Road Tripping from Calgary in the Poor Man’s Ferrari — A 1984 Toyota Supra
The Supra was Toyota’s flagship sports car from 1979 to 2002. It was Motor Trend’s import car of the year in 1982. With an angular body, popup headlights, and a low profile, this is an iconic 80’s sports car — or as Daniel calls it, the poor man’s Ferrari.
As a young teen in the 90’s, and already a Toyota enthusiast, he had coveted these cars. The 80’s Celica Supra was basically sex on wheels to a 15-year old Daniel. Over the years, he’s owned an extensive (and growing) selection of ‘classic’ Toyotas, but now his sights were back on the sports car of his dreams.
He’d found a 1984 Celica Supra on Kijiji, and we were headed to Calgary to collect it. Luckily (although not surprisingly) these cars are pretty cheap to pick up, if you can find one in good condition.
The mission was to acquire this car and road trip it home to Vancouver Island on the scenic routes — hoping that nothing broke down and that we didn’t end up stranded on the side of the road.
He’d been texting the owner all week to make sure we could get the right insurance paperwork to take it across the BC-Alberta border — which is a real hassle, as we found out. The owner, also a huge Toyota guy, gave the Supra a tune up and even replaced the alternator before we went to pick it up. A testament to how passionate these Toyota guys are.
The Supra is a bright 80’s red (3D1 Super Red, to be exact), with pop-up headlights and a sleek, angular body. We brought a Bluetooth speaker with us, correctly anticipating that there would be an issue with the stereo. Daniel was over the moon happy to have this car, and we would head off first thing in the morning toward the Rockies. Maybe we would stop in Kananaskis and rent a canoe for the afternoon. Or maybe we would have a nice mountain picnic in the park. Or maybe we would spend half the day in a Canadian Tire, parking lot — which is what happened.
In the morning we loaded into our super Supra and headed to Canadian Tire — Daniel was going to pick up a couple of tools, just in case we ran into issues along the way. As we drove the 20 minutes from my Aunt’s house to Canadian Tire, Daniel started to get nervous. “The battery isn’t holding a charge,” he said. Honestly, I wasn’t too worried. Not because I know anything about cars, I don’t, but because not only have I seen Daniel jerry-rig his way out of seemingly serious automotive issues, I grew up watching my Dad troubleshoot on the side of the highway with his Toyota Land Cruiser for almost my entire childhood. Alternators, pistons, carburetors, all breaking down on what feels like every trip. I learned at a young age it’s better to just to hang out, stay calm and entertain yourself kicking rocks on the side of the road rather than to try and help a frustrated Dad. I have transferred this knowledge over to my relationship with Daniel, and so far so good.
“Didn’t he replace the alternator?” I asked, trying to help and maybe prove that I’d been listening. We parked the car in the back of the lot. Daniel shut it off, then tried to turn the ignition over again. Nothing. We were going nowhere, dead in the parking lot of a Canadian Tire. The perfect spot to be with a dead car, let’s be honest.
Daniel bought some tools, I bought some lawn chairs (ready to get comfortable for the long day ahead). He trouble-shooted, testing the battery (it was bad), but still the issue was with this dang alternator. He called around to shops — Calgary is a city of 1.2 million people, with 1,007,399 automotive vehicles on the road (as of 2016), and yet no shops had an alternator for a 1984 Toyota Supra. I wasn’t surprised. Then one shop, the Alternator & Starter Depot, said they might have something.
We tossed the new battery on and took off on an 18-minute drive to the Alternator & Starter Depot. It turned out they misheard Daniel and thought he needed a starter, not an alternator. Daniel took the bad part out of the Supra and gave it to them hoping maybe they could fix it, or clean it, or pass a magic wand over it and it would have some incredible rejuvenation and come back to life. No such luck. It was shot. Not fixable.
We explained that we had to get out of the city that day. We had to drive back to the coast by Thursday, because on Friday we were both going to bachelor(ette) parties — Daniel’s was at his family cabin and he was in charge of getting everyone there by boat (including the groom). We had to get home, failure was not an option. The guy at the Alternator shop said to wait and he’s see what he could do. He rigged up a something to a something and it fit like magic (I don’t know what he did, but the car started). It took 2 hours — this is why I bought the lawn chairs.
We left the city at about 3pm. Just seven hours behind schedule.
Driving out of Calgary was not just long overdue, but very pleasant. Coming from Vancouver Island I tend to forget what a real highway looks like. Approaching the Rockies from the edge of the flat Alberta prairies, makes you feel like you’re headed on some grand adventure. Mugs at Chapters and inspirational Instagrammers will say, “the mountains are calling and I must go,” but as you approach the Rockies from Calgary I can stay that this is a real thing. It’s like the mountains are a magnet pulling you toward them with their ancient knowledge. Also, they look like Mordor, which I like a lot.
We were avoiding Banff, so we turned off the main drag at Kananaskis to drive through the park. We’d been told that this is an incredible route that would allow us to drive parallel to the Rockies. I now know that it required a turn off of highway 40 onto 22. We stayed diligently on 40, which turned into driving 107 kilometres on a dirt road through cattle territory in a low clearance 80’s sports car. It was rough, but also very spectacular. I’ve never experience roaming cattle like this — just generally all over the place in the hundreds. That’s Alberta beef, I guess.
Landing on paved roads again in Coleman, we decided to continue onto Fernie. We checked into the Red Tree Lodge and snuck into the Smokehouse Restaurant 30-minutes before the kitchen closed. This was a delightful surprise, the Smokehouse is a great restaurant, and after an afternoon rattling down dirt roads I was ready for a meal that was thoughtfully prepared. Honestly, I would take anything with aioli, which they had in abundance.
In the morning we officially fell in love with Fernie. We had waffles at the Blue Toque Gastro Diner, checked out the strip of excellent little shops, bought cassettes at the thrift store and washed the Supra.
Cruising through the Kootenays was the kind of driving Daniel had been waiting for. The winding, scenic highways of BC’s interior and the smattering of unique little towns provide the conditions that driving enthusiasts dream about. We also drove through a couple of forest fires, which was a sobering reminder of the stress the summer had caused in the interior.
We drove out of the steep mountains and lush forests into the Okanagan desert. Driving into Osoyoos was like reaching an urban metropolis. The sun was setting in a vibrant pink and purple, reflecting off the lakes on all sides.
If you consider camping to be sleeping in the car and watching The Package on Netflix, then we camped in Osoyoos and took off first thing in the morning. We drove along the Crowsnest pass, past the Hope Slide and back down through the mountains. We headed straight to the Tswassen Ferry Terminal, taking this portion of the drive for granted as we had driven through it hundreds of times before.
Besides our opening issues, the Supra was super. The cruise control, windshield wipers, stereo, passenger mirror and sunroof were all broken, but the car itself is a statement. With popup headlights, big heavy doors and a classic 80’s body style, it has a personality that so many modern vehicles are lacking. As we drove, it heads turned, and in Vancouver, an SUV full of young men pulled up beside us and shouted appreciation for the car before speeding away. There’s something about these old Toyotas that if you care about them, you really care. And if you don’t care, well, they’re still fun to drive.
Driving 1,300 kilometres, we had made it from prairies through Mordor (the Rockies), down gravel roads, through charming small towns, into the desert, through the mountains and out to the sea. It was a lot of driving, but that’s how you get to know this incredibly vast country of ours, on the backroads, in a poor man’s Ferrari.