A bittersweet goodbye to the absolute cheapest car we could find in Japan.

Just over 10 years ago, on a spring day in 2014, our Japanese-language reporter Go Hatori decided to treat himself to something. Nothing too fancy, mind you, but since the guy had been working so hard, he figured he’d earned a little reward.

So Go took a modest 980 yen (about US$9.60, at the exchange rate then), and bought himself a car.

And we don’t mean a toy or model, even though those often cost more than 980 yen. We mean an actual, put-gas-in-it-and-drive-it-around-on-public-streets car!

It wasn’t a build-it-yourself kit car, either. With just 980 yen, we purchased a legitimate automobile made by Mitsubishi, the Minica Guppy. Sure, it was a 1997 model, and had 93,452 kilometers (58,068 miles) on the odometer, but it ran great, and the exterior and interior were in good condition too.

Registration, insurance, and a few other associated fees brought our total expenditure to around 90,000 yen, but the car itself was still an incredibly cheap 980 yen, as shown on our invoice here.

Living and working in the downtown Tokyo area, though, means that we get around by train most of the days. Recently, the Minica has been spending most of its time at the SoraHouse, our house (which we also bought for a ridiculously low price) in the mountains of Saitama Prefecture.

And even more recently, the Minica has been spending that time under a tarp…

…because, sadly after a decade of faithful service, the engine no longer starts.

▼ It’s also covered in plaster, but there’s an imperfectly logical reason for that.

Last summer, we added to our fleet by purchasing a compact minivan (which we also got a great deal on), which has more cargo capacity for the ongoing restoration projects we have going at the SoraHouse, and so we’ve made the difficult decision to say goodbye to the Minica, but not before a look back at all the memories it gave us for just 980 yen.

In total, we put 14,205 kilometers on the car in our time with it, which isn’t a lot, but that distance includes round-trip drives to the snow and sea of Ishikawa Prefecture

…and cruising Gifu Prefecture with Noguchi Miho, voice actress for the Japanese-language Google Maps, in the passenger seat.

We didn’t necessarily have to be behind the wheel to have a fun time with the Minica, either. During a merciless summer heat wave in Tokyo, we used the car’s piping hot hood as a flat grill to cook monjayaki

and its dashboard to cook instant curry.

We also dove into the world of cosmetic customizations, first by adding sporty racing stripes and blacking out the grille.

Next we transformed it into a Mr. Sato itasha

…and when we, inevitably, came to regret that, we grabbed a bunch of magic markers for a DIY repaint/over-ink.

Painting your car with magic markers might seem like a substitute-recipe for disaster, but to our happy surprise, even after sending the Minica through an automated car wash, it still retained its glossy black color.

The Minica then reached its final form this last February, when we covered it in plaster because, well, we had a leftover bucket of the stuff up at the SoraHouse and our boss, Yoshio, sometimes operates on a different sort of logic than the rest of us do.

▼ Our fearless leader, who sometimes could do with a little more fear.

As you can probably imagine, there’s not much of a market for 27-year-old economy cars that have been through all this, so we were going to have to scrap the Minica. This presented a problem, though. Like we said, it was parked at the SoraHouse, but the house sits on a pretty large plot of land, with a narrow bridge you have to cross to get back to the public road network.

Since both Yoshio and Go had tried multiple times to get the Minica to start, with no success, we figured we were going to have to push it out to the road. But when the tow truck operator came out to pick up the car, they suggested trying to jump start it just one more time.

And in a stirring surprise, this time the engine came to life, almost as if the Minica knew this was going to be the last chance for us to see it running!

The rear wheels were no longer turning, but since the Minica is front wheel-drive, Yoshio was still able to take the Minica for one final drive.

Down at the road, the flat-tow truck was waiting.

The driver lowered the gate, Yoshi stepped out from behind the wheel, and now it was time to truly say goodbye.

Ideally, it would have been Go who drove the Minica for the last time, seeing as how he was the one who found it, went to Nagoya to pick it up, and drove it on its first run back to Tokyo. Unfortunately, Go was unable to travel to the SoraHouse on this day, but he was there in spirit, and on paper, which Yoshio unfurled so he could symbolically pay his respects.

With the Minica now up on the truck’s bed the staff secured the gate, started the truck, and drove off.

▼ Our first drive with the Minica…

▼ …and our last.

Farewell, old friend. You may have had almost no impact on our bank account, but you’ve left a permanent impression in our hearts.

Photos ©SoraNews24
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