By on January 12, 2012

Did anyone in America buy Daihatsu Charades? In at least one case, yes!
In 1990, car shoppers looking for a small gas-sipping-yet-sporty Japanese car had their needs amply met by the Civic, Corolla, Sentra, Protegé, and Mirage. Hell, even the Geo Storm/Isuzu Impulse held a tiny piece of the high ground needed by Daihatsu to make a go of it with the Charade. Potential Charade buyers, perhaps too distracted by the prospect of the Mother of All Battles to find their local Daihatsu dealership, went to the competition.
But not the buyer of this ’91, who persevered and was rewarded with this lil’ red devil! This example features the not-at-all-sought-after “big-block” four-cylinder engine, which made 80 horsepower instead of the base three-banger’s 53 horses.
All in all, not one of the great moments in automotive history. Still, FAW thinks enough of the G100 Charade to build it to this day in China.
There’s a single Daihatsu Charade running in the 24 Hours of LeMons these days, thanks to Dai Hard Racing in California. It’s been heavily modified with turbocharging and who-knows-what-else and it’s quite fast (and unreliable); I don’t scrutinize the Dai Hard machine too closely when I’m doing BS inspections, because, well, it’s a Daihatsu!

Get the latest TTAC e-Newsletter!

42 Comments on “Junkyard Find: 1990 Daihatsu Charade SE...”

  • avatar

    I liked the hatchback of this car. Our local dealer in Texas actually seemed to sell quite a few, along with the Rocky 4×4.

    • 0 avatar

      I’ve actually seen a Rocky driving around from time to time. Seems like a tough little 4×4 that could definitely match the Suzuki Samurai.

      Of course, I’ve never driven one, so maybe it’s a turd.

  • avatar

    Back in 2002 the FAW Xiali was the ubiquitous cheap taxi in Beijing while I was at Peking University(a Citroen Xsara, I believe, cost about half-yuan, or about 6 cents, more per km). The Xiali was this exact same car, color and all. I’m 6’3″ and spent a lot of time riding in the back of these, usually with 2-3 other full size Americans in the car while the driver drove in the typical Chinese ass-on-fire manner. Ahh, memories.

    you should import a few of those cars and their drivers for the next LeMons race, I bet they’d clean up!

    • 0 avatar

      I have a 98 Xsara diesel its a roomy car despite its compact dimensions and handles brilliantly

      • 0 avatar

        I had a 2001 Xsara and it was a complete POS – underpowered and extremely unreliable. The only reason I didn’t realize how bad it was is because it replaced another French car, a 1980 Renault 5. Thankfully a drunk driver destroyed it for me and I replaced it with a 2007 Skoda Octavia, and realized how true all those stereotypes about the Germans vs the French are (the Octavia is basically a rebadged VW Golf)

  • avatar

    Oooh, an unbroken driver side Volkswagen Mk3 Jetta turnsignal housing

  • avatar

    I see one of these at the local supermarket every other week or so… always makes me think of what I could do with it in LeMons. Which is negligible.

  • avatar

    A friend of my old neighbor had one of these in blue. What an awful little car it was. I remember it in the early 1990s and this is the first time I’ve seen one since.

  • avatar

    there was a sedan version? i’ve seen a few hatchbacks before. and I have an irrational desire to own a Rocky 4×4.

  • avatar

    From 1986 to 1992, America saw the arrivals of new foreign brands.

    Luxury cars:
    Merkur – via Ford
    Infiniti – via Nissan
    Lexus – via Toyota
    Sterling – via Honda
    Acura – via Honda
    Amati – via Mazda (stillborn)

    These cars were designed to increase profits and create new markets. Voluntary trade barriers with the US created a need for successful Japanese brands to expand into this direction.

    Economy cars:
    Kia – via Ford
    Daewoo – via Pontiac

    Earlier in the decade, Ford had a near death experience. Chrysler had to be bailed out. AMC slowly went out of business. The Malaise Era along with it’s gas crisis, forced auto brands to change. The Reagan Economic Boom created the means for them to do so. We see Ford begin to build a PAG and partner with Mazda and Kia. We see Roger Smith and Ross Perot battle over Oldsmobile with Smith denying Oldsmobile his new Saturn cars to spite his nemesis’ favorite brand. Smith then retired.

    The Reagan Economic Boom created market opportunities which optimistic car companies decided to pursue. Established brands worked to consolidate successes. Many global brands decided to risk entering the US market. Crystal balls foresaw a small car boom and with a growing US economy, many jumped in, even when they weren’t ready.

