Junkyard Find: 1983 Toyota Tercel 4WD Wagon
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 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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