By on October 19, 2011

When was the last time you saw a mint-condition first-gen Tercel on the freeway? This early-80s Tercel (Corolla Tercel, according to Toyota’s goofy “tack on the model name the Americans already know” branding experiment) apparently drove into a time machine around the time the Iranian hostages were released and reappeared on the 405 yesterday afternoon, as I was driving an RX-8 out of LAX. Since that sighting, I’ve seen a half-dozen Alfa Spiders, an Early Malaise Colt, countless GMC and Ford pickups from the 1950s and 1960s, two Darts, a Wildcat convertible, and a BMW E9. Oh, and a showroom-condition ’76 Mazda GLC with 7,000 miles on the clock. Much more on that car later.

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33 Comments on “Back In Southern California: Rare Survivors Abound...”


  • avatar
    grzydj

    I had a blue 2 door Tercel with a 4 speed manual in high school. It too was eaten away by rust and died an early life at 200k miles, because even as a teenager I couldn’t kill that poor car, even trying.

    The last time I was in CA and AZ a few years ago I was almost a little freaked out at how good some of these older Japanese imports looked. I’m sure they could literally go on forever with just oil changes.

    Sucks living in the rust belt sometimes.

    • 0 avatar
      lilpoindexter

      “Sucks living in the rust belt sometimes.”

      Hmmm…when i lived in Detroits, it sucked ALL the time.

    • 0 avatar
      dastanley

      Yes there was no shortage of older vehicles in Kingman, AZ, although many of those were older American models running on various states of (dis)tune with obnoxious exhaust fumes. BTW, I could still find leaded gasoline as late as 1995 in Kingman. I remember leaded going away in the mid 80s in Atlanta.

  • avatar
    VanillaDude

    It was the first FWD Toyota sold in the US, but it had a longitudinal engine, not transverse.

    So it didn’t have the benefits of a Civic, Rabbit or Omni with roomy front seating.

    My buddy had the hatch and it was a pretty good car. It was more expensive than others in that market, but kind of rare in Denver back in 1980. It was no Civic killer in the showrooms. The GM X cars were brand new and the Ford Escort was a new kid in town that really impressed more than this one.

    These rusted badly and they really weren’t the kind of quality you would have expected or paid for from Toyota.

  • avatar
    CJinSD

    Living in San Diego, I even see a Toyota Starlet from time to time. You’d think CARB would kill them the way CARB kills almost everything else made between 1976 and 1996, 2001 in the case of GM cars.

  • avatar
    jj99

    Amazing how many 80s and 90s Toyota and Honda vehicles are rolling around on the 405, many with more than 300K miles.. Amazing how few 80s and 90s GM, and Ford vehicles are on the 405, with the exception of GM and Ford pickups, and pickup based SUVs, which appear to last to 200K miles. Even though Ford was the top selling brand in SoCal back in the 90s, 90s GM and Ford cars rarely seen.

    This is why I stopped buying Detroit vehicles. I saw my friends sell 100K mile Toyota and Honda vehicles for 50% of the new price, while I was seling my 100K mile GM and Ford vehicles for scrap. Even the junkyards were not excited about GM and Ford vehicles. I had to beg them to take one away, while they pay top dollar for Toyota and Honda.

    • 0 avatar
      CJinSD

      It is a complicated issue. Acceptance of Japanese cars happened first in California, so ’80s and ’90s Detroit junk was already scarce when new.

    • 0 avatar

      If it’s going to end up in the crusher, whey would a junkyard care if the car was made by GM, Toyota or Hispano Suiza?

      • 0 avatar
        CJinSD

        Scrap value wasn’t usually enough to motivate a junk yard until this country started getting cored out. I recall that 20 years ago a friend had to pay a junk yard to pick up his car after overheating it caused a cracked head. I think he paid them $35 to pick it up. Ironically, it was a rusted out 1976 Toyota Corolla SR5 liftback with interplanetary miles.

      • 0 avatar
        golden2husky

        It does if you are doing your usual trolling. One only has to go to Taurusclub, for example, to see dozens of photos of odometers well north of 200K.

        I considered Palm Desert the Shangri-la of automobiles. I was there in the early 90s and saw quite a few early 70s Japanese cars – vehicles that had all but disappeared from the “lower” northeast. Seeing complete 60s American cars was cool, too because most I saw growing up had lost their rocker panels, lower doors, etc. As to the 100K and junk story, I guess there were some Vegas, quad 4 engines that helped build that story, but were there no imported cars that had the same story? Surly anything French, British, Italian and some German vehicles has such early deaths. Didn’t some Japanese cars suffer the same fate? Rotarys? Nissan head gaskets?…

  • avatar
    Volt 230

    California seems to be the ideal climate to keep these little jewels still running around, I remember a few yrs back at Disney, Orlando I noticed a late 70′s Celica with Cal plates that had been driven there for vacation. Quite astounding that someone would drive so many miles on such an old car.

