Toyota Corolla AE103
Caption for the landscape image:

Why we can't let go our old cars yet they're costly to maintain

Scroll down to read the article

Toyota Corolla AE103 at Muindi Mbingu Street, Nairobi in this photo taken on May 1, 2024.

Photo credit: Lucy Wanjiru | Nation Media Group

What is the fascination with old cars? Old cars do not handle as well as new ones, critics argue. They are also expensive because you may spend all your weekends at the garage and waste lots of money importing obsolete car parts. But this comes with the territory for Kenyans with a sentimental attachment to Toyota Corollas.

Lifestyle recently spent a day with the “Corolla Nation Kenya” team, who had lined up their ‘old’ but prized toys along Muindi Mbingu Street in Nairobi. Adnan Shiraz, a member of the team, says that they started the club to bring together a community of old Corolla lovers—those who are rebuilding and also those yearning for the thrill of handling an old steering wheel.

"When the group started, we did not expect to find so many people with these old cars. Most of the Corolla lineage goes back to the ‘70s," he says of the group that has now attracted 178,000 followers on Instagram.

For car owners, it is the memories the cars hold that have made it hard to let go of them.

“Cars are meant to live long,” Shiraz says, “The majority of the people in the club are so attached to their cars, which they have had since childhood. They have modified them and are still determined to hold on to the cars for as long as it takes."

Toyota Levin

Toyota Levin AE111 at Muindi Mbingu Street, Nairobi in this photo taken on May 1, 2024.

Photo credit: Lucy Wanjiru | Nation Media Group

Remodelling old cars can be expensive, and parts can be hard to find. The club works with different business owners with mechanical, interior, and bodywork workshops, which they turn to when any of them needs repairs or modifications.

"We keep it in the family; everyone who has their car here ends up getting the service from one another, so we just support each other," he adds.

Oldest Corolla

Billy Odhiambo’s car is the oldest in the group, a Toyota AE82 Corolla, which was manufactured in 1983. At a glance, one would think he is an old school and crusty driver. But he is not. The GenZ Nairobi-based photographer says the history of his car is like a family tree.

"It used to be my brother-in-law's car; he sold it to my brother, and I bought it from him for Sh250, 000. I like to be unique, and that is why I chose the old car as my first car," Odhiambo says.

He describes his car as a neckbreaker: “It attracts a lot of attention since many people don’t even know what model it is. I have gotten used to giving the history of the car and what I have done to it."

Originally, the car came with a carburetor engine, which Odhiambo says he converted to a turbo engine.

“It also had one port stalk brake, which I modified to a 4-port Prado brake, and a straight pipe exhaust," he adds.

Adnan Shiraz, Jeremy Sonko, Tahseen Ganatra.

Owners of old cars from left: Adnan Shiraz, Jeremy Sonko and Tahseen Ganatra.

Photo credit: Pool

One of Odhiambo's biggest challenges is sourcing car parts when it comes to repairing parts such as headlights, bumpers, and mirrors, which are hard to find in Kenya.

S mag small drop: “My engine is one of a kind, so if I break a piston, I can go for months without replacing it, and if someone has the same engine, they would sell it at such a high price. If you import such a piston, it would go for about Sh2, 000, but if you buy it locally, it can cost you about Sh40, 000," he says.

Toyota Corolla AE110

Toyota Corolla AE110 at Muindi Mbingu Street, Nairobi in this photo taken on May 1, 2024.

Photo credit: Lucy Wanjiru | Nation Media Group

Does his family share the same love that he has for the car?

"My wife doesn't like the car; she is always complaining that it costs me a lot of money. She wants me to get a new car since every weekend I am always in the garage, fixing something," Odhiambo says, and adds, "I have spent so much money that I cannot get the correct figures because I have to repair, fix, and change things all the time. It is like golf; it is very expensive, but people still enjoy the adventure.”

Costly repair

When Jeremy Sonko joined the Corolla Owners Club, he had the newest car among the members, a 2014 model Toyota Fielder. The 33-year-old says he felt out of place when his new-found friends would roll up in their old toys during their team outings. He knew that to fit in, he needed to get an old model

“I used to feel out of place because everyone in the group was driving the old school cars. Eventually, I decided to buy a 1998 Toyota Corolla AE100 that was being sold by one of the members of the group,” he says.

The fielder was also an automatic car, and owning one was frowned on, ridiculed even.

“The Toyota Fielder was an automatic, so I also needed the manual drive to feel like a man, because in this group, if you are driving an automatic, they will tell you that you have a feminine car. In any case, manual gearboxes are always fast and you also get to be in control of the car,” he says.

Jeremy’s car cost him Sh320, 000, and he started rebuilding it to his specifications. He laughed when asked him how much he had spent on modifications.

“I do not always want to dwell so much on how much I spent on the modification since it’s a different kind of sweet pain," Jeremy says. Apart from the buying price, he says he has spent around Sh750, 000 since he changed most of the parts in the car.

