Deal of the Century: How A Young Serviceman Found His Toyota Dream Car
Owner & Photographer: Andrew Golseth
When I was a kid, my great grandfather Tom Conron—who we all referred to as Daddy Tom—was an engineer for General Motors and naturally a diehard gearhead. He owned an incredible variety of cars throughout his lifetime, but the two vehicles that caught my attention were his black 1940 Packard limousine and green 1950 Cadillac convertible.
I still vividly remember the smell of the leather in the Packard and going for rides in the Caddy with the top down. Daddy Tom passed away when I was only nine years old, but without a doubt he engraved his passion for automobiles in me—I have been obsessed ever since. My father inherited the Cadillac and whenever I visit Texas a drive in Daddy Tom’s Cadillac with my old man is always required.
Fast forward a few years: I got orders to Misawa, Japan—a dream come true!
I had joined the military for the opportunity to travel overseas, and it had finally paid off. Before landing in Japan, I knew I wanted to bring something back, but I had no idea what. Everyone was buying Skylines, Silvias, or MR2s, and although I appreciate all of those vehicles, I couldn’t see myself in any of them.
One day, on the way to work, I saw the car. I thought it was a Toyota Crown at first, but it was far grander. It was parked in front of the Officer’s Club and it had a presence that is hard to put into words. The design was fairly conservative, but something drew my attention to it. It simply looked important.
Fast forward a week, and I see the car pulling into my office parking lot and the owner climbing out. Mr. Patrick Minto, a retired Colonel-turned-Department of Defense government employee, was the owner.
I unloaded all the questions I had conjured since first seeing the car parked the week prior. I recognized him from around the base and knew he was a very stern and serious man—but when I was rambling about how much I loved his car, it was the first time I had ever seen him smile. He was a staggering 6’ 3” and carried himself even taller. As an enlisted Senior Airman (low rank) and standing a measly 5’ 9”, I was very intimidated to approach him.
It didn’t help that he was a close friend with my boss, so I always felt like if I made a fool of myself, my boss would surely find out. At first, when I spoke with Mr. Minto, I felt like I wasn’t “worthy” and that the Century was “too good for me.” Fortunately, over the months of speaking with him, the conversation became more and more relaxed. I emailed, called, and stopped by his office on a regular basis, insisting that if he ever wanted to sell his Century, I wanted it.
He kept me on my toes with a vague, “If I do decide to sell it, I’ll let you know,” but he never mentioned a price. As an E-4, I didn’t have a lot of money saved up and was scared that if I got the call, I wouldn’t be able to afford his asking price and I’d lose the opportunity to buy the car.
The slim possibility to buy his Century motivated me to start saving money. I stopped routinely going out to eat and my usual alcohol-fueled weekends with friends slowed down. I wasn’t even sure if Mr. Minto would sell the car, but I changed my lifestyle in hopes that if he would, I just may be able to afford it.
In anticipation that he decided not to sell, I started feverishly researching the Toyota Century. I found what appeared to be nice examples in the Japanese auto auctions, but none seemed to match the quality and condition of Mr. Minto’s Century.
Then I realized something: I didn’t want just any Toyota Century, I wanted Mr. Minto’s Century! It took a solid six months of persistence—and probably annoyance—but he finally emailed me to come take a test drive.
The car was even nicer than it appeared. The interior was nearly flawless, and it drove like a brand-new 30-year-old car. The ride quality was astonishing for such an old vehicle. No squeaks or rattles, no odd engine noises, and everything was in working order. When driving, I noticed the mileage: 16,xxx original kilometers (~10,000 miles).
It seemed too good to be true, and that’s when I began to worry about the cost. I had saved up more money than I’d ever had in my life, and still, I didn’t think I would be able to afford the car. I parked the car and we got out. I’m not sure how long we stood in the parking lot chatting about the car, but it felt like hours. The conversation was great and I felt like I could finally relax around Mr. Minto.
I had a “grownup moment” when standing beside the car: even if I couldn’t afford it, I managed to save more money than I had ever had before. The worst-case scenario was that I walked away without the car but gained a memory of driving a Toyota Century, got to know Mr. Minto’s personable side, built some much-needed confidence, and had a respectable savings account for a 23-year-old.
“I think $5,000 would be fair,” he said. I started shaking. Winning the lottery couldn’t duplicate the feeling of excitement that overcame me. A classic handmade Japanese sedan with less than 10,000 miles that sold for more than $60,000 in 1984, for $5,000 USD? I was ready for $10,000, maybe $15,000—but $5,000? Why would he sell the car so cheaply?
I never did find out exactly why Mr. Minto only asked $5,000, but I believe he knew the car was going to someone who would sincerely care for the car. He voiced this concern over the months, and I assured him I would at least try to live up to his meticulous standards.
I wanted something different, not just from what other people had but something far from anything I had ever owned. I went to Japan with ideas of what I thought I wanted, and returned to the United States with a car I had never known of!
There were so many characteristics I found attractive. I had never owned a sedan. I had never had an automatic or something with a V8. I’d never had a black car or something built in the 1980s. I had never even considered a “VIP style” or luxury car.
I was very serious about buying Mr. Minto’s Century because it had been so well maintained, but what really sealed the deal was what my father said. I called my dad and told him about the car. I sent him pictures and he stated, “Now that’s a car Daddy Tom would be proud to see you driving.” The thought had never crossed my mind. The man who I inherited the gearhead genetics from loved big sedans. I know that if Daddy Tom were still around, he would love the Century.
It measures in at just over 16 feet in length, weighs around 4,000 pounds, has eight layers of deep black paint, adorned with an abundance of chrome and polished metalwork, and is propelled by a 4-liter pushrod hemispherical V8 and a smooth 4-speed column shift automatic. Century are hand made by Toyota’s finest craftsman specifically for municipality and VIP purposes.
When I start to miss Japan, the Century comes out of the garage and I reflect on how lucky I am. Behind the wheel, I think about Japan, my dad, the buying experience with Mr. Minto, and of course, Daddy Tom. Driving this Toyota always reminds me how much I’ve been blessed. Not just cars, but the more important things: my wife, family, friends, moving to San Diego, life experiences, and being excited for what life still has to offer.
It’s the only car I have sentimental value in. It’s not just an automobile; it’s become apart of the family. The process of buying the car also taught me valuable life lessons. It made me grow up in the best of ways.
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