  • avatar
    DC Bruce

    With a dry, mild climate, SoCal is best for cars. What’s interesting about the photo is that this is a red car, and the paint appears to be shiny. My experience with a ’78 red Accord was that that paint oxidized like crazy here in The Capital of the Free World . . . and the sun is stronger in SoCal than it is here.

    The owner must have a garage for his little Toylet.

  • avatar
    slow-rion

    My first car was a lovely yellow two door twin to this. 3 speed auto. Tires so bald they were Shiny. Indestructible. Took it off road and too low triple digits on road (big Vermont downhills). The memories.

  • avatar
    Tifighter

    My first car was an 81 liftback in a champagne color and a 5 speed manual, but not the fancy SR5 which came with alloys. The five speed was a big enough deal then to get its own badge on the back, next the the Corolla Tercel badge. Completely bullet proof car.

  • avatar

    I’m with DC Bruce. As a native Southern Californian, red paint oxidizes within three years. This little puppy’s been garaged most (if not all) of its life.

    Time spent in Southern California (and to a lesser extent, the Bay Area) will convince you that 1970s and 80s Toyotas and Hondas are immortal and will live forever. Maybe, but only there.

  • avatar
    CougarXR7

    Even today, I still see decent amounts of first and second generation Toyota Coronas puttering around the greater L.A. area, or being advertised on Craigslist.

    I’ve always liked the looks of the 64-69 Corona two-door and last week found one for $1800. Original California car, straight and rust-free, for $1800. Only problem is it has no drivetrain.

  • avatar
    ciddyguy

    Seattle’s not too bad in this regard as we still have plenty of Japanese iron still roaming our streets that are at least 30 years old, if not older.

    Occasionally, I’ll see a very early Corolla from the late 60′s to early 70′s. There had been a light blue 4 door Corolla from about 1971 or early 70′s in any case that used to park not far from my apartment just within the past 2 years.

    If you want to see plenty of 1st and 2nd gen Rangers, they exist up this way aplenty.

  • avatar
    Steven Lang

    Georgia is the exact opposite.

    Old domestics outnumber the ‘classic’ foreign vehicles by a near ten to one margin.

    Ford and Chevy trucks are so prolific that you don’t even pay attention to them.

    A lot of GM and Ford vehicles from the 60′s to mid-80′s as well. Most of which are daily drivers although that tends to thin out by the time the vehicles hit their 30th birthday.

    As for imports? You will see old Civics and Celica Supras. This area also seems to be a hotbed for the 1st gen Celicas.

    But the domestics completely rule this part of the world. You name the 70′s car, someone will have it here to some level of running condition.

    Is it as friendly for cars as inland California? No. The heat wears out the paint, dashboard, seats, and door panels. But a lot of folks use their garages and carports for all the right reasons.

    Just make sure the A/C works well with whatever you buy because without it, you and your ride are screwed.

    • 0 avatar

      Steven, the imports took a long time to catch on in the South, where they took “Buy American” very seriously. Domestics were also over-represented in Las Vegas when I moved there in 1984 and Phoenix when I arrived in ’86. The explanation I heard most often was that Japanese air conditioning wasn’t up to the job (and the AC in my then-new ’84 Civic was pretty hopeless above 105).

      But the domestics…especially GM products? You could hang meat in those suckers on a 120 degree day.

      By the time I started reviewing cars in ’97, one was as good as the other.

      • 0 avatar
        VanillaDude

        Domestics were also over-represented in Las Vegas when I moved there in 1984 and Phoenix when I arrived in ’86.

        Domestics can never be over-represented anywhere. This is the USA. American cars should be the norm.

      • 0 avatar

        re: VanillaDude’s comment above:

        “Domestics can never be over-represented anywhere. This is the USA. American cars should be the norm.”

        Nice thought, VanillaDude (well, maybe…would we really want to live in a country where we couldn’t see, drive and maybe even own cars from other lands? Think of what we’d have missed…XK-E, BMW 2002 tii, the Porsche 911…), but way out of sync with reality.

