Old 1991 Corolla finds life after death on the ice

Our beloved 1991 Corolla wagon lived a life of leisure as a reliable family car that was never really pushed to its limits. But when it’s usefulness to us ended, it found a new life on the racetrack.

  • 1991 Corolla

When a thoroughbred racehorse is finished competing, it is put out to pasture for a life of leisure.

Our beloved 1991 Corolla wagon lived a life of leisure as a reliable family car that was never really pushed to its limits. But when it’s usefulness to us ended, it found a new life on the racetrack.

We bought the car second-hand in 2000. Even though its first home was Calgary, where they don’t use much salt in the winter, we had to fix some rust spots and, with a coat of paint, it looked pretty good.

Regular service and maintenance made for a reliable second car to our van as the kids grew up. With its manual transmission, it was the kid’s learning car when they were old enough to drive. As ugly as it was, we all loved this trusty car and it became known as “The Humbling Car.”

The first signs of death came when the bumper fell off last winter, due to rusted mounts. I reattached it with a ratchet strap and some carefully crafted brackets, but along with some new engine noises, its reliability became suspect.

I found myself the main driver, as I feared that one of the girls would get stranded due to another unforeseen breakdown.

1991 Corolla

That mysterious engine noise was identified when the water pump failed about two kilometres from home one day. I decided not to spend another cent on the car and I parked it at the road with a “For Sale” sign in the window.

The only hits I got were tow-truck drivers who wanted to cash it in at the wreckers — something I could do myself and get the full $350.

Then the mechanic who worked on it the most suggested we go ice racing with it. Just as it sounds, ice racing involves cars racing around a track of glare ice at the Minden Fairgrounds on five weekends in January and February.

I immediately envisioned a family ice-racing team to hone our winter driving skills. This would save the car from the graveyard and give it renewed purpose.

My wife, who did not trust that this project would happen and feared the car would become unwanted yard art, quickly put an end to that idea.

So we ran an ad on the Canadian Automobile Sport Clubs website (casc.on.ca) and, after a few emails confirming it’s potential, the car was scooped up.

The new owner, Todd Doyle, has been a regular ice-racing enthusiast for the past five years, and was a class champion last year in a 1995 Subaru Justy. He rolled and destroyed the Justy in a crash during the last race weekend of the year, hence the interest in our car.

He has invested about 40 hours of work and $750, including the purchase price, to make our old Corolla race ready. That includes removing most of the interior, the sway bars, the horn and all glass or plastic lenses. Added is a roll bar and some reinforcing for the body panels with two-by-fours and expanding foam.

1991 Corolla

After spending another $265 on racing fees for the season, Todd will be competing in the 4WD Rubber to Ice class — which is restricted to winter tires with no studs. Other classes include studded tires and steel studs.

About 80 cars show up for each of the race weekends (weather permitting). It is hard to distinguish between the drivers and the spectators, since many of the cars share drivers and some take passengers.

I drove up to Minden (about a half-hour east of Bracebridge) to watch our beloved Corolla wagon in its new racing life.

Todd took me out for a practice session and a race, which he won. What a thrill as he explained the techniques and tactics he would be using while going around the track. It was a lot slower than I thought, as the sunny conditions kept the ice slippery.

Todd is hoping to get up to 10 years of racing out of our beloved Corolla.

His teenage daughter rides with him as a passenger but he doesn’t share the car with anybody.

Maybe I can convince Todd to bring me on as a shared driver next season.

1991 Corolla

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