This Picture from Top Gear Reminds Me of a Story

Many years ago I used to manage a professional automotive shop in Phoenix, AZ. At the time my primary transportation car was a 1978 Toyota Corolla SR5 Liftback (today we would call it a hot-hatch). I had showered this car with love courtesy of TRD so rather than the stock hemi-head 1600cc engine of 75 BHP is had the 1800cc dual-overhead cam 16-valve with 14:1 pop-up pistons, high-performance intake with 4 SU carbs and a racing inspired free flow header system. When put on our rear-wheel dynamometer it cranked out 305 BHP and 256 ft-lbs of torque. This power was routed to the road through a close-ratio 5-speed and Pirelli P6 tyres that were, let’s say, just a tad over-sized. I used to take the car out on weekends and challenge 911 Turbos (to their infinite embarrassment).

One day I am taking the day’s receipts to the main office on Central Ave in Phoenix, right in the heart of downtown, and it is at the peak of rush hour. My Asst. Manager, Dwayne, is sitting beside me when I pull into the parking lot. He jumps out, drops the receipt bag into the slot and jumps back in. I turn the car around and head for the exit. I notice there is a little gap in what is, literally, wall-to-wall Friday evening traffic. So I floor the car and dive for the exit determined to get the car on the road and across into the left turn lane before we are cut off because our turn is only a few hundred yards north of the office location. I completely forgot how steep the exit ramp is and that there is a slight bump just as you hit it. So when my almost rigid Koni suspension hits the bump we go air born! We are still headed straight but now there is that safety island to worry about. So I calculate the amount to turn the wheel and do so, while still in the air! Needless to say as soon as the car touched the ground my suspension did what it was designed to do and the car instantly turned right. At the same time the g-forces conspired to lift the right side of the car off the ground and we found ourselves on two wheels! To get out of this all you need to do is turn the wheels away from the elevated side of the car. I was right against the island and didn’t have the room to maneuver. In the meantime the gap had closed and the cars beside me are honking and hooting at us, fists are pumping up and down as far as the eye could see. Dwayne, God rest him, is sitting in the passenger’s seat ghost white (he is an African-American so this was a pretty neat trick I thought) and yelling at me, “What the hell are you doing, put this down!!” Dwayne apparently thought I had done this deliberately . . . he did have some prior history to make that claim.

The car felt pretty good riding on two wheels and I quickly realized I had good control as long as traffic kept moving we were good so I determined to ride the foolishness out. Two hundred yards north and the left turn lane opened up so I could give the car that little bit of a left that settled it back onto all four wheels. Adventure over. Drove home and had a beer. The following week Dwayne got his revenge! I’ll tell that story another time.


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