By on May 30, 2017

Image: Daihatsu Charade, via Craigslist

I really enjoy encountering the cheap and cheerful compacts of the past. Their lack of technological complexity, superb integrity in exterior design, and complete absence of flim-flam is refreshing.

Our Rare Ride today is such a compact, from a company many in North America don’t know. It’s the Daihatsu Charade.

But before we get to this light-blue box, here’s some history for you.

Daihatsu is one of the oldest existing engine manufacturers in Japan. Founded in 1907, the company produced its first vehicle in 1930, the HA Model (which had three wheels). In 1937, Daihatsu produced its first four-wheeled vehicle, which it also called the HA Model. Throughout the next couple of decades, Daihatsu would make more three-wheel vehicles, and other small four-wheeled vehicles intended for transporting freight. Its first foray into the passenger market was with the Compagno line in 1963, when the company built several different body styles on a single platform. The Compagno range included two and four-door sedans, a delivery van, convertible, and a pickup truck.

Daihatsu was fully independent until 1967, when Toyota became a major shareholder. The Japanese government encouraged domestic investment in auto companies in the late ’60s, since the doors of the market were set to open to imported vehicles. Over time, Toyota increased its stake and control in the company, and obtained 33.4 percent of Daihatsu’s shares in 1995. With veto power, Toyota controlled the company’s actions and increased its share to 51.2 percent in 1998. Just recently, in August 2016, Daihatsu became a wholly owned subsidiary of Toyota.

The company played in the United States market for just a few years beginning in 1987. It brought over two models, the Charade we have here today and the Rocky compact SUV, which was much like the Suzuki Samurai. But as often with small manufacturers here, the company faced sales difficulty on US shores with a limited model offering and dealership network. It gave up on the US market in 1992.

In other markets, Daihatsu continued to be a very successful producer of small vehicles. In 2006, the company posted a net income of 4 billion dollars, and it employed nearly 12,000 people around the globe.

The history lesson went on for a bit there, eh? Time for the Rare Ride!

Image: Daihatsu Charade, via Craigslist

The Charade you see here is for sale on Craigslist in Eugene, Oregon. A temperate Oregon climate helps explain its excellent condition. A careful long-term owner must be a factor, too.

Image: Daihatsu Charade, via Craigslist

This Charade has 128,000 miles on its 1295cc inline four-cylinder and automatic transmission. It’s probably very speedy a thrilling adventure on onramps. The seller says it will do 40 miles to the gallon.

Image: Daihatsu Charade, via Craigslist

The interior is in excellent condition; everything laid out simply and sensibly, as you’d expect.

Image: Daihatsu Charade, via Craigslist

The Pioneer head unit adds a nice vintage touch as well.

Image: Daihatsu Charade, via Craigslist

Perhaps someone in the comments can fill us in about parts availability here, because I’m imagining it’s sketchy at best. The seller is asking just $1,495, making this our most affordable Rare Rides to date. Surely it’s worth the asking price.

[Images via Craigslist]

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34 Comments on “Rare Rides: This 1990 Daihatsu Charade is the Essence of Car...”

  • avatar

    I can almost smell the “old car smell” just looking at the interior pictures. The cigarette lighter looks spic and span, was it a non-smoker owner?

  • avatar

    It seems to me that it would have made a lot more sense to badge the Charade as a Toyota Starlet for the US market.

  • avatar

    What’s hilarious is Daihatsu was trolling customers with the name.


    an absurd pretense intended to create a pleasant or respectable appearance.

    “talk of unity was nothing more than a charade”

    synonyms: farce, pantomime, travesty, mockery, parody, pretense, act, masquerade

    “our entire relationship is a charade”
    a game in which players guess a word or phrase from pantomimed clues.

  • avatar
    Shortest Circuit

    This makes me depressed on many levels.

  • avatar

    Lack of technological complexity? For that you need a domestic compact like a Studebaker Lark or Rambler American. The Daihatsu Charade is a complex, sophisticated, high-tech marvel in comparison.

    • 0 avatar

      Compared to today, they were simple, like the 1990 Dodge Spirit 4-door they resemble, but Dodge Shadow sized. A base Spirit/Shadow with the 2.5L 100-HP engine and roll up windows, no AC,and power nothing, was very similar to the Charade, compared to the drive-by-wire, electronics-laden, fuel injected cars of today. You forget these cars had carburetors and pedal/shifter manual linkage, and far fewer emissions sensors.

    • 0 avatar
      Guitar man

      That car there has EFI, 16 valve engine and a 4 speed auto. Not simple at all.

  • avatar

    Decidedly cheap and cheerful .

    I hope it doesn’t get bought and run into the ground by some College kid .


  • avatar

    The Charade used to annoy me because it was the only car to use my initials as a trim level, the Charade CLS. Thankfully Mercedes-Benz has now improved that situation.

  • avatar

    If it was a 5spd and local I’d totally snap that sucker up. Parts availability would definitely be a concern, however.

  • avatar

    I swear those heating/cooling controls look almost exactly the same as my ol’ Toyota T100. Or some of the Nissan budget boxes I drove.

  • avatar
    Car Ramrod

    Whoa. I’ve never seen a Charade sedan, thought they were all hatchbacks. Rare indeed, Corey!

    I wish they’d succeeded here and released a luxury model, the Daihatsu Facade.

  • avatar

    The Pioneer aftermarket was definitely a requirement in econobox cars of that era. In some of those cars there wasn’t any kind of a radio in the first place.

