By on April 16, 2013

The Tercel EZ sold about as well as the Plymouth Sundance America, Chevrolet Chevette Scooter, and the other zero-frills cars of the 1985-1995 period, i.e., very poorly. Jack Baruth does a fine job of explaining why this is so, but enough of these cars were moved off showroom floors that you still see the occasional example. Here’s a Tercel EZ that I spotted in my local self-serve wrecking yard.
Yes, that’s 315,300 miles on the clock. Third-gen Tercels were never much fun to drive, but they were incredibly competent transportation appliances.
The interior of this one was just about completely used up by the time it got to The Crusher’s waiting room, and there’s no point in spending any real money to get new carpets and upholstery for a lowly Tercel EZ.
I’ve owned several third-gen Tercels, including an EZ, and their simplicity made the Corolla seem frivolous. Nobody ever really loved one of these cars, though, in contrast to the equally slow but personality-fortified second-gen Tercel.
A lot of LeMons fans couldn’t understand why a Tercel EZ finishing tenth out of 100 entries was such a spectacular accomplishment. Drive an EZ for ten minutes and you’ll get it.

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22 Comments on “Junkyard Find: 1988 Toyota Tercel EZ...”


  • avatar
    yesthatsteve

    I owned one of these (hell, maybe that exact one) in grad school in the 90s. 4-speed manual, no A/C, sticky vinyl seats, AM radio. Damn, I’m glad I got a job afterward and got a 626.

  • avatar
    NotFast

    My older brother bought one of these new. Good car for a recent HS grad with a low paying job. I think he drove the hell out of it, but was in an accident that encouraged him to trade it away.

  • avatar
    rev0lver

    I bought my first car when I was 16 (against my parents wishes) and it was a red 1988 Tercel (not an EZ) and I genuinely loved that car.

    It was loud, slow and completely unreliable (probably more my fault than the car’s) but man did I have a lot of fun in it.

    I remember one morning after a particularly wild party I was on my way home when I heard something dragging on the road. I stopped and looked under the car and there was a pipe dragging, so without a second thought I cut the dragging part of the pipe off and continued on my way (my passengers thought this was hilarious).

    So many fond memories, so few appropriate for print…

  • avatar
    MrWhopee

    A friend of mine owned one of these, and I borrowed it a few times, usually for moving purposes. You wouldn’t believe the thing it swallowed with the rear seat removed! Surprisingly competent little hauler.

  • avatar
    olddavid

    Didn’t this get built at the star-crossed NUMMI plant there in the south bay? I recall thinking the FX-16 was surprisingly agile in comparison to others of its ilk of the time. Hard to believe the weight and size gain of cars in the ensuing 25 years. A modern Corolla would dwarf this. On a side note, what was the engineering logic behind using 12 valves instead of 16? I cannot recall the actuation method.

    • 0 avatar

      NUMMI never built Tercels. I’m pretty sure all Tercels of this generation were made in Japan.

    • 0 avatar
      Impalamino

      The 3E engine in this car is SOHC rocker-arm valve actuation, if I remember correctly.

      • 0 avatar
        MR2turbo4evr

        You are correct, sir.

        I had a ’91 5spd Tercel as a temporary beater a few years ago. Very basic, bullet proof cars. I found the 3E-FE decently torquey at lower rpms (for what it was), up to 50mph or so. Any faster and the car would become dreadfully slow. Absolutely hated passing people on the highway with it. Very nice shifter and clutch though.

  • avatar
    holydonut

    What’s the condition of the headliner for this car? I used a stapler to “fix” mine back to the cardboard roof.

  • avatar
    Ryoku75

    While these were simple solid cars I can’t really say they’re that noteworthy, its shame that Toyota canned the hatchback models in 1990 in favor of a bland Corolla-looking clone sedan.

    I had an ’89 DX Tercel that was this same shade of red, solid car with some cheap materials (door handle mechanism, CV boots, metal), recently re-built automatic, and fairly distinct 80′s Japanese styling, I used it to get my drivers license.

    I brought it with custom speakers I had to throw out (they were poorily installed and shorting out), and a weber carburator that gave you the illusion of the car being quicker when really it was just more responsive.

    The car felt like “a birdcage being pulled by a donkey”, nimble and light but driving such a small car on the highway next to a semi-truck was something that took real courage.

    Driving this tiny thing made me just want to ditch it for something bigger like a Crown Vic or Dodge Fifth Avenue, I ended up with a Volvo 240 and I don’t really miss my Tercel.

  • avatar
    CJinSD

    Did the regular 2nd generation Tercels really have much personality? The 4wd wagon had character and unusual features, but my memory of my grand parents’ 2nd generation hatchback was that it had vinyl covered fiber board door panels and a cubist theme permeating the dash. Even the steering wheel center was a big block. The gas pedal was a tiny thumb, and it was pretty much an on-off switch. There wasn’t enough power for anything less than full throttle acceleration anyway. They replaced it with a 3rd generation Tercel before moving on to a Corolla, and the interior of the 3rd generation was a serious improvement. I didn’t understand why they abandoned Chrysler products, or why they were so happy that they did. I do now.

