A Strange Farewell to My Childhood Hero


My childhood hero, unlike most conventional people, is not a person. And if you would have asked me the question of “Who is your childhood hero?” a matter of years ago, I would have had a completely different answer.

I’m here to say though that this is my hero: a Toyota 5S-FE engine. In particular, really, this 5S-FE. It’s from my Celica. There are countless amounts of my blood and sweat on the engine block. And lots of cursing and profanity and pondering and sitting in my parents garage at 5 in the morning with a wrench in my hand trying to figure out what is going on. This 5S-FE is what got me into cars. It was my first engine. 80,000 miles of it’s life was spent under my command. It powered my first car, gave me my first ounce of freedom, and my true first taste of satisfaction.

I digress though, there’s more. You see, me and this engine actually go much farther back than 2007 when I bought my Celica. in fact, me and this engine go back to 1993.

You see, my mom had one of these:

A 1993 Toyota Corolla. You might be thinking “Hey, 1993 is awfully close to 1994”. And you’d be right. I admit, the Celica and the Camry share quite a great deal of parts. The Camry my mom had also had a 5S-FE mated to an S54 manual transmission. It comprised my earliest memories of being in a car. I’d ask my mom about shifting or what RPMs meant, and the relation to road speed.

But it goes further, because my mom also had one of these:

A 2000 Toyota Camry. It too had an identical drivetrain to the 1993. A 5S-FE (Albeit, one generation newer) and an S54 manual transmission. I remember this one more fondly, but for one big reason.

I learned how to drive a manual transmission on that 2000 Camry. And that S54 gearbox that I’d go on to own several years later. It’s one of those odd cases of something that sticks around in your life but you never really notice it.

Earlier today I tore down my 5S-FE. All 218,560 miles on it. It’s hard not to get a little sentimental. It’s the engine that got me interested in cars and gearboxes. It taught me how to drive. It taught me how to work on a car. It got me where I am today. And for that, I salute you 5S-FE.


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