Junkyard Find: 1984 Toyota Tercel SR5 4WD Wagon

Murilee Martin
by Murilee Martin

I’ve owned quite a few Tercel wagons of this generation (though most of mine were the common-in-California front-wheel-drive type), and I respect these things for their simplicity, cargo capacity, and reliability. True, they were underpowered and not exactly inspiring to drive, but they could be very lovable. Living in Denver, I see these cars just about every time I hit the junkyard, but mostly they don’t seem special enough to merit photographing. Realizing that this one is 30 years old, however, inspired me to pull out the camera.

Sold in New Mexico, died in Colorado. There’s some rust, but more of the paint-burned-off/snow-buildup variety than the cancerous Midwestern type,

You are awesome!

The notorious “ice maker” next to the license plate. I’ve never been fully clear on what you got with the SR5 package, which was available on just about everything Toyota sold in the 1980s.

The 3A engine was harder to kill than rats and cockroaches combined.

Because the driver had to select front- or four-wheel-drive manually, many owners of these no-center-differential-equipped cars tore up tires and/or wore out drivetrain components by driving 365 days a year on dry pavement in the 4WD setting. Probably most of those Tercel 4WD owners bought Subarus after this happened.

With the air conditioning turned off, you were jamming econo.

I was able to skip chaining up when driving Donner pass in the winter in FWD Tercels, simply by picking up this emblem at the junkyard and adding it to my cars. Easiest 4WD conversion ever!

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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  • Arthur Dailey Arthur Dailey on Sep 26, 2014

    I had the only true competitor to this, a Honda Civic 'tallboy' Realtime allwheeldrive Station Wagon 'Wagovan'. One of the best cars that I have ever had. Did everything required, without any problems. Manual with a 'super low' gear and dealer installed A/C. Only sold it when the family grew (again) and traded it for a new Caravan. Honda eventually had a marketing brainwave regarding their Wagovans, inflated them, jacked them up a bit and renamed them CRV's. If you look at the first generation CRV and the last generation Wagovan you cannot miss the resemblance and the mechanicals were fundamentally the same.

  • Jolgamazatlan Jolgamazatlan on Oct 03, 2014

    I`m late to the party on this one but this brings back warm and fuzzies about my black SR5 Tercel. This one was my first Japanese car and got me hooked on reliability after a succession of car disasters: a new 78 Trans Am, then even worse a new Fiat X 1/9 then a new Fiat Brava (arghhhhhhh). The Tercel ran like a top for countless years. Never had any rust thanks to yearly Rust Checks. One minor quibble, which was really more of a quirk than a problem, was the key. After an evening of carousing in a local hotspot my friend and I came out three sheets to the wind. We were wandering around singing songs and looking for the SR5 in the parking lot. (yes, so young, so stupid) Found it, however the key was very stiff in the door. Surmised it was frozen as this was midwinter. Managed to open the hatch and crawled in. We fired up the motor as usual and I saw two tuques (wool hats if you don`t speak Canadian) on the dash. "Hmmmm" said my brain, "don't worry", said the alcohol, "It`s nothing. Drive on". Suddenly it hit me that my black Ninja Smurf which rode proudly on the dash was no longer there. We both said "Holy shi*!!!!!" and then started to roar with laughter, we laughed until we could hardly breathe. Surreptitiously we slipped the car back into its parking spot. Put the tuques back where we found them and meandered back to my car.

  • V16 2025 VW GLI...or 2025 Honda Civic SI? Same target audience, similar price points. Both are rays of sun in the gray world of SUV'S.
  • FreedMike Said this before and I'll say it again: I'm not that exercised about this whole "pay for a subscription" thing, as long as the deal's reasonable. And here's how you make it reasonable: offer it a monthly charge. Let's say that adaptive headlights are a $500 option on this vehicle, and the subscription is $15 a month, or $540 over a three year lease. So you try the feature for a month, and if you like it, you keep it; if you don't, then you discontinue it, like a Netflix subscription. In any case, you didn't get charged $500 up front the feature. That's not a bad deal.In my case, let's say VW offers an over the air chip reflash that gives me another 25 hp. The total price of the upgrade is $1,000 (which is what a reflash would cost you in the aftermarket). If they offered me a one time monthly subscription for $50 to try it out, I'd take it. In other words, maybe the news isn't all bad.
  • 2ACL A good car, but - at least in this configuration -not one that should command a premium. Its qualities just aren't as enduring as those of Honda's contemporary sports cars. For better or worse, this is a formula they remain able to replicate.
  • Jalop1991 I just read that Tesla's profits are WAY down "as the electric vehicle company has faced both more EV competition from established automakers and a slowing of overall EV sales growth." This Cadillac wouldn't help Tesla at all, but the slowing market of EV sales overall means this should be a halo/boutique car. Regardless, yes, they should make it.
  • FreedMike It's just a damn shame that Alfa never conquered its' quality demons in time for the Giulia and Stelvio to hit the market - these are loaded with personality, and we need more product like that.