Comedian Anthony Griffith used to do a bit about a car salesman winning him over by highlighting how many dead bodies you could cram into a sedan's oversize trunk. When Griffith's less-than-thrilled wife angrily queried why he'd bought that car, his deadpan response was "trunk space."
Fast-forwarding two decades to real-life San Francisco, a silver 2009 Toyota Tacoma — the smallest pickup Toyota produces — last month crashed into an Excelsior home at Florentine and Morse streets. That house now resembles the recipient of a wrecking-ball strike — but the Tacoma simply motored off and was later located one county over in Daly City.
If you're an aggrieved homeowner or horrified eyewitness, this was a traumatic experience. But if you're in the business of peddling Toyota Tacomas to the general public, it's something else — a selling point.
"It's a Tacoma! They're one of the most rugged trucks we make," says longtime salesman Elbert Cooks of Hanlees Hilltop Toyota in Richmond. "It would be a very strong selling point."
The trick, continues the 16-year veteran Toyota salesman, is knowing who would be impressed by a true-life tale of a truck so resilient it can rip through a single-family home — and who wouldn't be. "A person in his 40s or 50s isn't in that kind of rebellious or destructive mode where he'd want to hear about running a truck through a house," notes Cooks. "But a younger person who's more active and into something exciting and thrilling? Yeah."
David Dennis of Toyota of Walnut Creek adds that an anecdote about a Tacoma smashing a house and living to cross county lines would "most definitely" be a worthwhile tale to bring up to a prospective buyer. Since no one in the home was injured, he'd consider adding it to yarns he tells about customers rolling trucks down hills and starting them right back up. "Stories like this indicate the resale value and overall value of the truck."
In fact, the Tacoma has a reputation for absorbing punishment. Dennis references a 2003 segment on the British car show Top Gear in which a Hilux — the international version of the Tacoma — with 190,000 miles on the odometer managed to start even after being driven down stairs, crashing into a tree, being submerged in the ocean for hours, motoring through a garden shed, being crushed by a camping trailer, taking a blow from a wrecking ball, and, finally, sitting atop a 240-foot high building that was leveled via a controlled demolition.
The Tacoma, it would seem, is the Rasputin of vehicles. The driver of the truck that totaled the San Francisco house remains at large. No word on whether he sports a long, black beard and has a way with hemophiliacs.