By on June 23, 2014

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Daihatsu’s American foray lasted just four short years, from 1988-1992. Roughly ten Daihatsu cars are still for sale – not bad, considering they probably didn’t sell many more than that in total.

Ok, that’s an exaggeration. Daihatsu apparently sold 50,000 cars over a four year span, with 200 retail outlets and a marketing pitch that hinged on “BMW-like quality” at rock bottom prices. Given that Daihatsu exited the US market some time before my 4th birthday, I have no idea whether any of this is true or not. B&B, please fill me in here.

What I do know is that you can buy a Daihatsu Rocky for about $4000. This example has just 106,000 miles on it, and is one of a now-extinct breed of three-door, BOF SUVs that aren’t made by Jeep. But waitthere’s more.

If you’re looking for something a bit more car-like, there are a number of three-cylinder Daihatsu Charades available, in varying states of crapiness. The lone sedan offering is looking a little oxidized, while this black hatch looks nice and clean, although the “salvage title” is a little scary. This white example promises 40 em pee gees, while this one sneaks in under the $500 LeMons threshold.

Thanks to Max (@2fast2finkel) for finding the Daihatsu Rocky

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59 Comments on “Crapwagon Outtake: The Island Of Misfit Brands...”


  • avatar
    CJinSD

    BMW quality wasn’t such an absurd thing to aspire to in 1988. Daihatsus were a giant step up in engineering, assembly and materials compared to Hyundai Excels and VW Foxes, but that didn’t make them sensible buys at Honda Civic prices. There wasn’t much demand for Suzuki Sprints built to Toyota standards.

    • 0 avatar
      CoreyDL

      Hey but look at the amount of glass you got in that 2-door hatch!

    • 0 avatar
      JEFFSHADOW

      Japan’s Prime Minister Kiichi Miyazawa said “Americans lack a work ethic” (rebadged as “Americans are lazy”) in 1992 and the backlash was enormous. Daihatsu simply became the sacrifical lamb to remove from the import junk horizon. A Cadillac store in Tustin, CA actually tried to sell these sh*tboxes along with the Sedan deVilles, Eldorados and Sevilles. They made good planters and security blockers for the evening. If they were stolen it was no real loss since the wholesale value was, like the Daewoo, $1.

    • 0 avatar
      romer

      I used a 1984 Daihatsu Charade in South Africa for a work vehicle carrying appliances; brilliant vehicle: light on gas, can hold 150 km/hour with one person aboard. These are very sought after over there. The rear deck caved in from loads carried but got it welded and carried on.

  • avatar

    Fun fact – Daihatsu was sued by the producers of the movie “Rocky” for trademark infringement.

  • avatar
    CoreyDL

    They seem to make interesting, tough little vehicles. I think they showed up too little too late though to compete with the established Japanese makers. Everybody who had a Honda or Toyota wasn’t interested in moving -down- at that time, only up into a Lexus or Acura.

  • avatar
    TorontoSkeptic

    Awesome! But I prefer the 1980s Isuzu sedans that can still be found online…

    http://www.kijiji.ca/v-cars-trucks/city-of-toronto/1989-isuzu-i-mark-rs/602973755?enableSearchNavigationFlag=true

    $3800 does seem a BIT steep for a 1989 Isuzu. But to be fair it does have “Handling and Suspension design by Lotus.” Can that really be true?!

    • 0 avatar
      CoreyDL

      Yes very true on the Lotus handling. I prefer the Stylus or the Piazza to the I-Mark though.

    • 0 avatar
      krhodes1

      Yes – Lotus has made far more money as a design consultancy firm than they ever have making cars.

      Didn’t Daihatsu only actually sell cars out West? At least initially? I have seen one Charade in Maine ever, and it had California plates.

      • 0 avatar
        CJinSD

        The Porsche-Audi-BMW dealer in Charlottesville, Virginia picked up Daihatsu. Years later, they replaced BMW with Kia when BMW insisted on stand-alone stores and somehow gave the region to one of their dealer groups.

        • 0 avatar
          fiatjim

          Splitting hairs, but I thought it was Dan’s Automart on 29 north that had Daihatsu. Either way, they were definitely for sale on the east coast.

          • 0 avatar
            CJinSD

            I’m reasonably certain Berlin had Daihatsu. I remember joking around with Phil Marx about whether or not they’d throw one in with an E32 750iL when I bought one of my Audis. It’s possible that another of their vendors made them drop Daihatsu before Daihatsu folded up shop in the US though.

