Saying a final farewell to The Spectre with the Toyota Tundra SR5

Whenever I get a pickup truck for a test vehicle, I try to find truck-like things to do with it. Sometimes, if time allows, I’ll take them off-road, but I also find ways to make them work. I’ve done everything from just carrying a TV off to the local charity to helping friends move to a new apartment.

But, when I got the redesigned full-size Toyota Tundra, I had a task for it that was far more somber.

A friend once told me about the “owner’s test,” which will determine whether you’re capable of owning and operating a race car. Simply walk into the nearest bathroom, take a $100 bill out of your wallet, and flush it down the toilet. If you started crying about it, you failed the test. You have no business getting involved in racing cars.

Though I would quite embarrassingly fail that test, that didn’t stop me from trying to do it anyway. Several years ago, I bought a 1981 Datsun 200SX from Craigslist that had been built for and previously raced in the ITB class of SCCA autocross as a project car for my previous writing endeavor, the Orlando Auto Examiner. I promptly named it The Spectre, not only because of its primer exterior finish, but the proposed arising from the grave.

To precisely zero people’s surprise, the project soon stalled. Ostensibly, it was because the car was so rusty; it was an early 80s Datsun, after all. Once I had taken most of it apart, it became clear just how much corrosion had rendered the structure, not just the body panels, completely unsafe to drive even on public roads, let alone a race track. I have to be honest, though, because the real reason the project stalled was because I had neither the time nor the expertise nor the money to restore it to racing condition. So I eventually arrived at the decision to accept defeat, abandon the project, and rid myself of the car.

Thus, after three weeks, a borrowed Sawzall, and many, many broken Sawzall blades, the ill-fated Datsun became one macabre pile of rusty steel, which another friend helped me haul off as scrap in his trailer.


Why? For one, I was unquestionably the only person on this planet daft enough to believe it was worth anything more than scrap in the first place, and second, it was a race car its entire life, so it never had a title, meaning I couldn’t haul it off to the junkyard as a complete car. Loopholes, and such.

Oh, and, for the record, cutting a car into pieces of scrap metal is a brain-racking, energy-draining, and morale-lowering chore that I hope I never have to undertake ever again in my life.

Anyway, I did it, and put it behind me, right? Lesson learned, right?

Wrong. I wasn’t even close to being finished. Part of the purchase of the Datsun were two spare engines: one Z20 short block with the cylinder head complete, but separate, and one Z24 long block that actually came from a Datsun 720 pickup truck… and two spare transmissions. This was all sitting on my back porch, along with the engine and transmission that were in the car before I cut it into pieces.

I wasn’t going to infringe on my friend’s generosity any further, so all that continued to sit on my back porch for months after the car itself was long gone.

That is, until Toyota gave me the Tundra to drive for a week, with an optional bedliner already installed, and on a week that I had a day off. It was a perfect opportunity to test the new Tundra as it was designed and also to remove the reminders of my failed project from my back porch so I could once again use it like normal people use back porches.

Cue the cliché about two birds and one stone.

My particular test vehicle was an SR5 CrewMax model, with two-wheel-drive and the larger 5.7L V8 engine making 381 hp and 401 ft-lbs of torque. Being a CrewMax, it was a true four-door with the longest cab, but also the shortest bed at 5.5 feet long. Though I was initially concerned about the shortness of the bed considering the work I had for it to do, my cherry picker and I managed to load every engine into the bed, and since the transmissions were made out of aluminum, I was able to just heave those in myself. This may have been a task I had to do myself, making the enormous passenger space in the back seat unnecessary. But it still got done with the short bed, so a longer one would have been equally unnecessary.

Now, if you’ve never hauled scrap off to a scrapyard before, there are two deposit points: one for ferrous metals (steel, iron, etc.) and one for non-ferrous metals (aluminum, copper, most alloys, etc.), and at the particular scrapyard where I disposed of The Spectre’s remains, the procedures for unloading the two types of metal are different. I had to unload the aforementioned aluminum transmissions first, along with the aluminum Z20 cylinder head, by hand onto a cart. That cart is then weighed and I was given a receipt for the weight of the metal I deposited. Then I had to drive the Tundra onto the scrapyard’s scale for ferrous metals with the engine blocks still in the bed. Several workers at the scrapyard helped me unload the engine blocks out of the bed, and then I drove around and reweighed the Tundra to find out how much weight I had lost. I was then given a separate receipt for that deposit.

So, at this point, all the manual labor was over. I gathered my receipts together, went to the front desk to collect my meager compensation, and sat in the Tundra at the main entrance to catch my breath and reflect for a moment on the weight of everything I had scrapped that day: 880 lbs.

I then realized just how much work I had made this Tundra do. 880 lbs may not sound like much, especially when manufacturers like to advertise towing capacity because of the sheer size of the numbers; my test Tundra had a 10,100 lb towing capacity, for example. But the payload was 1,665 lbs. I had over half of its payload in the bed, and I in the driver’s seat along with all that scrap amounted to over 90% of its 7000 lb GVWR.

According to Toyota, anyway, I had tested this Tundra nearly to capacity, and I had painfully surpassed my own body’s capacity throughout this adventure.

Yet, while I definitely felt it in my back afterwards, I didn’t feel it whatsoever in the way the Tundra drove on the way there. The V8 engine certainly didn’t struggle. In fact, it had gobs of excess power for the job at hand. But most surprising to me was that the rear suspension didn’t sag in any noticeable amount, nor were the ride quality or the handling adversely affected. From the driver’s seat, I may as well have driven an empty truck to the scrap yard. It felt capable of a much, much heavier load.

I also wasn’t really at any hardship inside the Tundra, either. Though it was an SR5, it had the optional Upgrade package. That trades the front bench seat in on a pair of more supportive bucket seats, puts a proper center console in between them with a huge armrest, cupholders, and storage cubby, and also puts the shifter for the six-speed automatic transmission down there as well rather than on the steering column. Also selected as an option was Toyota’s Entune audio and touch-screen navigation system. There wasn’t any leather or heated seats, but on this occasion, I didn’t miss them.

Now that big, powerful V8 is thirsty. After the trip to the scrapyard and a week’s worth of normal in-town activity, the Tundra returned 14.5mpg. Furthermore, though the Tundra actually compares favorably to a similarly equipped Chevrolet Silverado in price, I’m still struggling to consider a pickup truck with an MSRP of $38,039 a bargain. Remember, I would fail the “owner’s test.”

But by far the biggest struggle for me at the time, though, was giving my project such an undignified end. It was a disheartening experience watching my aspirations and my big plans for rebuilding a race car and actually going to real sanctioned races with it get thrown into a big, anonymous pile alongside some old scaffolding and a dishwasher.

Sometimes, though, the only choice you have is to let it go and move on with your life, and when I drove away from the scrapyard in the Tundra, sore, tired, and hungry, I at least felt some closure, and also a sense of accomplishment about how much I had done that day myself… and how the Tundra was just the right tool for the job.


Quick Stats:
Price as tested: $38,039
Horsepower: 381hp
Torque: 401 ft-lbs
Weight: 5,335 lbs
Fuel economy: 14.5 mpg
Towing capacity: 10,100 lbs

Test vehicle provided by Toyota Motor Sales USA.

Thanks for reading Boosted News… keep your brakes cool and your passion hot!

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