By on July 10, 2012

Has anyone seen a Daihatsu Charade on the street in the United States at any time during the current century? Strangely, I’ve now seen two of them in Denver junkyards this year. First there was this ’90 Charade SE, and now we have this ’89 Charade CLS.
The Charade was available in the United States for just five model years, 1988 through 1992, and the unfortunately-named Charade couldn’t compete with the likes of the Subaru Justy, Ford Festiva, and Geo Metro.
You could get the base Charade (known, cryptically, as the CES) with a one-liter three-cylinder engine making a miserable 53 horsepower. The CLS and CLX Charades came with a mighty 80-horsepower four. The tire replacing the radiator appears to be a junkyard-installed option.
Few new cars didn’t have electronic fuel injection by 1989, but Daihatsu evidently felt that EFI was still bragworthy.
Say what you will about the tenets of Daihatsu ownership, but 224,607 miles is quite an achievement for an 80s econobox.
This generation of Charade is still being built in China, where it is sold as the FAW Tianjin Xiali.

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29 Comments on “Junkyard Find: 1989 Daihatsu Charade CLS...”


  • avatar
    Garak

    I test drove a 1991 Charade in Finland about five years ago. It had a 92 hp 1.3 engine, lousy brakes, the cheapest looking interior I’ve ever seen and a 300 euro price tag.

    I bought a Volvo instead.

  • avatar
    philadlj

    I was first exposed to the Charade (and Rocky) while perusing a Consumer Reports guide I checked out of the library when I was quite young (I used to check out anything with pictures of cars in it).

    The name was so intriguing I dedicated myself to spotting one in my hometown of Baltimore. Lo and behold, a blue one was parked just a block or so from my house. They DO exist!

    But I can count on my hand the number of Charades and Rockys I’ve seen since. I imagine they were more numerous in Cali, since I saw a couple in the Bay Area a few years ago.

  • avatar
    wagonsonly

    I’ve long had a love affair with small cars and at one point owned two of these Charades. One was a nicely-equipped (alloy wheels and power mirrors!) ’88, the other a base ’89. Unfortunately after I sold them, the new owner, who took both, found out the hard way that the 3-pot mill has an interference timing belt and munched all the valves on the ’88. In all honesty, I preferred my Charade for long-distance cruising to both my Metro (by far much too underpowered) and my Justy (back-killing seats). I will say that the Justy was the zippiest – 73HP from the fuel injected 1.2 – and the Metro, with the uprated brakes and tires that the convertibles had, was the most fun to toss around on a back road.

  • avatar
    eggsalad

    I don’t think Daihatsu ever made serious inroads (literally) beyond US coastal cities. Here in Las Vegas, I often see a Charade or two in the junkyards, and a couple weeks ago I saw an actual running, driving Rocky.

    I lived in Michigan when they were sold, and never saw more than a handful of Daihatsus.

  • avatar
    bobpink

    Saw one on the road here in the NW Atlanta burbs about a month ago. Was surprised since like many people, thought they were long gone as transportation appliances.

    • 0 avatar

      If it was a red hatchback, that was me you saw, I have ’90 3 pot 5 speed. It ain’t pretty or comfortable, but the mileage is excellent, and it’s paid for, an important feature for a undergrad student! no air, roll-up windows, $50 aftermarket stereo from newegg, and I’m good to go. These cars truly are underrated for what they are, cheap short range swing cars that don’t cost anything to operate. That said, I drive mine from Statesboro GA to Chattanooga TN about once or twice a month.

