When we arrive at Roy Gardiner’s Suffolk home, his 1981 Toyota Celica ST is tucked away under a blue cover, parked on a neatly manicured lawn.
That it’s covered up on a warm July day is the first indication of how much the 70-year-old cares for the car he’s owned since 1983.
Or maybe he just wants to see our faces for the big reveal, because this is a remarkably original Celica like no other.
There’s a big smile on his face as we walk around the coupe, marvelling at the complete absence of even a speck of rust in all the usual places, at the seats that look almost new, at the spotless engine bay and boot floor.
Surely this car has either been completely restored, or has been preserved in aspic and barely driven from new.
Neither is true. It’s covered more than 120,000 miles, hasn’t seen a spray booth since it left the factory and, apart from a necessary replacement windscreen, one new exhaust, battery and other service items, it is all original.
There are no stone chips or parking scrapes, and the Toyota is still on its original clutch. Just how has he done it?
“Because he’s obsessed”, says Roy’s wife Barbara, smiling, while the man himself admits he’s a “fanatic”.
Roy bought the car for £3,500 from, appropriately enough, Roy’s Motor Company in Norwich as a two-year-old, one-owner car with 16,000 miles on the clock.
It was his second Celica, the first a 1978 coupe, also a mark two but with the earlier round headlights.
From the word go, Roy decided he and the Toyota were in it for the long haul, and he went to great lengths to make sure the car would not disintegrate like so many others of the period.
“A love for Toyotas”
“My aim when I bought it was to keep it for a long while,” he says. “I don’t know why I got that in my head, but after the first Celica I got the bug and have had a love for Toyotas ever since.
“There was always something going wrong with the other cars I’d had, a Vauxhall Velox and a Ford Cortina 1600E, but as soon as I bought Toyotas nothing went wrong.”
Roy was initially attracted to the Celica by its modern design.
“It was the shape and the character of it,” he says. “When we bought that there were people riding around in Morris Oxfords and Morris Minors. In the Celica, you looked the part. It caught the eye at that time.
“It’s also a lovely driving car, with a nice, relaxed seating position, and the dials are lovely to look at.”
Soon after buying the silver, 1600cc coupe, Roy used it for a holiday to Eccles on the north Norfolk coast, staying in a chalet with Barbara and young son Stewart.
It was a very different kind of holiday, for there began nearly 40 years of fastidious dedication to keeping the car in mint condition.
“I took every panel I could off it, and the wheels, and Waxoyled it everywhere,” he says. “I took off almost every nut and bolt, copper greased them and put them back on.
“It took me the whole week, though I didn’t spend the entire holiday doing it – I did go to the beach!
“If I’d taken it apart here it would never have got done. There’s always something to do when you’re at home, but if you’re away on holiday you can specifically focus on one thing.”
Once Roy had finished protecting the car as much as he could, it was used as a daily driver, a shopping car, and for family holidays, mainly to the Isle of Skye off Scotland’s northwest coast, but also to Devon and the Lake District.
“It used to have a towbar on the back for a little camping trailer,” he says. “We went everywhere in it, and it never broke down. The only issue was a puncture in the Lake District, and I fitted the spare.
“It used to fly then; it probably would now I suppose, but I don’t go over 55mph these days. We used to get to Scotland in four hours!”
On one such trip to Scotland, Roy added a second Celica to the family, buying an identical 1600 ST coupe for Stewart, who had just passed his driving test.
“He was going to get a Triumph Spitfire, but I just happened to see this on the internet,” says Roy. “We stopped in at Durham on the way up, paid for it and then went on to the Isle of Skye.
“I thought ‘this is strange, giving him the money’, but when we came back it was still there!
“It was not in as good nick as mine because it had been left outside, but it was OK for Stewart to drive it home.”
Stewart, who lives next door to his father, still owns his Celica 20 years on, and Roy believes their twin cars are two of only four of that exact model left in the UK.
Born in Bury St Edmunds, Roy left school at 15 and, after briefly working at a builders yard, got a job stacking bottles of beer on a conveyor belt at the local Greene King brewery.
The company paid to put him through his driving test with a view to training him as a chauffeur for the directors, but he was soon trained as an HGV driver, working as a drayman delivering beer to pubs for more than a decade.
