhaps just an old guy, one without a metric set! Luckily I survived the several close calls I had when that behavior occurred.
But my sticky accelerator was a different story. One evening I was driving my Toyota, full of friends, on the freeway. We were headed north to a friend’s house in Merced. The speed limit was 70 mph, and with my little 4 cylinder engine, I had to keep it floored to maintain that speed (one of my passengers was quite large and may have weighed close to 350 lbs).
Suddenly I realized that the accelerator had stuck and we were gradually gaining a little speed. I experienced a tiny flash of panic and did what they tell you not to do. I tried to reach down to free it. Luckily the freeway wasn’t at all crowded; in fact, I don’t remember any traffic at all.
I couldn’t really reach the pedal, but I didn’t panic. My Dad had taught me well, and I understood engines and transmissions. I put the car in neutral, and although the roar of the engine was disconcerting – who cared! Better to burn the engine up than crash!!
With the Toyota in neutral, the brakes worked just fine. I braked to a stop and pulled on to the shoulder once we’d slowed down enough. But once we stopped, the engine was no longer racing.
Not really sure what had happened, either to make it stick or to become unstuck, we sat on the side of the road for a minute or two, recovering from the excitement, then got back on the road. I was extremely careful not to push the pedal all the way to the floor. We made it to the party, and later that evening, I made it home; again being careful not to push the pedal too far to the floor. I made that drive home alone, so I never went faster than 55 or 60 mph; I was a bit frightened and didn’t want trouble alone in the middle of the night.
The next day, after telling my Uncle about our experience, we worked together to try to figure out what had happened. Engines were a lot simpler back then, and it didn’t take very long to discover the problem. With the hood up, and the top of the air filter removed to reveal the flap mechanism of the carburetor we were able to watch the cable/linkage move as we depressed the gas pedal and released it.
Pressing the gas pedal all the way to the floor caused the edge of the other end of the cable, inside the carburetor, to catch and get hung-up. My Uncle and fiddled and fussed with things until we finally figured out that the only thing that had caused the pedal to release on its own the night before when I pulled the car over, was a bump. From what we could tell from our experimenting, was once the accelerator linkage got hung up, it was impossible to free it without manually reaching into the carburetor. (Or getting lucky by driving over a big enough bump!)
It never occurred to any of us that we should sue Toyota. Of course, it was the early 70s, a little before we became the most litigious country on the planet. All I did was to change the way I drove. I made a point not to floor my gas pedal. As far as I can remember, I only ever had the accelerator stick one other time. I was driving up a mountainside and pushed the pedal just a little too hard and far, but again, as soon as we bumped over the edge of the shoulder, it released and we were on our way again.
Did all Toyota Corona Mark IIs have this problem? I doubt we’ll never know. Has Toyota always had a problem with sticky accelerators? It is sure beginning to seem so. Perhaps it’s our ability to socially network that’s now allowing folks to connect and get the word out! How many more stories like this are out there??
I welcome your comments and questions.
Thank you, Dear Reader,