Gone too soon: Recalling Tarago

Toyota had discontinued production of the Tarago after 36 years, but the memories will never go.

Drawing of a Toyota Tarago Art by BrownTown.

I distinctly remember the few weeks before my now-passed grandfather’s, (to me, ‘Ron’) 80th birthday party. My mum, his daughter, had agreed to hold the celebration in our house. A vast majority of Mum’s efforts went into the slideshow and speech to be delivered on the evening. For over a fortnight, my 8-year-old self watched her pore through album after album of old photos. In essence, she relived her childhood, before placing those recollections into a presentation for us all to share. I still experience the same swell of joy she shared with us all when re-listening to the songs she played time and time again as she practiced presenting the slideshow.

A mainstay of the memories was their car; a setting for distant family holidays, trips to schools, even just simple but intimate moments with each other. Having not experienced any of those moments myself, their car became a fixed point to understand how Mum, her three brothers, and their parents, navigated the ins and outs of childhood and beyond.

Earlier this year, I found out that Toyota had discontinued production of the Tarago after 36 years.

I first met our Tarago outside my grandparents’ house. My Dad pulled it up slowly out the front, and we all hurried down up the path to say hello. From the outside, our Tarago sat proudly, bearing a whopping-eight seats (a feature that never fails to impress), dressed in a sleek silver-metallic paint job, welcoming us inside. I clambered in, sitting in the middle row next to Ron, seriously impressed by the automatic window button that replaced our old Mitsubishi Magna’s window hand-crank. “This will take some getting used to,” I proclaimed to Ron, and then again to everyone for safe measure. The seven of us drove around that night, simply taking in our new car, just as I imagine thousands of young families have in 1983 with their Taragos.

Since then, my Tarago has borne witness to countless new experiences. I learnt to drive under Dad’s guidance, slowly coming to appreciate its cumbersome frame as something wonderful. It size makes it accessible, allowing our weekly ritual of visiting my grandma and taking her and her walker to the shops to do her groceries. It was with the Tarago that my dad picked my friend and me up from Year 11 Afters. We tried (in vain) to hide the faint scent of alcohol from Dad’s watchful nose. Only the following year, it was in the Tarago that I drove to pick up my formal date  — to crash en route.

Its roomy enclosure has been a backdrop to moments of enormous emotional significance. I picked up both of my boxer dogs in it, getting to meet them on the large back seats, traversing giddy excitement with the faint worry that a two-hour drive may prove too challenging for a young puppy’s bladder. I also said goodbye to my first dog, Ruby, as the Tarago quietly carried her to be put down. For me, saying goodbye to my dog    a moment any young child will struggle to forget    is inseparable from the Tarago.

The NUMTOT in me says I should resist venerating a car so highly; climate change’s looming shadow should have us encouraging sustainable practices wherever possible. To be sure, I have neither an intimate knowledge of cars, nor much of an interest in car subcultures. And yet, the family car prevails. They are a distinct object for personal history to organise around, and in many ways, seem to take on their own agency as characters themselves in your younger years. Sitting in my car, I always feel safe, at ease. Sure, on occasion I’m met with throwaway comments about my overly-domestic appearance arriving to an event in the quintessential family’s ‘people mover.’ And yet, without fail, friends and family always come around to the Tarago: a facilitator of road-trips, a tool for carrying equipment in student elections, or a convenient trip for eight to the station after a late night in the SRC.

My Tarago’s odometer will hit 200 000 kilometers in the coming year. As the futuristic, metallic glean of my Tarago begins to fade, I’m reassured to know my own will likely keep on chugging for many more years to come.