By on November 27, 2017

1986 Toyota Tercel Wagon in California wrecking yard, RH front view - ©Murilee Martin - The Truth About Cars
The Toyota Sprinter Carib was sold as the Tercel Wagon in North America for the 1983 through 1987 model years, and most examples rolling out of American showrooms came with the more fuel-efficient front-wheel-drive setup. However, the four-wheel-drive Tercel Wagons held their value for decades after the front-wheel-drive ones depreciated into oblivion and were crushed, and thus I don’t see many of the latter type in wrecking yards these days.

Here’s a now-rare FWD ’86 that held on past age 30, spotted in a San Francisco Bay Area self-service yard.

1986 Toyota Tercel Wagon in California wrecking yard, tailgate badge - ©2017 Murilee Martin - The Truth About Cars
In this series so far, we have seen a few of the four-wheel-drive Tercel Wagons, including this ’83 and this ’87.


I have owned a couple of examples apiece of the front- and four-wheel-drive Tercel wagons, and they were sturdy and amazingly capacious machines. Underpowered and featuring jouncy, tippy handling, sure, but still lovable. The blue ’85 in the photo above went on to become the legendary shark-fin-equipped Rockin’ Supercar, prior to finishing its days in the Oakland Pick-n-Pull.

1986 Toyota Tercel Wagon in California wrecking yard, engine - ©2017 Murilee Martin - The Truth About Cars
Power came from a member of the many-branched Toyota A engine family: the 3A-C. Just 78 horsepower, but you had to work hard to kill this engine.

1986 Toyota Tercel Wagon in California wrecking yard, speedometer - ©2017 Murilee Martin - The Truth About Cars
Better than 274k miles on the clock, which gets this Toyota into diesel Mercedes-Benz mileage territory.

1986 Toyota Tercel Wagon in California wrecking yard, HVAC controls - ©2017 Murilee Martin - The Truth About Cars
This one has the rare air-conditioning option, actuated by one of my all-time favorite junkyard switches.


These Japan-market Sprinter Carib ads pitch the 4WD version, but they’re so good that I’m sharing them here.

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26 Comments on “Junkyard Find: 1986 Toyota Tercel Station Wagon...”


  • avatar
    dividebytube

    Those vertical windows on the side of the hatch area are/were always memorable.

    • 0 avatar
      brandloyalty

      But the large rear quarter windows in combination with the sheet metal creases up over the roof meant that even a light impact from behind bent the body and wrote them off.

  • avatar
    Arthur Dailey

    Just love the concept behind these vehicles. But then I had an ’87 Realtime AWD Wagovan.

    Plenty of room for 4 and enough room for 5, plus luggage. Easy access/exit, great sightlines and greenhouse. And the ‘magic seating’ in the Wagovan, allowed for maximum carrying capacity, particularly with the passenger seat folded flat. Folding all the seats flat made for a large ‘bed’ for camping.

    What vehicle would be considered comparable in the current market?

    The Tercel is and was ‘hard to kill’. Still see a surprising number in the GTA.

    • 0 avatar
      JohnTaurus

      I guess the Imprezza wagon? Gold AllTrac? That’s if you don’t consider vehicles like the Rav4.

    • 0 avatar
      Ryoku75

      Looking at the specs I think the much hated Mitsubishi Mirage is very comparable, its probably not as spacious but it is as powerful!

    • 0 avatar
      gtem

      We had a ’90 Civic Wagon that we loved, owned from ’96 until ’07, replaced by a new 2007 Fit which was more or less a direct replacement in terms of many specs on paper. But in reality, the old Wagon was a much better car. Better visibility, better interior layout and quality, better comfort, better steering and handling by a mile.

      • 0 avatar
        Ryoku75

        What could make a Fit less comfortable than an old compact with auto-seatbelts?

        • 0 avatar
          redmondjp

          Did you not read what he said above? I concur – I owned a couple of 1991 Civic wagons and hands-down I think it was one of the best cars that Honda ever built. They also put more sound insulation in those older Hondas so they were actually quieter on the road than many of the newer ones (such as my 1997 Civic and 2001 Odyssey).