The visual artist says that spare parts are easily available, especially for the 100 series Corolla. The advancements in technology have also made it easier; you can order them from Dubai, and have them in your hands within two weeks.

“I did change all the doors and repainted them twice, I have upgraded the engine, which used to be a 1,300 cc engine, and the gearbox to a 1,800 cc engine. I also changed the car tyres and the whole interior of the car," he adds.

Toyota Corolla AE103

Toyota Corolla AE103 at Muindi Mbingu Street, Nairobi in this photo taken on May 1, 2024.

Photo credit: Lucy Wanjiru | Nation Media Group

Additionally, Jeremy also installed a sunroof, which cost Sh180, 000.

“We call it a build because you are going to change things all the time. It is an old car, so after a while, there is a part that will need replacing. Other than that, they are very reliable, but once you start building it, you are never going to finish it. At the moment, I have a list of things that I still want to add to the car,” he says.

Jeremy says that he would never sell his old car, named ‘Pappi’; he plans to leave it to his children.

S mag small drop: "Even if I were to sell it, I don’t think anyone would meet the standard price of the car because a similar car would range between Sh350, 000 and Sh400, 000, but whatever I have spent on it makes the value change. It will be hard convincing someone to purchase it for Sh2 million because that is the value I would trade it for.”

The father-of-two also says his children prefer a ride in the old car because it has a big exhaust. They love the noise it makes.

Toyota Corolla AE103

Toyota Corolla AE103 at Muindi Mbingu Street, Nairobi in this photo taken on May 1, 2024.

Photo credit: Lucy Wanjiru | Nation Media Group

"I often get compliments; sometimes I get stopped by people driving big machines such as the Mercedes-Benz. Mine doesn't have a tint on it; it's called an aquarium, so people have a good look at it when I park it somewhere. They often wonder why I would go through the hassle of modifying an old car instead of just getting a new one," he adds.

Jeremy’s dream car is a Range Rover Autobiography; when it comes to muscle cars, he would go for the Ford Mustang.

"When I drive long distances, I use the "Pappi," but for short trips around town, I use the Toyota Fielder. Let's say I have to go to an executive meeting. I wouldn't turn up in an old car; it makes a lot of noise. The clients would not take you seriously," he adds.

Tahseen Ganatra, a car mechanic, advises that before setting out to start your master build, you need to set a clear goal and have a good understanding of what you want with your car.

“For most of us, there will always be that one car that we may have spent time with in our childhood, taken up space on our bedroom wall, or even found a place in our dreams for that matter,” says Tahseen.

Cars like that, he explains, will become a cut-and-dry purchase that will become a long-term attachment. Tahseen, who is also a member of the Corolla team, owns two old cars, one is a Toyota A100 Safari, which he inherited from his father and has held on to for the past eight years. The other one is a Toyota Corolla AE100, which he bought in 2019 for Sh250, 000.

"I had always dreamed of building a car and this was it. I started slowly building my Corolla by stripping it down, buying new doors for it, and burning the whole body to get all the filler out to make it fit," he says.

Since he is an automotive engineer, Tahseen has modified his cars himself, built the engines, done the wiring, bodywork, and other modifications.

Toyota Corolla AE111

Toyota Corolla AE111 at Muindi Mbingu Street, Nairobi in this photo taken on May 1, 2024.

Photo credit: Lucy Wanjiru | Nation Media Group

The Toyota Corolla AE100 took him two months to repair.

"I had to do a power steering swap because it used to have heavy manual steering, so I had to buy a whole new rack. It had a calibrated engine, and I replaced it with a Starlet 1.3-litre turbo engine with a bigger piston, I did a coil-on plug conversion."

Two years later, Tahseen got tired and felt the need for more power in his car. “I got tired and decided to strip the car again and rebuild it for more power. I removed the whole engine and sold it. It took a while to get all the right parts—drive shafts, gearbox—and I also opted for a three-litre turbo engine. The car's colour was white, but I changed the colour to purple," he says.


The mechanic also talks of having a turbo upgrade: "I have put a Land Cruiser turbo, and I have bigger brakes at the front, which are from the Prado J95, and disks from a Fielder because when you have power, you need braking as well."

Surprisingly, Tahseen has never had a thing for modern cars; he refers to them as the new-generation cars.

“I am an old-school guy, so I prefer to stick with the oldies. I often get asked whether I am selling my car. I have named my ride ‘Mad Minion’ because that car is insane in terms of power. I still have my old man's car, but with this one, I have built it from bare bones to where it is now,’' Tahseen says.

As a group, they take long drives just to enjoy their machines.

"We travel across the country; we have explored quite a bit of Kenya itself, and recently we went to Uganda, just spreading our wings in a way. Aside from the fun drives, we also do charity events in children’s homes to extend our support,” Shiraz says.