By on March 7, 2012

Here’s a car that you still see frequently in Colorado, both on the street and in the junkyard. You see Tercel 4WD wagons on the street here because they’re cheap, sensible winter cars and they tend to keep grinding out the hundreds of thousands of miles in their Tercelian slow-motion fashion… and you see them in the junkyard because they’re not worth enough to fix when something major finally fails.
I’ve had a few of these things (as well as a few examples of the front-wheel-drive version) and I must say that the 1983-86 Tercel wagon is one of my favorite Toyotas of all time. It’s underpowered, funny-looking, and handles like a Fordson tractor, but it’s endearingly funky, can fit absurd quantities of cargo for its size, and is harder to kill than a wizened, street-smart sewer rat (disclaimer: all my Tercels were in California, where they don’t rust).
The reason that Subaru blew the four-wheel-drive-car competition off the face of the planet, starting a bit later in the 1980s, can be seen here. Look how confusing these instructions are! It’s like a truck or something— why can’t you just be in four-wheel-drive all the time?
Tercel 4WD owners that did leave their cars in four-wheel-drive all the time on dry pavement— as many did— soon discovered that they were chewing up tires and/or wearing out their differentials. No, they didn’t bother to read the owner’s manual.
How much power? Let’s just say horsepower in the double digits and leave it at that.
We need more interiors like this today! Toyota seems to have borrowed the fabric pattern from an early-60s IHC Travelall.

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29 Comments on “Junkyard Find: 1983 Toyota Tercel 4WD Wagon...”


  • avatar
    Ubermensch

    Would you look at the size of that rear window. That simply doesn’t exist these days.

  • avatar
    tulsa_97sr5

    One of these popped up on Denver craigslist a couple weeks ago, took a lot for me to leave it there. The upholstery reminds me of the reddish plaid in the 1980 traveler i used to have.

  • avatar
    VanillaDude

    Yeah, you’re riding around in a rusty old wagon that is soon headed for the junkyard, but that bumper sticker shows there is enough head room in that vehicle for a pompous insulting jerk.

    Cute vehicle, self-rightous driver.

  • avatar
    30-mile fetch

    It even has a granny gear!

    This is what the first Toyota Matrix came close to being and what the current one turned too far away from. There’s still the Impreza, I suppose.

    Only 181,000 miles on a 1983?

  • avatar
    DougD

    I always figured these were the cheapest cars in the world to run, because you could always get gas money out of the ATM they built right into the back end!!

  • avatar
    ciddyguy

    Still see these around Seattle every now and then. A couple of years or so ago, there were TWO of them on the hill. A red one and a blue one. They may still exist and yes, still driven.

    In recent years there had been (or still is probably) a ’77 or so Subie FWD wagon, in yellow no less, still driving around).

    Nice find! I would not have been confused by the 4WD mechanism, but yeah, I can see people not paying attention, much less reading the manual to fully understand when and when NOT to leave it in 4WD though.

    That mileage is a little less than where I took my two Hondas, though both had been rear ended and thus was a large part why I moved on from both even though they still ran fine for the most part.

  • avatar
    grzydj

    I had the top of the line 1985 SR5 model with a power sunroof and everything. It didn’t have the fancy alloy wheels like this one has, which I had been scrounging around for, but was never able to procure.

    It was by far the best car I had ever owned, and possibly the best car in the history of mankind. I beat that car unmercifully and it never complained once. I literally jumped it over a snowbank once so I could drive around on an ice hokey rink. EL worked fantastically for going up steep muddy grades. I thought EL was a pretty brilliant idea.

    The 3A engines were good for abotu 62 hp, but they did make a decent amount of torque and got pretty good fuel economy as well. They were prone to valve stem seals going bad, but that’s a reasonably easy fix.

    I had a similar ’87 Subaru GL wagon, which was also FWD until you engaged 4WD with a push button. The Tercel was way more durable and jumpable, but the Subaru did drive a lot nicer and was more stable around corners.