  • avatar
    Arthur Dailey

    The dash on this vehicle reminds me of the one on my ’86 Accord sedan. Clear, functional and easy to read by my aging eyes. And a nice shade of blue throughout.

    And not such an ‘econobox’ for that time, since it has A/C.

    When I see a ‘survivor’ like this or the 600k Mercedes, I must tip my cap. More than the ‘collector’ vehicles or ‘supercars’ I feel that these unsung, loyal companions are deserving of praise and preservation.

  • avatar

    For the more discerning compact buyers, there was the Facile package…

  • avatar
    30-mile fetch

    All that blocky 80’s Japanese plasticity, inside and out. They all look the same–trapezoidal gauge binnacle flanked by two immediately adjacent rectangle vents and a square console below with black plastic HVAC sliders. The Toyota influence is really obvious in this one. Makes me nostalgic for the 1984 Camry I briefly owned. Until I remember what it was like to drive the thing, 90-odd horsepower wheezing lethargically through a 4spd auto. This Daihatsu would be unpleasant in most urban and suburban environments with quick-moving traffic. It needs to tool about a little one-stoplight town.

    • 0 avatar

      I had a similar Camry, just a few years newer.

      I like the feel of 1980s Japanese vehicles, but I don’t miss that one. It leaving me walking more than once is certainly a factor.

      My similar-vintage Isuzu Trooper (II) two door is one I’d love to have again. I liked it a lot, but when the manual trans failed, I sold it. Finding parts for it was an issue, as having a one-year-only engine/trans combo was the biggest hangup. There was also a non-removable cross member that would have made swapping transmissions extremely difficult for this backyard mechanic with no lift and chronic pain issues.

      I liked the cheap, durable plastics. No, not as soft as modern interiors, but that’s what made it so charming.

      • 0 avatar
        30-mile fetch

        A Camry leaving you stranded? IMPOSSIBLE, sir.

        A failing transmission killed mine at an unimpressive odometer reading. Reverse went first, which made proper planning a must when parking. There was a boot print in the rear quarter panel from a moment of reduced self control. An inlaw, though, was fond of telling the story of how his mother owned–and severely neglected–this vintage of Camry to the point of the oil stick registering only a syrup of burned sludge after who knows how many years and miles yet the engine kept churning along.

        I spotted a carbon copy of the one I owned at the local university the other day. 33 years old, and a full fifteen years after I offloaded mine. There it was, as if time hadn’t marched on a day. I wanted to wait until the owner came by and ask if I could drive it. See if *that* transmission still worked.

  • avatar

    One of my friends had one of these, back in the day. Great car. Did anyone notice those weird “mouse track” automatic seat belts that were cheaper than airbags?

  • avatar

    Charades are probably my favorite out of the era’s low-end econoboxes. (Justy/Swift-Metro-Sprint/Festiva-Aspire)
    Thing about parts availability of these things is that a lot of em were transplant or license-built in 3rd world countries long after Japan production ended, so assuming there’s a reasonable way to source parts from those places, they shouldn’t be too difficult or expensive. I have friends who were pleasantly surprised by the mega-cheap parts availability for things like Mk2 Golfs and D22 Frontiers for this reason.

  • avatar

    When the Charade debuted in the U.S., Daihatsu advertisements proudly displayed a comment by one the the major car mags, either R&T or C&D, touting its “BMW-like quality…”
    I later found that magazine review; the sentence actually read, “BMW-like quality compared to the Geo Metro.”

    • 0 avatar

      BMW quality is NOT a good thing at all.

      Source? Own BMWs.

      • 0 avatar

        Try their Motos Tony !.
        I’ve been riding them for Decades since 1979, I always wanted one in the 1960’s when there was a Courier Service using BMW /2’s in Cambridge, Ma.
        More ride, less fix, unlike the 2002 mt ex partner’s Old lady bought in the 1970’s ~ every year or two maximum, it needed some major repair .
        Lemon yellow, the correct color, it also brought swarms of _bees_ into the shop every spring and guess who had to get rid of them and it ? .
        I’m thinking German cars just need more attention .

  • avatar

    The manual version was pretty quick, with 90 hp and 750 kg. Otherwise the car was a cheap, miserable, thoroughly unsafe tin can with a terribly harsh ride. The interior plastics were especially gross even for their day, they looked and felt like a child’s toy, and you always feared you’d snap something off by accident.

    Charade was a fitting name for that “car”.

  • avatar

    It warms my heart to see another Charade on here! This is an uncommon combination; the four door with automatic and four cylinder. Most Charades were the hatch, and initially with the 1.0 litre three cylinder. Rumor has it that Daihatsu added the four door sedan, as well as the automatic and larger four door, several years later in response to the hatch’s weak sales performance in the U.S. This particular Charade looks very clean, and I love the power blue color. Someone obviously loves and cares for it

    As a current Charade owner (mine with 55k miles was featured on TTAC last year: ), the issue with parts availability is always a concern. Luckily, these cars are durable and tough, but parts do wear and can become a logistical nightmare to replace.

    An example of mine was two months ago. The car had an oil leak, which turned out to be a worn 0-ring. After spending hours scouring, there were no replacement parts in North America. One turned up in Australia, but that was all. In the end, we had to fabricate one. And years ago, the muffler needed replacing. Again, no Charade mufflers exist. A Hyundai Excel muffler was almost a perfect fit and now plays the role. Parts take some persistence and creativity.

    These are great cars; they’re rugged, simple, comfortable, and there is an honest to goodness charm about them. I hope the next owner enjoys this Charade!!!!

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