    • 0 avatar
      anti121hero

      The piazza aka the impulse, was an EXCELLENT car with handling by lotus. My friend had two and they were great cars

    • 0 avatar
      indi500fan

      IIRC during that bizarro time period, GM owned Lotus and a significant portion of Isuzu.

    • 0 avatar
      Athos Nobile

      I had 2 Impulses with those badges/susp tuning. Beautiful handling.

  • avatar
    Land Ark

    On all but one of my voyages to the Cayman Islands (2006-2012) we rented a Charade. This was a newer version, but not the newest version, and they are … minimalist. They are a good size for the island and with low speed limits they are good enough for puttering around the island. But the main concern I had was with our chances of survival if we got into an accident. Most folks drive Accords or Bluebirds and I don’t think the thinly built Charade would hold up against one at 50kph.

    http://www.valuemd.com/attachments/saba-medical-school-classifieds/6954d1203886050-2007-daihatsu-charade-automatic-sale-img_1476.jpg

  • avatar
    seth1065

    The lotus part is true on the I mark , lotus handled the design of it and had a badge on the car, lotus needed the money and the I mark used it as a selling feature

  • avatar
    Russycle

    A friend of mine has a Rocky for his summer beater. It’s a great crude convertible runabout, poor man’s Wrangler.

  • avatar
    Kenmore

    In ’92 I wouldn’t have given that red 3-door a second look.

    Today I’d marry it.

    • 0 avatar

      I think the example shown has the wheels from a mid-1980s VW GTI/GLI….definitely worth the $375 asking price.
      I would be surprised if Daihatsu ever offered any wheels as cool as those.

      • 0 avatar
        Kenmore

        They’re the only things I don’t like about it; remind me of ’80s Italian cars.

        I prefer generic round-slotted steelies like every colony of Toyotas and Datsuns pouring off the boat in the early ’80s had, cleaned up and painted black. No covers.

        Put fear in roundeye! Again!

        • 0 avatar
          NoGoYo

          I was going to paint my 87 Nova’s wheels gloss black before its transmission went…

          • 0 avatar
            Kenmore

            At how many miles did that tranny go? Hope it was well over 100K considering the Nova was basically an AE82 Corolla. Was it an MT?

          • 0 avatar
            NoGoYo

            It had like 170k. Automatic transmission.

            I probably accelerated its demise by pushing the little carbureted 1.6 hard to keep up with traffic and maintain highway speeds. The first time I drove the thing, I had to climb a hill with 3 other people on board…was a bit scary.

          • 0 avatar
            Kenmore

            1.6 liters sure means something entirely different today, no?

          • 0 avatar
            NoGoYo

            It most definitely does!

            That car had 74 horsepower brand new (or 90, it’s never been clear to me if the Nova 4A-C was different from the Corolla 4A-C), now I can go buy a 1.6 Fiesta with about 50 more hp than that that gets better fuel economy.

          • 0 avatar

            @Kenmore, a modern 1.6 is “almost” the same as a 3.0 from 10-15 yrs ago. Much more economic too and all the benefits of a lighter packaging.

          • 0 avatar
            Kenmore

            It is an awesome time for lovers of 4-bangers.

  • avatar
    28-Cars-Later

    Do Daewoo next.

    • 0 avatar
      CoreyDL

      I owned one whilst I was in S. Korea in late 08 early 09. 1997 Lanos sedan. Silver over dark grey vinyl (like new inside). 7x,000 kilometers, 3-speed auto, two power windows, one power mirror, and no airbags (!) or ABS. Never did more than 22 mpg.

      It rode alright for such a small car, pretty soft like they like em. And it was 1.1M won, around $1,100 including taxes.

      Koreans don’t want to drive something over say 5-7 years old, because it’s “unsafe” and not posh enough. There are all kinds of older Home Cars around for cheapo. If I would’ve been there longer I would A) have spent a bit more and B) got something larger – like a Daewoo Prince Super Salon.

      • 0 avatar
        CoreyDL

        http://mlb-s1-p.mlstatic.com/vendo-ou-troco-daewoo-super-salon-13394-MLB20076371876_042014-F.jpg

        http://mlb-s2-p.mlstatic.com/vendo-ou-troco-daewoo-super-salon-13318-MLB20076372579_042014-F.jpg

      • 0 avatar
        raresleeper

        We have a Daewoo in my household better known as the Aveo.

