In a show full of amazing automotive tales, no car at this year’s Festival of the Unexceptional had more dramatic beginnings than Udara David’s Toyota Sprinter Carib.
“My dad bought this car in Japan in the late Eighties,” says David, “and shipped it over to Sri Lanka. It was our family runaround, just a normal car. So when I was a kid, this is what got me into cars in the first place – today, I work for BMW UK.”
Already a well-travelled car then, this Toyota. But that’s not even half of the story.
“We later moved over to the UK, and left the car at home in Sri Lanka, in the early 2000s. And then in 2004, the Indian Ocean earthquake and tsunami happened…”
One of the most deadly natural disasters in recorded history, more than 200,000 people died during the event that took place on Boxing Day, 2004. Next to that, property damage is immaterial, but sited close to the coast, neither the family’s old home, nor the Toyota still parked in the garage, escaped unscathed.
Thankfully, the damage was only minor, but it was at this point the David family decided to get the car fixed up, leaving it with a local bodyshop in Sri Lanka – but the Sprinter still wasn’t in the clear just yet.
“We weren’t in the country at the time, and people ended up stealing the brakes, and rare trim pieces off the car. It was heartbreaking, because it’s like a member of our family. But we never gave up on it, so we left it back with a family member, who took it to a body shop to get it repaired.”
All that time, David started looking for some of the rare trim pieces that disappeared, ready to attach back onto the car. And then, in 2019, he finally shipped the Carib back to the UK, “And since then I’ve fixed it all up – I’ve found all the rare parts, got the switchable four-wheel drive working… it’s all back in place.”
At this juncture, it’s probably appropriate to let you know what you’re actually looking at here. Marketed in the UK as the Tercel 4WD Estate – an example of which one of David’s friends also brought along to this year’s Festival – the Sprinter Carib was launched in 1982, mixing parts from across the Toyota range to create a kind of progenitor of today’s crossovers.
Pitched very much as a more comfortable alternative to the agricultural 4x4s on sale at the time, the Sprinter Carib used a modest 1.5-litre, four-cylinder ‘3A’ Toyota engine – making 71bhp – with a five-speed, high and low-range 4WD transmission for uncommonly good poor-weather capability.
What makes David’s car all the more special though is its Japanese origin – a market that, in his own words, “keeps all the good stuff for itself.”
As such, a laundry list of the Carib’s features includes an electric sunroof, electric mirrors, automatic climate control – with a sensor to adjust the interior based on the ambient temperature outside – as well as features standard to the model, like an inclinometer on the dashboard, and a graphic showing which wheels are currently being driven.
“And I found rare parts like the side visors in Japan, the wheel trims in Australia, little bits and pieces of interior trim in America – basically, I’ve been hunting down parts for the last ten years.” Surprisingly, nothing has been too difficult to get hold of – though buying a job-lot of spare parts from an automotive YouTuber with a fondness for the car certainly helped.
There’s one feature though that you won’t find on a standard Sprinter Carib: that bonnet vent. “There’s a bit of a story behind that,” explains David. “In the early Nineties, my dad had it converted to diesel, with the engine out of a Lite Ace van – basically, diesel was the trend at the time.
“But the car never really drove properly, and the vent is there because the bonnet wouldn’t shut without it! But the car is running the original 1.5 again, and I’ve left the scoop there because it just kind of works with the look. My family would kill me if I ever got rid of it, because it’s part of the character of the car.”
As for the stuff you can’t see, the car’s restoration in Sri Lanka and subsequent fettling here mean it’s as solid underneath as it is on the surface. David shows me pictures of various points in the car’s history, from a shot of him and his sister as kids with the car, to images from its restoration.
And now, with the Sprinter Carib complete and plenty of spares at hand, David has taken it upon himself to help others with their own restorations – an important task, given only seven or eight remain on UK roads, and a friend owns three of those.
Udara David’s car must be one of the best of its kind in the world though – and it’s fair to say none has quite as interesting a history as the one that came to the UK from Japan, via Sri Lanka and a tsunami.
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