  • avatar
    Crabspirits

    Javier was a dim bulb.

    Javier gave the cash to the friend of a friend. It was a lot of money, $990. The two shook hands, and Javier took the title and keys to the Tercel. The mileage was high, the interior was beat, but Javier was happier than a fed cornish hen (some significance may be lost in translation).

    The Mexican immigrant had been residing in “El Norte” for 7 years, and felt imprisoned. That was, until now. Now he had a coche. Not just any car, but a Toyota. Everyone knows Toyotas are great. No more riding in the back of the van for Javier. He climbed into the Tercel and sped off in his newly-purchased freedom. His right buttock was perched higher than the other in the wrecked seat. He stared at the shifter and studied the pattern, smearing the detritus on the knob with his weathered thumb so he could see it. “Hmmm, this should be just like the old Ford tractor back home”, he thought. With a chirp from the front tires and 3 sequential lunges, he was underway, and his suspicions were confirmed. He downshifted into 2nd at the end of the street, but it was “no sirve”. The CV joint click-clacked with glee as it turned the corner.

    In the week that followed, Javier bragged to everyone he knew about his proud purchase. He had made a stop at the Pep Boys and picked up a cozy steering wheel cover. His fellow workers at the landscaping company were unimpressed and annoyed by his constant ramblings about the unimpressive little machine. Nico flat out called him an idiot, since he was upset at the losses his carpooling finances would incur. To make matters worse, Javier was proudly volunteering to shuttle some of his guys.

    On the way home, Carlos warned Javier not to get on Nico’s bad side. Javier turned his attention away from the upcoming intersection, and responded “Everyone thinks that guy is El Maestro”. He was slow to react as he passed the red signal, not exactly sure what to do. The sound of panicking rubber drew his attention to the right. It was a rather nice-looking ES300 with a terrified woman at the helm. The Lexus stopped short of a full force broadside, but still collided with the commuting pod. The Tercel violently rocked to the left and then spun out, as an errant Lexus bumper cover skidded across the intersection. Very expensive, shiny, plastic parts flew in every direction.

    The two sat there in the Tercel, trying to weigh their options as multiple drivers walked the scene to make sense of it all. Cell phones were employed. Cell phones mean police. Driving off was an option that was briefly considered. Escape was unlikely with the Tercel’s slashed rear tire. Many questions were asked, but the default response of “Nooo.” was used repeatedly. The responding officer approached the woman.
    “Well, he doesn’t have a license or insurance, so he’s coming with me.”
    “OH MY GOD!”, gasped the lady.

    The accident was devastating to Javier. He spent the night in jail. The Tercel was impounded forever. The little car had clicked it’s last clack most likely. He had to pay for an expensive cab ride home. A new job had to be found as well. Meanwhile, court summons were delivered to a non-existent address.

    Javier thought fondly of his one week with the Tercel. He took a sip of his Coronita and stared at the stars.
    “Ce la vida.”

    • 0 avatar
      cfclark

      A near-perfect depiction of a typical accident in LA, although I think the Lexus driver’s gasp of shock is a little overdone–unless she’s a recent transplant, she’ll be completely unsurprised at discovering her opposite number to be unlicensed and uninsured, and likely undocumented as well.

  • avatar
    AlienProbe

    I have one of these rotting away next to my garage… would be lovely if a Lemons team could take it off my hands and give it a proper burial. <3

    Murilee? You want it? Free judge mobile! Just drive on over to NH to pick it up.

  • avatar
    Broo

    Memories ! My first car was a 1989 Tercel, that was in 1994 or 95. However I got the DX 3 doors, so 5 speed transmission, fancier seats and door panels, rear wiper and intermittent front wipers.

    Really not powerful, but MPGs were good (important to a young driver) and car was quite reliable. I had to work hard to keep it from rusting up here in Canada, and I am proud to say I mostly succeeded. It finally died in 2006, it would have cost more to fix the engine than the car was worth, so I bought a brand new car to replace it.

    13″ tires were cheap and light. Changing winter to summer tires or reverse was an easy job.

    The 3rd gen Tercels may not have been anything special, but they will always have a nice place in my memories.

  • avatar
    markholli

    My friend’s dad had one of these when I was in Kindergarten. I remember feeling bad for him and thinking, “when is he going to get a grown-up car.”

  • avatar

    I still want a first gen Tercel with a glass hatch so, so bad. Ever owned one of those, Murilee?

  • avatar
    Lorenzo

    Everything is relative. My state highway department had a couple ’80s Tercels, and they were MUCH preferred over the newer Geo Metro models. All were manuals while all the Metros were automatics. You had to kick down the Metro to first to get up a freeway ramp, and you spent more time in the breakdown lane accelerating to merge than the the Tercel. If work was being done in the median, engineers just didn’t go there in either the Tercel or the Metro – merging with fast lane traffic was too hazardous.

  • avatar

    They say Tercel Owens was great in San Fran, but when he went to Philly and Dallas he was a cancer in the locker room.

    People mock ‘Touareg’ and ‘Tiguan’…what the heck is a ‘Tercel’?


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