        The streets of my native L.A. were crawling with imported machines by the time I started paying attention to cars at age 5…Jaguar, Rolls-Royce, Bentley, Austin-Healy, Triumph, MG, Austin Healy, Sunbeam, Simca, VW, Karmann-Ghia, Porsche, Mercedes-Benz, Renault, Citroen, Borgward and more. And that was 1961. Well before Toyota and Datsun attained any kind of critical mass.

        So I grew up accustomed to seeing 15, maybe 20 percent of the cars on the street being imports, with that number gradually climbing over time. To see such a heavy presence of domestics (especially at a time when they weren’t anybody’s best effort) in Vegas and Phoenix was somewhat surprising.

    • 0 avatar
      dvp cars

      ..steve……the old car enthusiasts who haul your cars north and east could care less about A/C or sunblast, but they love rust free examples of anything vaguely collectible. Tercels don’t cut it in their world. The best Corona in California is worth about as much as a bleached out Georgia Sierra Grande pickup truck. You’re sitting on a goldmine.
      Northern “recyclers” import southern body and chassis parts. They send back all the interior and upholstered parts you mention, plus one other thing…..engines…..heat kills motors. It never ceases to amaze me that, in spite of all the smog testing laws, a noticeable number of “hot State” cars are visible “smokers” ……but it’s probably a small price to pay for living in Paradise.

      • 0 avatar
        golden2husky

        That is something that is pretty damn rare for any maker…”smokers” are far and few between. We forget how good even “average” cars are today. But Paradise? To each his own. Then again, a 12 inch snowfall makes me happy.

    • 0 avatar
      geozinger

      Hmm. That’s the opposite of what I experienced when I lived in metro Atlanta back in the 90′s. Every day on 285, I was awash in a sea of Camrys, Altimas Accords and Civics. Even the standard Toyota pickup was rapidly becoming the choice of “Billy-Bob” and crew. Further out of the city, there were a lot more domestics in driveways, to be sure.

      I remember the first time I came to Grand Rapids (while looking for a house here) I had forgotten how many domestics midwesterners drive. This was in 1998, and it was far less common to see a Camry in a driveway back then. Since then, it’s changed, but at the time it was revealing to me.

    • 0 avatar
      econobiker

      Saw a 1980s Hundai Excel 2dr in metro Nashville,TN within the last year, and recently saw a Subaru Justy with MS antique vehicle license tags within the last 3 months in Northeast MS.

      In the last two months also saw a beater primer black hot rod type Pinto wagon and Ford Mustang II beater hot rod though this had a V-8 of some sort in it sans- completely functioning exhaust system- probably to “make it fast”.

      The South tends to eat up average cars from mileage and family use (camry, accord, caprice/crown vic station wagon, etc) but the odd ball outlier car models end up living for years if they are parked or collected by the “right” owners. If you watch the show “American Pickers” regularly you will see that the pickers often find weird car models in the US South.

      During the mid 1990s in central Alabama I saw a 1960s Saab that had done Europe time (West Berlin Checkpoint Charlie plus military base parking stickers) and it was still going strong (ford V-4 motor) with no rust.

      (And also found out that you can register the little Diahatsu HiJet utility pickup trucks for the road in MS. Go figure.)

  • avatar
    Zackman

    Oh boy, here I go again; When in the air force in NoCal 40 years ago, it was also a car paradise, hence my 1964 Impala I owned. I sold it three weeks before I got out of the service in late July, 1973 because I knew the St. Louis climate would kill it in no time. Zbart? Never heard of it ’til after I went home, or…well, enough to bring a tear to my eyes, but I digress…

    Speaking of the 405, I mentioned this a couple of weeks ago, but a pristine pale yellow Caddy converible, mid-late 60′s zinged by us. Beautiful! It’s true about the domestic trucks, new or vintage, and a lot of vintage stuff rambling around still. The “California” the Beach Boys sang about isn’t quite dead, yet.

  • avatar
    brettc

    A girl I went to highschool with had a Tercel of this vintage. It was a weird gold/brown colour. She was driving it in about 1995 and it was still in decent shape. Her parents owned the local Toyota dealership, so that would explain the condition it was in.

  • avatar
    sco

    I’m always surprised that there are not more classic vehicles on the roads in California, esp Northern California. No snow, no salt, less sun than the desert, a temperature range from 30-90F that will never challenge your starter or your radiator, no need for AC, and at least 6 months that are totally rain free for those cars that are challenged in the leak department. Not to mention that the supply of nice curbside classics is large, diverse, and extremely affordable relative to new cars. No smog test either for pre-75 (i think) vehicles and also numerous salvage yards much like the ones Murilee visits for those rare/cheap parts you will need. It couldn’t get any easier.


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