    Like Yugo. It needed to enter the US market before it completely collapsed internally due to poor management, obsolete products and civil genocidal war. Yugos were badly made Yugoslavian Fiats sold at Dime Store prices.

    Daihatsu was another product that was not ready for US prime time. Seeing Yugo offer truly horrible cars and still find buyers must have given Daihatsu reasons to believe they too could introduce US buyers to their brand. What Daihatsu did was take the parts they used to make mini-cars in Japan, and create a larger vehicle for the US market. They called it the Charade. Which was an honest warning. Daihatsus were not made for driving beyond a Japanese Prefecture. They were perfectly fine for delivering KFC or Pizza Hut, but not for delivering a family from Jefferson City to Denver.

    Daihatsu jumped at the US market before it had established any dealerships. Daihatsu dealers could be found operating out of corner lots near universities, and ran by frats. The guy delivering your Dominoes in a Daihatsu, could sometimes be a Daihatsu sale manager too.

    Dude, where’s my Daihatsu?

    So, these little cars had about as much chance as a Yugo, even though mechanically, there were very dissimilar and the Charades were usually assembled better.

    By 1993, small car buyers were sharing new car brand horror stories. Hyundai Excels – didn’t and they nearly went out of business. Yugos became instant punch lines and worthless. “Why does a Yugo have a rear defroster? – To keep your hands warm when you are pushing them.” “How do you double the value of a Yugo? – Fill up it’s gas tank.” Along with Yugos and Hyundais, Daihatsus were on the never-touch-them-with-a-ten-foot-pole list.

    Daihatsus tried to copy the Kia/Ford Festiva success route by giving the Charade some suprising luxury touches at their price point. But unlike Kia/Ford Festiva, the Charades were not made to last a year before wearing out.

    This Daihatsu makes for interesting road kill.

    • 0 avatar

      Daihatsu is Toyotas kei car division. originally the Charade Turbo used the diesel engine block they are really strong

    • 0 avatar

      Just out of curiosity, how do you refer to the economic boom of the mid to late 90s? Would the name Clinton come up, even once?

      • 0 avatar
        I've got a Jaaaaag

        As someone who worked in Software and Telecom in that time period we called it the DotCom boom. It was in large part thanks to Clinton era low interest rates, cheap money meant anyone with a website idea could get massive loans.

      • 0 avatar

        The economic boom of the late 1990s is called the “DotCom Boom”. I wouldn’t object to it being called the “Clinton Boom”, but it isn’t.

        I don’t recall the economic boom after 1983 referred to anything else except the Reagan Boom. But for you, I’ll start referring to it as the “Bonzo Got Lucky Boom”, so you don’t wretch.

    • 0 avatar
      Amendment X

      @ Vanilla: They really ought to bring you on full time.

      • 0 avatar

        Thanks, I’d love to, but I do need a good editor.
        Some of my stuff causes some readers to cover their faces and cry. Too opinionated. Too strong. And often just plain flat out dead wrong. I’d need an editor to keep my evil postings from appearing. Turns off sensitive readers.

  • avatar

    This is a weird little rare car. How many Daihatsus’s are imported as Toyota’s nowadays?

  • avatar

    Perfectly named, referring to it as a car was a “Charade”.

  • avatar

    I scratch my head and realize I have never heard nor seen one of these. Next.

  • avatar
    Rental Man

    The Hatch version of this car overseas was considered the holy grail for cheap Jap. cars. Better then the offerings from Suzuki or Subaru. These Secret Toyotas would never die.

    • 0 avatar

      That’s right – the Justy was in this market too. I need to remember that when I consider where Subaru is where it is today – they tried with the Justy to develop a different market niche back in the late 1980s. The Justy was a three cylinder with a CVT about the size of a Festiva. Subaru earned a miniscule profit from each Justy.

      Suzuki has been coitus interruptus in the US small car market for decades. Along with Mitsubishi and Isuzu, I can’t imagine another company with so many assets continuing to fail in the market as long as Suzuki.

  • avatar

    Once upon a time, my sister, living in Oklahoma City but frequently traveling to Anadarko and Chickasha, called me for advice on a new car. They didn’t have much money, so the choices were Festiva, Charade, or Justy. I recommended the Festiva based on the fact that she’s hard on equipment and I knew she could get it serviced at any Ford store.

