I was, I suppose, the token Sheila. A woman among men. Many men, as it happened. We assembled at Christchurch’s Sudima Hotel for the early morning briefing. When I say early morning, I mean somewhere between breakfast and morning tea. Along with the proffered indemnity sheet to sign and information about the defibrillator and other heavy-duty first-aid equipment, this was an ominous sign of things to come.

During the next few days we were to be fed to the point of being over-fed with everything to do with the vehicles being taken at a very fast pace indeed as we negotiated near-impassable mountain passes and – in true Toyota style – through river beds; 28 in all. These were the highs and lows of becoming a motoring writer. Fortunately I came with plenty of experience to offer as I drive a Toyota. During the course of the event I mentioned this to Steve Prangnell, Toyota New Zealand’s General Manager of Sales. Steve asked me what make, model and year I drove. I was able to tell him it was quite old and a silver-grey colour. I imagine he was impressed by my depth of knowledge.

Toyotas which had stood the test of time were in evidence wherever we went

You see, I come from the school of thought that a car is for transport between chosen points. Ideally all vehicles should start first time and need as little maintenance as possible. My car is serviced occasionally when the co-pilot visits. At these rare times, I also give it a once-over and hide anything extraneous in the boot. Unfortunately he is now on to this and I have to hide things elsewhere. In my ideal world, car yards would corral vehicles into colour groupings: red cars, blue cars, green cars, black cars, etc. – I am sure you get my meaning. That said, lest you think me shallow, I did not buy my car because of its colour. No way. I bought it because of its price. Having just returned from an extended stay in Australia, to take up an editorial role in the Waikato, I needed a car urgently. A colleague whose rich daddy was about to buy her a new one, sold me her cast-off car for the princessly sum of $500. That was in 2011. It still goes like the clappers, runs on the smell of an oily rag and flies through its annual WOF. Every time I look surprised, the lady at the testing centre says, “Of course it flew through. It’s a Toyota.”

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