The ‘Carib’ in the Toyota Sprinter Carib is an abbreviation of caribou, as in the North American term for reindeer. And I’ve just spotted one in the wild.
I doubt Chris Packham, Michaela Strachan or Steve Backshall would give two hoots – owls, hoots – geddit? – but for PETROLBLOG, this registers as a spot of monumental proportions. It’s like spotting a reindeer wandering along Basingstoke high street.
Toyota launched the first-generation Sprinter Carib in 1982 to “satisfy the ever-growing demand for multifunctional passenger cars”, making it yet another forerunner to the Nissan Qashqai, before the ubiquitous crossover was a twinkle in a marketing exec’s eye.
“A masterpiece of individualist styling,” claimed Toyota, although ‘masterpiece’ might be a stretch, even within the safe confines of planet PETROLBLOG.
In 1988, the Mk1 Sprinter Carib – known to us as the Tercel and Corolla 4WD – was replaced by a longer and wider model powered by a new 1.6-litre petrol engine, before the third-gen Sprinter Carib arrived in 1995.
For people who liked to spend the weekends eating tinned food around a campfire or comparing foot blisters with hikers in cagoules, this was the real deal. Put simply, the Sprinter Carib had done a Madonna and got into the groove.
See how this Z Touring with a few options proudly displays its CARIB name, like a turbocharged performance car of the 1980s wore its TURBO decals. Rock up in the countryside in one of these and people were left in little doubt that you were doing lifestyle. The great outdoors was your playground, and you were playing in style.
The optional ‘RV package’ comprised an RV bumper at the front, a tailgate grip and – wait for it – a field monitor, which sat atop the dashboard and displayed the outdoor temperature, the vehicle’s direction and an eight-hour weather forecast. It was like having your own in-car Michael Fish, or the Japanese equivalent at the time.
Quite what this Carib is doing 6,000 miles from home is anyone’s guess, but some North American reindeer can travel up to 3,100 miles a year, which suggests this very early Mk3 Sprinter Carib set off in 2016.
And because it is powered by a 1.8-litre twin-cam engine designed specifically for the Sprinter Carib, it may have arrived on these shores before the reindeer had worked out how to buy a ferry ticket.
The styling of the Mk3 Sprinter Carib was far less eccentric than the original: the rearmost side windows no longer looked like an afterthought and the offset rear number plate had been ditched in favour of something more conventional. Heck, squint hard, and it could pass as Toyota’s version of the Impreza wagon.
No, harder than that.
In a world of me-too crossovers and SUVs, the Sprinter Carib is a welcome tonic, even if the aftermarket hubcaps fitted to the nearside wheels jar a little. But note how the black sections of the bumpers and side panels have withstood 23 years of going outdoors and rural abuse. To the man at Toyota who decided to keep them unpainted, give yourself a retrospective pat on the back.
And to the person who is keeping this thing running in the face of scrappage discounts, tougher MOTs and the lure of less individualist vehicles, I give thanks. Thank you for making a gloomy day seem a little brighter.