Mooban Hack – The Legend of the Kujira Begins

mooban def: a village or community (Thai)
(note: I previously wrote about my new ride here)
Maybe I should say the legend “continues,” since I’m told it’s quite possibly run a million kilometers over the past 36 years, but the legend of the Kujira Crown began for me on September 1, 2007. I happened across this ad shortly after it was posted on the Thai Visa forums:

1971 Toyota Crown Deluxe.
RB20 Nissan 2 litre, 24 Valve Fuel Injected 6 Cylinder.
5 Speed Manual
Airconditioning (but needs a re-gas)
Registration expired, can be updated. Owner Book and change of ownership papers supplied.
This is a tired old car, with brakes, steering and suspension from the early 70’s. Goes very well, engine and gearbox is sound. Suit restoration, or farm, mooban hack.

I wasn’t very hopeful for any kind of car available for $1000 US in Thailand, because cars are, against all economic sense, more expensive here than in the states or even Japan, especially used ones. Let me put it another way: I have never seen a car here selling for five times that much worth driving – five grand US will buy you a real dog in Thailand, and that’s about it.
But the magic words for me in that ad were: 1971, Crown, RB20, 24 valve, Airconditioning. If true, this car had all I needed to get to the university and back every day, in a bit of style, too. The poster of the ad supplied some photos:
It sure didn’t look like a dog… I was intrigued, maybe even sold from the get go. I messaged the seller via private message on the Thai Visa BBS:

Hi, I saw your ad for the ’71 Crown this afternoon. I’m looking for something like this just for shuttling around town, but am living up in Isan. Where is your Crown located? Do you have any further details on its condition/history?

He replied:

The Crown is here in Bangkok. I’ve owned it for about 4 years, purchased off a friend who lived in Khon Kaen for many years, so it’s spent a lot of it’s life in Isan. It’s an ideal old car for getting around town, I drove it from Bangkok to Chonburi and back everyday for 7 months, and it did well. Basically the body is starting to show it’s rust again, bubbling out in a few places, it still washes up nice. It’s a solid ladder frame chassis car, and that’s sound. Brakes, suspension, steering are tired, but it’s remarkably still good to drive, tires are worn out. New Battery, radiator and hoses are fine, clutch, gearbox (very nice 5 speed) and diff are all quiet and good, it doesn’t overheat, use oil, water, and is actually quite economical when driven sedately, it’s also quite fast, and will happily (and dangerously) do 180kmh. Exhaust is good and quiet, it was a well done conversion from probably 8 or 9 years ago. It’s dashboard is in pieces, but I have it all here and it’s easily reinstalled. Aircond is an old under dash unit, but when it had gas, it was remarkably cold and effective!
I’m basically selling it for the price of the engine/gearbox as a 24V RB20 is quite a popular engine here in Bangkok, and the Nissan boys like converting up from the 12V engine, it’s also a good CNG conversion engine apparently.
Give me a call on xxxx if you want any further info!

Needless to say, I called and expressed interest pretty quickly. This turned out to be a good thing, because others started calling the seller after I did. I have to explain something here regarding the seller, who I shall refer top as “C.” As the Dude would say, C is a righteous dude. After I called him, he got calls from other interested parties and even was asked to sell by people who just happened to see the car, but he sold it to me for two reasons; the first was that I called first and the second is that he wanted the car to have a good home. This is the reason he sold it to me so cheaply, and also the reason he didn’t just sell the engine and junk the car, which would have been much, much easier for him. His own words were along the lines of, “If I sold the car just for the engine, they would have junked it and that would have been one less piece of funk left in the world. I think the world needs this kind of funk.” Amen, brother.
When Nam and I made a trip out to Bangkok to actually see the car, it only solidified my desire for it. As I stated previously, it didn’t look like a dog. And driving it around a bit to feel what that transplanted Skyline engine felt like, it sure didn’t bark like a dog either… It was a very cool, peculiar feeling – like cruising down the street in a piece of history. If only cars could talk!
It took a couple of months to get everything together for the change of ownership, which got complicated because the paper owner was a Thai national living overseas who didn’t have a current Thai national ID card. Basically, I wanted the car re-registered so it could be insured before I drove it back to Mahasarakham. I think that most people buying a car at that price would not have bothered registering or insuring it, but in my current situation I have everything to lose and nothing to gain by driving around uninsured.
But it all got sorted out, eventually. When we were down that way for Nutty’s wedding a few weeks back, we stayed a couple extra days and went with C and a helper to the Thai equivalent of the DMV in Nonthaburi and got the car re-registered (which C graciously paid for). They told us to do the change of ownership back in Sarakham, so we made a quick call to Nam’s little sister, Noon, who sells insurance, and got the car immediately insured with basic coverage. We dropped off the helper, parted ways with C near Nam’s aunt’s house in Lad Prao – he watched us drive off into the sunset – and took the car to a garage down the street. This is where I began to suspect that this car was a luck magnet.
The owner of the garage turned out to be Nam’s aunt’s mechanic, who looks after her fleet of company cars and was worried about us getting back to Isan in such an old car. He promptly called over his crew of five greasemonkeys and in 2.5 hours they had checked/changed all belts (including timing belt and bearings), oils, fluids, some failed suspension bushings, and all four tires (C had included a set of decent tires in the trunk – I told you, righteous!).
An hour before it got dark out, we were on our way home.
I sent an SMS to C from a gas station rest stop a couple hours later:

So I got all the belts changed and even the bushings you pointed out under the car. Have stopped on the far side of saraburi for gas but only 600 B went in. Now I know better what the gas gauge is trying to say. Driving a car older than me is humbling in a good way.

He replied:

I’m thrilled you’ve freshened it up and got it back to life Justin, it’s a slick 70’s sled, and there was nothin better than cruisin the cool night Bangkok streets with the windows down… and as you’ll find, she’s no slouch either! Have fun.

and later:

She’s not the youngest girl at the ball, but she still turns a head or two… treat her with the respect she deserves and she’ll look after you…!

and finally:

That’s great news Justin! I was just thinking about you guys then… But there was something I didn’t tell you about the old girl…

I called him to ask what he was talking about… He told me, straight out, that he and other people think that this car is possessed with a friendly spirit who keeps it running. “How else,” he asked, “could it keep running this long this well?”
As I overtook a long line of cars on the long road past Korat, downshifting on the occasional curve and feeling instant response in her sweet spots around the top of third and throughout fourth gear, I thought about what he had said. Yeah, I can accept that, I thought. Thirty six years. A million kilometers. Unknown numbers of passengers from all walks of life gracing the seats. Countless memories. This car has seen it all.
We got home around midnight.

UPDATE: This is what my MS-60 Kujira Crown looks like now:

1 thought on “Mooban Hack – The Legend of the Kujira Begins

  1. I like the idea of the friendly, protective spirit guardian in your car. Now, all you need is a good baby car seat and you’re good to go!

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