    She bought the Charade, of course. Apparently, the Daihatsu store in OKC was attached to a Ford store and she thought they were related. I was in Tulsa, the Daihatsu store there was attached to an Oldsmobile store, but Daihatsu was no more connected to Olds than to Ford, of course, and I knew this. Ah, well.

    Inside of 30K miles, it needed a clutch. Nothing wrong with the design, just a fact of life with her.

    Flash forward a couple years. I’m now in Detroit working for one of the Big Three. I catch wind that Daihatsu USA is ceasing operations, but it hasn’t gone public yet. Call sister, tell her to dump the car now. Today. And why. She waits, and 3 weeks later, the news goes public. THEN she tries to trade the car. Dealer tells her that a week ago, he’d have offered her 3 times what he could offer now that it was an orphan…

    She kept it, eventually trading it on an XJ Cherokee that spent 44.5 of its first 90 days in the shop with a variety of transmission woes.

  • avatar

    IIRC Toyota made a lot of Starlets made by this company.

    • 0 avatar

      Not true. All Starlets were designed and built by Toyota itself with little or no Daihatsu involvement.

    • 0 avatar

      As it turns out you are very correct. They were in bed with the predecessor of the starlet, the publica. As it turns out it was actually Toyota building them and putting Daihatsu badges on them as well as Toyota badges. Daihatsu engines in the Daihatsu badged ones also. This must be true. It was on the internet.

      Of course I may not be remembering this any better than my original statement even though I read this today. Senility sucks.

  • avatar

    the Materia is what the second gen xB should have been like.

  • avatar
    Joe McKinney

    Where I live in south-west Alabama you occasionally see Daihatsus of a different sort. Around here old, 4×4 Japanese Kei trucks are popular for off-road use by hunters, farmers and landscapers. One of the most often seen Kei trucks is the Daihatsu Hijet.

    • 0 avatar

      I had a 2wd Hijet pickup when I was stationed in Japan. It was already 10 years old when got it and was rock solid. It started after every deployment and the A/C always blew cold. Every farmer in southern Japan has one.

      • 0 avatar
        Joe McKinney

        I’d love to have a Kei truck if I only had somewhere to drive it. They are not street legal in Alabama. They are legal in Mississippi and I occasionally see them on the roads in Meridian.

  • avatar

    I was always under the impression these cars were intended to fill the gap in the market left by Yugo. Ubercheap, plus the bonus of Japanese=quality. As it turned out, both the market gap and the quality were an illusion.

  • avatar

    Didn’t the late John Ritter drive one of these through a sporting goods store window in ‘Problem Child’? Although I think that was a red hatch.

    Surprised to see one. It’s no Yugo though…

  • avatar

    Daihatsu still has those little utility pickups not road legal except in MS…

  • avatar

    My grandparents had one of these, a 3-cyl, when I was learning to drive. It was impossible to jack-rabbit.

  • avatar
    I've got a Jaaaaag

    There were quite a few of these in my high school parking lot in 1991-1993. They were cheap and disposable.

  • avatar

    Haha, charade you are. Whoo!

  • avatar

    I Have a 1988 XL Hatchback 5 speed 3 cyl. with 200k miles and just totally overhauled (leaky head gasket,still got 42 MPG but I wanted new parts everywhere, see for parts)with now 1200 miles on it. Driving it from since 1993 from Ca. to Fl. to MO. it would get 44 MPG with the air on doing 70 MPH.Has power windows,mirror and Tech. Gets about 39 MPG around town. Painted it yellow and have biggest 13 inch tires on it and it handles like a dream. Detroit screams about trying to make a car that get 30 MPG in 2011 but this was going strong in 1988.

Read all comments

Back to TopLeave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.

Recent Comments

  • Inside Looking Out: 1245/2022-ford-mondeo-china-de but/
  • conundrum: Renesas of Japan was THE major automotive chip supplier with a third of the global market until their...
  • Inside Looking Out: Doesn’t Tovares afraid of being cancelled from STellantis for making such outrages...
  • conundrum: Well, the math the EU bureaucracy came up with to prove EVs were so wonderful over a decade ago was a load...
  • DAC17: Why does anyone care about this ridiculous way to strip money out of peoples’ pockets for unnecessary...

New Car Research

Get a Free Dealer Quote

Who We Are

  • Adam Tonge
  • Bozi Tatarevic
  • Corey Lewis
  • Jo Borras
  • Mark Baruth
  • Ronnie Schreiber