  • avatar
    CJinSD

    While the Charade wasn’t a success in the US, the car itself was the best in class when equipped with the 16-valve engine. All that held it back was brand awareness, lack of dealers, and IIRC, the well equipped ones were far too expensive. Ford and Geo had dealers everywhere and giveaway prices for the Festiva and Metro. I worked at a Subaru dealer for three months in 1989 and I don’t recall us selling a single Justy in that time, although we had them aging on the lot. They weren’t cheap enough or refined enough to compete with the Festiva. We also had more than a dozen Dodge Colts with A/C and no other options that easily undercut the primitive Justy, and even those cars didn’t sell in the day of cheap gas. The Daihatsu Charade was a genuine premium Japanese car from Toyota, and there was little reason to pay for such a car without getting the Toyota name and Toyota resale value. Tercels were similarly priced and sold pretty well at the time, judging by my college parking lot where I once lost a rented one.

  • avatar
    cls12vg30

    I think I’ve seen one or two of these in recent years here in NC. My personal beef with this car for a long time was that it was the only car which used my initials as a trim level or model name. A tiny Daihatsu? How lame is that?

    Thank you, Mercedes, for fixing that problem for me.

  • avatar

    I was shocked to see one (same color as this one, natch) actually driving down the road here in Orlando last week. I can’t remember the last time I saw one before that.

  • avatar
    turbobrick

    “We’ve dropped the charades, the new models are now called Daihatsu Sh*tbox and Sh*tbox LE”

  • avatar
    Joe McKinney

    Just this morning I saw a Charade in the mall parking lot in Meridian, Mississippi. I had seen this car around town previously. The red paint is a bit faded, but the car appears to be in decent shape and is still in regular use.

  • avatar
    Ryoku75

    Whoever put 224k on a car this little deserves a trophy.

    And the car itself deserves new life with a bigger engine.

  • avatar
    Volt 230

    get an engine in there and fix up the interior a bit and you got yourself a nice little car there.

  • avatar
    Styles79

    You still see quite a few of these on the road here in NZ. They were a fairly popular import back in the day, especially the GTti, which had a turbo charged 12-valve 3 cylinder, good for about 100hp. I saw one at a track day once, and it went pretty hard for something so tiny!

  • avatar
    myleftfoot

    By and large most engine bays today are neat looking without all those twisted hoses and tubes. These daihatsus were sold out of a dealership in my town. I was talked out of buying it by a tire shop worker who said nobody would provide aftermarket parts for such a low volume vehicle. Well, if I ever feel nostalgic for a tiny engine bay stuffed with unattractive plumbing, I can always visit the Toyota dealer and open up the hood of a Prius c.

  • avatar
    obbop

    Dismantling yard workers, delivery drivers, etc. rejoiced about any car with a 3-cylinder engine.

  • avatar
    Johnster

    My understanding is that Daihatsu is owned by Toyota and that for many years it operated completely separate from Toyota and the other Toyota divisions, not sharing any platforms, engines or other parts with Toyota models, although they did start doing some sharing after Daihatsu left the U.S. market.

    Daihatsu seems to specialize in “kei” cars while Toyotas tend to be larger, although there does seem be some overlap in size. Even when Daihatsu attempted to crack the U.S. market it seemed to me that they had a completely separate dealer network that shared nothing with Toyota.

    I recall that, back in the day, Daihatsu claimed to be positioning itself as a “premium” small car that might be purchased as a second or third family car and they planned the Charade to be an alternative to the larger Toyota Tercel. Yeah, it was weird.

    Compared to the other mini-compact cars available in the U.S. at the time the Daihatsu Charade was about the same length as, and its 3-cylinder engine was roughly comparable to, that offered in the Subaru Justy and Geo Metro. But the Charade was quite a bit taller (offering more interior room) and also quite a bit heavier, which made the car’s performance and gas mileage worse than that of the Justy and Metro. Arguably it was also somewhat better built and bit quieter.

    Because of the poor performance from the 3-cylinder engine, the 4-cylinder was offered as an option a year or so after the introduction. A conventional 4-door sedan with a trunk was offered to supplement the 2 and 4-door hatchbacks offered initially.

