How A Bad Snowstorm Made Me Buy A Toyota Celica All-Trac

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Hi there! I’m Helen, Kristen Lee’s mom. Here is a photo of me with my 1983 Toyota Celica. It was the first car I bought.

[Welcome to Jalopnik Mother’s Day, where we celebrate the wonderful moms of the Jalopnik staff whose automotive choices led, no doubt, to the band of miscreants whose words you read here every day.]

I had seen this car from my apartment window in Boston when I was still in dental school. I immediately fell in love with the look. As you can see, I prefer the hatchback style.


The most memorable trip was a trip we took with the Celica to Vermont in 1984. We had no concept of rear-drive or front-drive at that time or winter tires versus summer tires. Dad, working overtime, was in need of a break. He asked his boss for a nice place to go to for the weekend. His boss suggested Woodstock, Vermont. In February.

That weekend snow was forecasted, but being young and unafraid, we set out to Vermont on the highway. Dad didn’t know how to drive at the time, so I did all the driving. As you can imagine, we managed poorly on the highway, slipping and sliding. All the trucks passing us would spray salt on the windshield. We soon ran out of windshield fluid. We had to get out of the car multiple times to clear the windshield or we couldn’t see a thing. When we got to Vermont, it was 20 below and we were freezing our butts off.

The car did take us home safely after all. As you can see from the photo, it was a dirty mess.


In 1986, while I was working at the office, a big blizzard hit New Jersey. Within half an hour, the Celica was buried in the snow in the parking lot. My assistant and I were stranded at the office. We joked about walking across turnpike to ask the orthodontist who lived on the street just across if we could stay overnight.

Luckily, my assistant’s husband had a truck which could traverse snow-covered roads without any problems. He came to our rescue and drove me home. Along the way, we saw all sorts of cars stuck in the middle of the road, abandoned, all the way down to our house. Back then, no one had a four-wheel-drive car.


Eventually, I sold the car in 1987 for $1,500 after I fixed up the transmission. I couldn’t keep the car because we moved to a new house on a steep hill. Every time it snowed, the car could not make it to the driveway. I had to shovel my way from the street all the way through the driveway before I could drive up onto the driveway.


That was how I got the Celica All-Trac. It was red, a hatchback, four-wheel drive, manual transmission and turbocharged. I took a one-day crash course on driving a manual on my sister’s ex-husband’s old, beat up Toyota. Then I was on my own to learn how to drive a stick with the Celica All-Trac. I wasn’t able to find a photo of it, which is a shame because I only saw another car like it once.


This car was amazing in the snow, better than any of the four-wheel-drive SUVs I have ever owned. It was a tank. It also had pickup. The only thing was, as I complained to Dad, you rushed to get somewhere, but then you had to wait 20 seconds for the turbo to cool down when you get there. What’s the deal with that?

When Kristen was born, I had a baby seat in the back. But getting her in and out of the car was a bit cumbersome. That was when I decided to trade the car in for a manual Audi A4.