I have a weird connection to these cars going back more than 30 years. While attending Glassboro State College in southern New Jersey in the 1980s (now Rowan University), I was with friends one night at DiFrancesco’s, a small bar in a residential area. “D-Fran’s,” as everyone called it, was known for “Alabama Slammer Night.”
Leaving the place on one of those nights, I was startled seeing, parked in front, a weird custom Toronado, stretched into a wagon with eight doors and six wheels. The owner must have come into the bar after we did. I did a double take, then a triple take. I counted the doors and wheels several times, just to be sure. Because, Alabama Slammers.
I wanted to go back inside to ask who owned it, but my friends were already halfway down the block on the way back to campus. It didn’t take long to find the car again. Occasional weekend trips back home to North Jersey took a roommate and me past the Rent-A-Wreck place in nearby Deptford, on the way to the N.J. Turnpike. There, parked in front were two of these behemoths.
In that pre-internet era, I deduced that these were airport shuttles. Growing up across the bay from Newark Airport, I was familiar with the stretched 8-door Checker airporters. I never stopped in to see those oddball Toronados, though.
Flash forward to 1989, and I’m working in New York as editor of a trade newsletter, “Car Rental and Leasing Insider.” Exciting times! The publisher suggested doing a few articles on the low-priced rental franchises that filled their fleets with used cars. “Call a few Rent-A-Wreck operators,” he said.
I immediately thought back to the franchisee in Deptford (still there today, btw) and called. I asked my business questions, got my story and then asked, “By the way, do you still have those eight-door Toronados?”
My hazy recollection is that the man said the cars were long gone, and that he didn’t know where they were.
Flash-forward again, to 1996. I was working in the Mercedes-Benz PR department. While visiting a friend in Staten Island, NY, whom I’d worked with at CSK Publishing years before (MuscleCars, Vette, High-Performance Pontiac and other niche magazines), I related this story. He smiled and said, “You have to come with me.”
He drove me two blocks away and stopped in front of a house with guess-what parked in front, with a “For-Sale” sign in one of its many side windows. It was blue, the color I remembered from the car in South Jersey.
“You have to buy this,” Tony, my friend, said. “It’s destiny.”
I never wanted to own the car, though. I just wanted to find out the history. Now I know.