Junkyard Find: 1983 Toyota Tercel 4WD Wagon

Murilee Martin
by Murilee Martin

Here’s a car that you still see frequently in Colorado, both on the street and in the junkyard. You see Tercel 4WD wagons on the street here because they’re cheap, sensible winter cars and they tend to keep grinding out the hundreds of thousands of miles in their Tercelian slow-motion fashion… and you see them in the junkyard because they’re not worth enough to fix when something major finally fails.

I’ve had a few of these things (as well as a few examples of the front-wheel-drive version) and I must say that the 1983-86 Tercel wagon is one of my favorite Toyotas of all time. It’s underpowered, funny-looking, and handles like a Fordson tractor, but it’s endearingly funky, can fit absurd quantities of cargo for its size, and is harder to kill than a wizened, street-smart sewer rat (disclaimer: all my Tercels were in California, where they don’t rust).

The reason that Subaru blew the four-wheel-drive-car competition off the face of the planet, starting a bit later in the 1980s, can be seen here. Look how confusing these instructions are! It’s like a truck or something— why can’t you just be in four-wheel-drive all the time?

Tercel 4WD owners that did leave their cars in four-wheel-drive all the time on dry pavement— as many did— soon discovered that they were chewing up tires and/or wearing out their differentials. No, they didn’t bother to read the owner’s manual.

How much power? Let’s just say horsepower in the double digits and leave it at that.

We need more interiors like this today! Toyota seems to have borrowed the fabric pattern from an early-60s IHC Travelall.

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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  • ARCHINSTL ARCHINSTL on Mar 09, 2012

    If any T4WD (or even 2WD) owner is reading this - join our Club at http://www.tercel4wd.com/ ! We are into maintaining and improving these wonderful little cars, with many helpful and knowledgeable folks. It's free, and we even have a downloadable REAL Toy service manual! There are many tips and parts links as well. It's a worldwide Club, but most members are in the PacNWST - but some are in France and Australia as well. THANKS for the feature!

  • Blowfish Blowfish on Mar 17, 2012

    I had a used one, somehow the ratio of front & rear were not correct, it would work in 4wd but on drive pavement u can tell one axle is turning faster than the other, felt like dragging the other. It was useful to climb out of being stuck. The 4th gear synchronizer does allow the gear to pop out every so often, as u between throttle the power pushing & pulling it then pops out.

  • Ronin Let's see the actuals first, then we can decide using science.What has been the effect of auto pollution levels since the 70s when pollution control devices were first introduced? Since the 80s when they were increased?How much has auto pollution specifically been reduced since the introduction of hybrid vehicles? Of e-vehicles?We should well be able to measure the benefits by now, by category of engine. We shouldn't have to continue to just guess the benefits. And if we can't specifically and in detail measure the benefits by now, it should make a rational person wonder if there really are any real world benefits.
  • TheEndlessEnigma Simply put, I like it.
  • TheEndlessEnigma Ah GM, never stop being you. GM is working hard to make FIAT look good.
  • TheEndlessEnigma Top Gear of the 2000's was a fresh concept and very well done. Sadly to say there isn't a TV show concept that doesn't eventually exhaust fresh ideas and, as a result, begins to rehash and wear out once were fresh ideas. The show eventually becomes a pale imitation of itself, then begins to embarrass itself, it will get to a point where it jumps the shark. Top Gear began to get stale, the Clarkson, Hammond and May left and the formula failed - surprise! the presenters were part of the magic. Fast forward many years and Grand Tower is trying hard to be Top Gear but it's all very obviously scripted (it always was by felt spontaneous in its original form), Clarkson, Hammond and May are much older, tired and have become caricatures of themselves. Guys, just stop. You should have stopped 10 years ago. Now you're just screwing with your reputations and legacies.
  • FreedMike Kudos to Toyota for making a legitimately slick looking piece (particularly in metallic cherry red). But PHEVs seem like a very narrow niche to me. Yes, the concept is cool - if you play your cards right you never have to fill up with gas, and the gas engine means you don't have to worry about charging facilities - but the operative words are "if you play your cards right." And PHEVs have all the drawbacks of EVs - spotty charging availability, decreased range in cold conditions, and higher price. Personally, I'd opt for a non plug-in Prius and use the plug-in money to upgrade the trim level. It's slower, but even the base Prius performs roughly on par with a Corolla or Civic, so it's not a dog anymore. But who buys a Prius to go fast in the first place? If I wanted to "go gas free," I'd just buy a BEV. YMMV, of course.