Junkyard Find: 1987 Toyota Tercel 4WD Wagon

Murilee Martin
by Murilee Martin

When we think of Japanese four-wheel-drive station wagons these days, we immediately picture a Subaru product. We often forget that, in the 1980s, most of the Japanese automakers made four-wheel-drive versions of their small wagons. Honda had the 4WD Civic Wagovan, Nissan had 4WD Stanza and Sentra wagons, Mitsubishi had the Mirage and Colt 4WD wagons, and so on. Of all of the non-Subaru 4WD wagons from that era, however, the only one you see with any frequency these days is Toyota’s Tercel 4WD wagon. These things are about as common as the AMC Eagle in Colorado, i.e. you see them all the time.

I’ve owned quite a few of these things, though most of mine were the more economical front-wheel-drive versions. For a couple of years, I had a job near the location of the weekly San Francisco towed-car auctions, and I’d drop by and pick up ’83-87 Tercel wagons for 100 bucks, fix a few things, and then turn them around for a grand. I never bought one that couldn’t be persuaded to run at the auction (in the “Wild West” era of City Tow, bidders weren’t allowed to try to start the cars before bidding, so you never knew what would happen when you attempted to fire up your new purchase), and I ended up keeping a couple for daily-driving use. Absolutely bulletproof little wagon, able to haul ridiculous loads, and very easy to work on.

With no center differential, you can’t use four-wheel-drive on dry asphalt without (allegedly) beating up the car’s running gear. I never attempted any serious off-roading in mine, but I would think that serious mud/grades/etc. would be beyond this car’s capabilities. Snow and ice, sure.

The good old Toyota 3A engine: not a lot of power, but will survive the apocalypse. I do love these cars (and Toyotas of the mid-1980s in general), but we’ve still got enough Tercel 4WD wagons on the street that I don’t worry when I see them in the wrecking yard. I do feel sad when I see a Mazda 323 GTX in the junkyard, which has happened several times now, but they seem to have become collectible enough that the few survivors should be well cared for.

Murilee Martin
Murilee Martin

Murilee Martin is the pen name of Phil Greden, a writer who has lived in Minnesota, California, Georgia and (now) Colorado. He has toiled at copywriting, technical writing, junkmail writing, fiction writing and now automotive writing. He has owned many terrible vehicles and some good ones. He spends a great deal of time in self-service junkyards. These days, he writes for publications including Autoweek, Autoblog, Hagerty, The Truth About Cars and Capital One.

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  • Brandloyalty Brandloyalty on Jul 04, 2011

    These cars have a peculiar problem that sends many of them to the crusher. In even a light rear-end impact, the roof easily folds along the stamped sheet metal creases in the roof. Apparently it's so costly to fix that they just get written off. Since they usually get hit on the left rear corner, there are no clips available to graft on.

  • Dtremit Dtremit on Jul 05, 2011

    Always thought the off-center license plate/handle pod on these made them look like they should dispense ice cubes.

  • ToolGuy Also on to-do list: Read the latest Steve S. fiction work on TTAC (May 20 Junkyard Find)
  • 1995 SC I'm likely in the minority, but I really liked the last Eldorado best. That and the STS.
  • Dartdude Typical Joe, bribing people for votes. He will do anything to re-elected, but as soon as he is he will go back on everything he says and does. America has never been this venerable as it is today. NO country respect Joe and what he says.
  • Theflyersfan Since I'm one of a couple of IT guys that supports the network, server administration, and all things computer related at a 24/7 logistics center (only closed on Christmas), I have to work some of the long weekend. But there's still time after we close early on Monday to fire up the grill and smoker, have a few friends over and scarf down some smoky rubbed ribs and burgers. Remember those soldiers who have died. I'm sure those in my generation had grandfathers who fought in WW2 and fathers who fought in Vietnam. I have my grandfather's dog tags and his enlistment card framed as a reminder of the sacrifices they made and to honor his memory.
  • FreedMike Doff of the cap to those who served.