    Last year there was a guy in Iowa who was selling a whole fleet of these Tercel wagons. I inquired about them and he was pretty honest and said that he used them as ranch/farm vehicles for 15 years and they were pretty shot. He said he couldn’t believe how tough these little cars were either.

  • avatar
    Toad

    Nice to see a car with a low beltline and (relatively) large windows. Makes me miss my old Trooper.

  • avatar
    340-4

    There are quite a few of these still on the road here in Montana. In fact the exact twin to this car, in amazing condition, popped up for sale here last summer for like $1700.

  • avatar
    Lokki

    My mom had one of these she loved. She was a “had to get to work every time” RN and they literally had to pry the keys out of her hands when our favorite mechanic finally absolutely refused to pass it through safety inspection any more.

    In Pennsylvania, land of salt, the thing finally rusted into abstract sculpture underneath. The giant rust blisters he was willing to ignore but when it started cracking apart, that was it.

    I doubt if she ever had it in 4WD more than 3 or 4 times ( and then with my dad’s help) but she felt absolutely unstoppable in that thing.

  • avatar
    red60r

    By the way they were driven, I’m guessing many VW Bug owners traded for 4WD Tercels. Same aggressive behavior to prove a small engine was no impediment.

  • avatar
    dtremit

    For some reason the rear end of these cars always looked like a refrigerator with an ice dispenser, to me.

    Nice clear instrument cluster, though.

  • avatar
    JRT01

    Bought one of these in 1984 right off the showroom floor, drove it until it was nearly dead (head gasket, among other things) 13 years later, and almost cried when I “traded it in” on a used Ford Escort wagon. (Had three young kids at the time, was pinching pennies, and REALLY felt like I was trading down by buying the Escort.)

    I couldn’t have said it better than @grzydj did above – “It was by far the best car I had ever owned, and possibly the best car in the history of mankind.”

    Sure there were faster, more powerful, more luxurious, sportier cars out there, but none just downright overall better,IMO. If I could find one today in decent shape, I’d snap it up in a heartbeat.

  • avatar
    obbop

    As a confirmed “full of hate” Disgruntled Old Coot I hereby publicly proclaim my hate for all humans no matter what hue their pigmentation.

    May the approaching celestial objects impact this planet obliterating the vile human species.

    Is that “full of hate” enough for ye PC indoctrinated vermin?

    Oh, appeared before ye to inform ye that when laboring arduously within the dismantling facility the vehicle-type appearing above was quite popular with a horde of parts of all types; from sheet metal to suspension components and propulsion parts and various this and that from trim parts to cabin doo-dads and, at times, entire interiors from units with nice interiors to replace used and abused interiors.

    Known as “keeper cars” the masses of disgusting humans lusted after the cars for parts.

  • avatar
    Tahoe

    Cool car. There are a lot of these around Tahoe still. I hear they are indestructible. I, however bought a 1989 Corolla All-Trac new. I was disappointed to see your bad review of it a couple of weeks ago. It turned out to be the best car I ever owned. It was comfortable, great in the snow, and was very easy to drive.

  • avatar

    If any T4WD (or even 2WD) owner is reading this – join our Club at http://www.tercel4wd.com/ !
    We are into maintaining and improving these wonderful little cars, with many helpful and knowledgeable folks.
    It’s free, and we even have a downloadable REAL Toy service manual!
    There are many tips and parts links as well.
    It’s a worldwide Club, but most members are in the PacNWST – but some are in France and Australia as well.

    THANKS for the feature!

  • avatar
    blowfish

    I had a used one, somehow the ratio of front & rear were not correct, it would work in 4wd but on drive pavement u can tell one axle is turning faster than the other, felt like dragging the other.
    It was useful to climb out of being stuck.
    The 4th gear synchronizer does allow the gear to pop out every so often, as u between throttle the power pushing & pulling it then pops out.


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