After leaving the brewery, he had a short stint as a long distance lorry driver before joining Eastern Carriers, later subsumed by delivery giant UPS, at around the time he bought the Celica.
It’s clear his 37 years with the company has played its part in the lack of wear and tear on the Toyota’s engine, and that original clutch.
Rules for driving
He produces a double-sided card issued to all UPS drivers giving some basic rules for safe driving which, if followed, would also reduce strain on the vehicle.
They are deeply ingrained, and he rattles off some from memory.
“Predict what’s ahead of you, get the big picture before you brake, if you come to a green traffic light assume it’s going to change, don’t ride the clutch, use the gears to brake…” he says.
“I have spent my whole life driving, and you have to learn how to drive a car properly. If you go round roundabouts too quickly, you’ll wear the bearings out.
“You also have to keep an eye on where you park it, because you don’t want any dents on the doors and modern cars are so much wider – and people are bigger so the only way they can get out is to open their door into yours!”
Sometimes, though, even the most careful owner can be undone by sheer bad luck, and the Celica has not been entirely undamaged.
“We parked it under a tree once, there was a big bang and suddenly we couldn’t see the car – it was covered in leaves,” says Roy.
“Lightning had struck the tree and it had chucked bark all over the car. I thought I’d lost the car – I thought it had gone.”
Uncovering the car revealed a number of dents on the driver’s side, but no damage to the paintwork.
“It took this dent-master hours to get the dents out – there is one tiny one on the roof he couldn’t get out,” says Roy. In truth, it’s too small to see unless you look very hard.
When the car was nearing its 20th birthday, Roy started using the car more sparingly and taking it to shows, not thinking he would ever win any prizes.
But, as time wore on, the judges started to take an interest, whether at the Toyota Enthusiasts Club shows or all-make classic car shows.
“I’d just park it up, and they’d come up and tell me I’d won,” says Roy. “I started to think, ‘this must be something special’.”
A string of plaques line the wall of the garage, for “best modern classic”, “best original car”, and soon the Celica was attracting crowds of onlookers.
“Instead of a trickle of people coming up to look at it, they started queuing up,” he laughs. “I don’t know why I take a chair because I’m always standing at the front speaking to people asking about it who want to know all about it. I’m there all the time explaining things to them.
“They ask me ‘is it really all original? Have you had it restored? Why hasn’t it rusted?’ They’re just amazed – they just can’t believe it and think I’m pulling their leg.
“People have spent thousands on their cars restoring them to win a prize and there I am.”
In 2018 at the Cars by the Lake event at nearby Fornham St Martin, Roy was parked between a Ferrari and a Noble, yet beat them both to the best modern classic award. There was clearly no car snobbery among the judges.
“Mine stuck out like a sore thumb,” says Roy. “I couldn’t believe it. I asked them ‘where did I go wrong not owning a car like you’ve got?!’”
It may not be a Ferrari, but to Roy it’s just as precious as any supercar, a “labour of love” that has taken decades of dedication to keep it in showroom condition.
“It’s my most treasured possession, my pride and joy” he says. “It’s a big part of my life.
“If it’s raining we won’t go to a show, and if it rains while we’re there I’ll leather it down to dry it off before putting it in the garage.
“You’ve got to keep a classic car garaged. It’s different now – modern cars don’t rust and you can leave them outside.”
The current daily driver is a 15-year-old Toyota Yaris, kept outside, bought from new and which has proved as reliable as the Celica.
“Apart from servicing, all I’ve had to replace is one light bulb,” he says, explaining the mantra that has seen him keep hold of the Celica for so long. “Why go to another vehicle when that one’s all right? Why replace it? It works, nothing’s gone wrong with it…”
With classic car shows biting the dust this summer thanks to the coronavirus, the car has been confined to barracks, but Roy is hoping to take it to a show at Glemham Hall, near Woodbridge, on September 6.
And what if someone should be so taken by the car to offer to buy it?
“I would say it’s not for sale at any price,” says Roy. “One day I’ll pass it on to my son, and hopefully he will pass it on to his son, at least until the petrol runs out.”
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