Junkyard Find: 1983 Toyota Tercel 4WD Wagon

Murilee Martin
by Murilee Martin
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.

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2 of 29 comments
  • 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.

  • MelanieRichardson GOOD
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  • FreedMike The FJ Cruiser would be a better comeback candidate. The gang back at Toyota HQ must be looking at all those Broncos flying off Ford lots and kicking themselves.
  • Tassos 2015 was only 7 years ago. $58k is still a whole lot of $ to pay for a vehicle. FOrtunately one can buy a flagship vehicle with great active and passive safety for half this amount, if one does the SMART thing and buys a pre-owned luxury flagship vehicle. they have historically been SCREAMING BARGAINS. A breadvan on stilts SUV, wether the more compact Macan or the more bloated Cayenne will never pass as a Flagship Vehicle. No matter how well it drives or how reliable it suprisingly is. It still is a breadvan on stilts.
  • Sean Ohsee Bring back the 100 series and its I6 diesel.