        • 0 avatar
          gtem

          The Fit has a horrible seat layout for anyone over 5’9.” Seat cushion is too short and too low, leaving you with no thigh support, and your leg muscle in constant tension to hold the gas pedal at a steady level. Highway trips over an hour or so in our Base (no cruise control) are a literal pain. No such problem in the ’90 Wagon. We tried to alleviate the issue somewhat by stacking some washers under the 2 front seat mounts to cant it backwards a bit, and put an extra spring on the gas pedal to stiffen it a bit to take strain of the drivers’ leg, but the layout just fundamentally stinks for even somewhat tall people.

    • 0 avatar
      Guitar man

      These things were twice as expensive as a Corona, with an _ancient_ pushrod engine from the early 1960s dragging around the 4wd body that was half a tonne heavier than the Corona. Hopeless. The only thing that was slower was a Fiat 650.

  • avatar
    JohnTaurus

    Had a 1983 SR-5 4wd wagon in high school. Hated that thing. Slow, uncomfortable, handled like a shopping cart, and it had issues nobody could figure out, not even the Toyota dealer. One, it would refuse to start at times, and two, it jumped into 4wd a couple of times at speed, which was its undoing with me. I sold it to a guy who repaired it (I had lightly crashed it when it jumped in once) and drove it for a few more months before the transmission failed. When I had went to the junkyard for parts, there were a couple there, both with a failed transmission.

    • 0 avatar
      Ryoku75

      I don’t buy your story, an old Toyota being unreliable? Toyotas in the junkyard? Obviously your car had been sabotaged at one point, you race it on Sundays, you carry concrete in it, and oh, you worked​ for Ford and wanted to make Toyota look bad! /S

      Minus the 4wd stuff you just summed up my unrelated 89 Tercel. After getting my d.license I celebrated by selling that thing and avoiding anymore 3-speeds.

  • avatar
    indi500fan

    NorCal…where bodies (beautiful and otherwise) live forever.
    Someday before I die I must go and visit the junkyard of rust-free sheetmetal.

  • avatar
    MRF 95 T-Bird

    The successor to the Tercel wagon was the AE-95 Corolla all trac.
    They are fairly rare here in the states.

    http://hooniverse.com/2016/04/16/japanese-soft-roader-weekend-edition-toyota-corolla-all-trac-wagon/

  • avatar
    dukeisduke

    I always liked these, plus the liftgate reminds me of an ATM.

  • avatar
    dukeisduke

    I wonder what finally put this one in the junkyard? Head gasket? Rings or main bearings?

    Does this one use a crank-triggered ignition? That doesn’t look like a distributor, with the plug wires coming out of it. I’m familiar with the 4A-GE (had on in my wife’s NUMMI-built ’92 Corolla), and it had a distributor.

  • avatar
    TMA1

    Man, just look at all that glass. I bet you could see for miles in every direction in this thing.

  • avatar
    Cactuar

    I still get tingly feelings inside when I see an E38 like the example in navy sitting next to the Tercel.

  • avatar
    Corollaman

    I just wonder at what point designers decided that good outward visibility was just not that important?

  • avatar
    Aron9000

    Wonder if the stupid “ironic cool” hipsters have pushed the value up on these things since breaking bad came out???? Or maybe Jesse Pinkman drove the last one still on the road.

  • avatar
    makuribu

    The left side of the hatchback looks like you should be able to press on it and get a can of Dr Pepper.

  • avatar
    DownUnder2014

    These are pretty thin on the roads around here these days. We never got the FWD version in Australia, just the 4WD version. We got them between 1983-88. There were DLX and SR5 trims. I haven’t seen a DLX trim in a while. These have excellent rear visibility and a very distinctive rear end.

    It’s (spiritual) successor, the Corolla 4WD Wagon, sold in decent numbers but they have gotten a bit rarer in recent years.

  • avatar

    Rear end looked like a microwave oven.

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