    In addition to the Charade, Daihatsu also sold the “Rocky,” a small SUV comparable in size to the Geo Tracker and Suzuki Sidekick. I saw a lot of Daihatsu Rockys around southern California in the late 80s and early 90s. I recall reading a comparison road test that panned the Rocky as for having gearing that was “too tall” and that the gearing made the Rocky ill-suited for serious off-roading. But of course, like most SUVs, few Daihatsu Rockys ever went offroad.

    • 0 avatar
      wagonsonly

      A couple of minor quibbles on the Charade – the 4-door hatchback was never sold in the US market, although it was available in the rest of the world. And without having the numbers in front of me I can’t say, objectively, that a Charade was heavier or taller than a Metro – but from the driver’s point of view, the Charade definitely feels the roomiest of the three and has the most natural driving position (and the best seats). My Justy, a 4WD 5-door, was definitely taller, definitely faster, and probably around the same weight if not a little heavier.

  • avatar
    MRF 95 T-Bird

    Here on the east coast, NYC area in the late 80′s early 90′s Daihatsu had a limited dealer presence but I would see a few of these as well as the Rocky on the road. West coast and the south where there were more dealers I would see plenty more still chugging along. I take it the Rocky had the same lack of stability issues as the Suzuki Samurai or many other short wheelbase small utes.

  • avatar
    elmwood

    Never saw any on the roads in the Buffalo area, where they weren’t sold. Not even any with Ontario plates, despite the occasional presence of Innocentis, Ladas, Passports and Asunas in shopping mall parking lots south of the border.

  • avatar
    FuzzyPlushroom

    This /is/ a Chawade!

    I’ve seen one Rocky around NH in the past few years, but no Charades. They were never really popular, though.

  • avatar
    niky

    Lovely little cars to look at… but when I was looking to get one secondhand, it drove like a bicycle on bedsprings… well past its sell-by date. Too bad. If I’d found one in better condition, I might still be driving it today.

    Interestingly, if emissions regulations hadn’t been too big a hurdle, Daihatsu might have sold more of these if they were the GTTi… the 1.0 three-cylinder turbo version… a wallopping 100 horses and a 0-60 time of around seven seconds. Fantastic little buggers.

  • avatar
    acuraandy

    An old roommate of mine’s dad had a Rocky. Thing is beat to hell, but still runs and drives, I think its a ’91. Tough bastard of a truck.

    I’d almost rather have a Rocky than a similar era Samurai.

  • avatar
    jimbob457

    In 1991 I bought a used luxobarge Charade – 4 cyl with A/C and automatic – a very low miler for $3,500. It proved to be one of the best car buys I ever made. After about 110,000 miles, it was pretty well worn out, but in the meantime it gave excellent and trouble free service. Shame on you for mentioning it in the same breath as the POS Geo Metro.

  • avatar
    defango

    I have one; it’s a 1988 Daihatsu Charade ClS, Red in color. I have about 107,000 miles on it and it’s still running strong. The car have been in Arizona for an extended period of time and can even handle the heat. It’s got a few problems, the passenger door was backed into, so there is a big dent and the window doesn’t roll down all the way. Other than that it runs pretty solid.

  • avatar
    fluffy4555

    I purchased a 1989 Daihatsu Charade in 1989on sale for $5995 + tax in NC. Both my husband and I had put over 250K miles on this little three cylinder, 1 litre, ertremely fuel efficient masterpiece before he hit a propane truck head-on in 2008 and totaled the car. He did in fact suffer a broken leg, but considering vehicle size and speed of each, he came through the wreck w/o being a fatality. The motor and trans is still good in this car, should we ever need to replace one of the motors/trans in any of our other five Daihatsu Charades. These cars were built for endurance and extremely good gas mileage. The true reason for their removal from North America was due to the OTHER car company that had controlling interest in this company. They are sold everywhere except North America and it seems that as long as the car owner will do basic routine maintenance and use common sense, the cars are almost impossible to kill. But I find that these days, common sense is just not that common anymore!


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