Junkyard Find: 1987 Toyota Tercel 4WD Wagon

Murilee Martin
by Murilee Martin
junkyard find 1987 toyota tercel 4wd wagon

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.

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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.

  • Cprescott I remember when Fords were affordable.
  • Cprescott As a once very LOYAL FORD buyer, I had to replace my 22 year old Ford (bought new in 1997) once it finally started to have problems at 180k miles. I would have gladly purchased something like this from Ford but they abandoned me as a car buyer. Oddly, Hyundai still builds cars in a variety of flavors so I became a customer of theirs and am very happy. Likely will consider another once this one gets up in mileage.
  • SCE to AUX A friend once struck a mounted tire that was laying flat in the middle of her lane on the PA Turnpike. She was in a low late-90s Grand Prix, and the impact destroyed the facia, core support, radiators, oil pan, transmission, subframe, and suspension. They fixed it all.
  • Dukeisduke Lol, it's not exactly a Chevrolet SS with Holden badging.
  • Dukeisduke Years ago, I was driving southbound along North Central Expressway (south of Mockingbird Lane, for locals), and watched a tire and wheel fall out of the bed of a pickup (no tailgate), bounce along, then centerpunch the front end of a Honda Accord. It wasn't pretty.