        Never seen an engine drag its a$s so much simply by turning on the air conditioning.

        • 0 avatar
          CoreyDL

          I always liked how you can see the suspension hanging down underneath the Aveo. Just in case you weren’t sure it was cheap as f*ck.

          • 0 avatar
            raresleeper

            Yeah, man, its definitely bad.

            The slushbox alone is about the worst I’ve ever experienced, even subpar compared to the automatic that graced my 86 Sunbird GT J body.

            Yup. That bad.

            My wife loves this stupid thing. Its the first brand new car she’s ever purchased on her own, so, you know… what to do? ?? Been paid off for years.

  • avatar
    Fred

    were they selling in California? I sure don’t remember any Daihatsu dealers.

  • avatar
    raresleeper

    I’d take this over a Metro any day, BUT not a Swift GTi.

    Or over a Festiva. Any trim level Festiva.

  • avatar
    rpol35

    “Charade” was an apt name as that’s exactly what it was, a charade.

    • 0 avatar
      krhodes1

      Do you have direct experience of the cars? They seemed to get quite good reviews back in the day. Certainly a far better super-eco commuter than a Geo Metro, though of course the price was a lot higher too.

  • avatar
    cpthaddock

    My mother had an ’89 Charade in red, a lot like the one in the picure puchased used in ’93.

    I had succesdfully restyled her Citroen AX (mechanically a Peugeot 205 I believe) using a combinatin of the natural beauty of hairpin bends on a noth Wales mountain and failed master brake cylinder, to round off each and every one of that car’s corners.

    The Daihatsu was a little known brand / car and was a lot of vehice for the insurance settlement money. Hers was truly like new and my recollections of it are pretty positive in the European context. My mother ran it until the late 90′s at which point it passed to my sister whose then long term boyfriend took less than a year to destroy it.

    Per wikipedia, Daihatsu’s US enrance coincided with Toyota taking 51% of the company. In some repects it could be viewed as the predecessor to Scion.

  • avatar
    Sjalabais

    I have never associated Daihatsu with outstanding quality. Sure, mechanically they do fine. But they disintegrate quickly thanks to caramel disease. Have a look at mobile.de – Daihatsu’s are worth nothing.

  • avatar
    TorontoSkeptic

    Is there a relationship between Daihatsu, Suzuki and GM? Because it looks pretty much exactly like the Geo Metro 3-door…

    http://carphotos.cardomain.com/ride_images/3/2148/841/30367920002_large.jpg

  • avatar
    fastwilly

    Please help a noob out… What exactly is a “crapwagon?” I’ve seen the term used on this site for everything from new Cadillacs to old Daewoos.

  • avatar
    bball40dtw

    I remember the Asuna brand in Canada more than the Daihatsu in the US. Maybe because my aunt in Sarnia had a ridiculous Asuna Sunfire. GM does some crazy stuff.

  • avatar
    EspritdeFacelVega

    I lived in Honolulu in the early 90s and a work colleague had an 89 Charade. I was “between cars” and in exchange for using the car for a few days I offered to give it a thorough cleaning (for myself, really, as it was disgusting). She had bought the car when living in Miami, drove it to LA – must have been quite a trip – and shipped it from there. At 5 years of age the car had some nasty rust spots. And even in heavy-traffic HNL I could tell the 3 cylinders really struggled on hills, on-ramps (such as they are there) etc. Still, it was fairly fun to drive. Her’s was a top-of-the-line with non-working A/C, nice seats, sunroof etc. They were perfectly respectable machines that weren’t quite right for the North American market, and I think Toyota had second thoughts fairly early on about what it would cost to build the brand in NA (of course, they then went on to launch Scion….)

  • avatar
    DrGastro997

    You can buy yourself a Yaris. It’s the closest you can get to a Daihatsu here in the US. It’s too bad Daihatsu gave up on us Americans. They make some very good small-mini machines…

  • avatar
    luvmyv8

    One of my friends in high school had a Daihatsu Charade sedan. Never gave her any problems from what I recall. Cute girl then, still is now. The Charade is long gone though, replaced by 2 Saturns.

  • avatar
    texasspeed

    Since I was in college during that time period, I remember this. Daihatsu was using college students to market their cars. They had some program where college students would get a car to drive, and they made a little money for every referral or something like that. Kind of ahead of their time, 25 years ago.

  • avatar
    Truckducken

    I am hoping to sneak a Copen into the States one of these days. Other than that, yeah, Scion 0.0.


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