Junkyard Find: 1986 Toyota Tercel Wagon

Murilee Martin
by Murilee Martin
junkyard find 1986 toyota tercel wagon

Used-up examples of the 1983-1987 Toyota Tercel wagon (known as the Sprinter Carib in its homeland) still show up in junkyards today, but nearly all of them are the four-wheel-drive versions; the humble front-wheel-drive ones weren’t as desirable (once they became beaters, hoopties, and/or buckets) and mostly got crushed a decade ago.

Here’s an ’86 in a Silicon Valley self-service wrecking yard.

These door graphics must be original, but I’ve never seen them on any other Tercel. Perhaps a dealer-installed option.

These Tercels are among the most long-lived of 1980s cars, which is impressive given how cheap they were when new. They weren’t anywhere near as much fun to drive as their (also quite cheap) Honda Civic contemporaries, but I have owned a few Tercel wagons and I developed real affection for them.

78 horses, and it uses them all.

This one is unusual in that the original purchaser ordered air conditioning; generally, any Toyota wagon shopper willing to spring for AC could have been persuaded to step up to the bigger and more luxurious Corolla. This is the button to install on your guitar amp, if you’re a big fan of the Minutemen and want to Jam Econo.

While the engines in these cars had longitudinal mounting, they drove the front wheels (for the four-wheel-drive version, a shaft went out the back of the transaxle to the rear differential). You can remove the Tercel FWD’s transmission from the differential by disconnecting the shifter linkage and four big bolts, then sliding the transmission back off the input and output shafts — I’ve done this job in the junkyard in ten minutes, which I had to do after buying a $50 police-auction Tercel and finding first and second gears absent. Sadly, replacing the clutch requires removal of the differential housing (in practice, this means pulling the engine with it).

Yeah, this is the Japanese-market ad for the 4WD version, but so what? It’s amazing!

It appears that nearly all of the global marketing money for the Tercel wagon/Sprinter Carib went into the 4WD version.

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4 of 23 comments
  • JohnTaurus JohnTaurus on Jan 02, 2019

    I had a 1983 and it was horrible. It wouldn't start half the time, nobody could figure out why (many things were tried). Every part was 2-3x more expensive than for most other cars, and the 4wd locked in randomly on the road at speed which caused an accident. It had far less miles than this one, and I was very happy to see it go. Good riddance to bad rubbish.

    • Gtem Gtem on Jan 02, 2019

      What year did you own your '83 in? One person's experience with a Tercel as a 20+ year old beater does not trump the hugely positive experience (in terms of reliability) that most owners had with theirs.

  • Despite what others who have an obvious agenda say, these things were super reliable vehicles that were beaten on and misused and lived waaaay past their prime. Usually the only thing that killed them was rust.

    • Arthur Dailey Arthur Dailey on Jan 03, 2019

      I still regularly see Tercels in the Toronto area being used as daily drivers. Just this morning saw an automatic sedan in what looked to be pretty good shape (no visible rust, no body damage).

  • Chris Doering I have a decent 78 xe lots of potential
  • Kat Laneaux Wonder if they will be able to be hacked into (the license plates) and then you get pulled over for invalid license plates or better yet, someone steal your car and transpose numbers to show that they are the owners. Just a food for thought.
  • Tassos Government cheese for millionaires, while idiot Joe biden adds trillions to the debt.What a country (IT ONCE WAS!)
  • Tassos screw the fat cat incompetents. Let them rot. No deal.
  • MaintenanceCosts I think if there's one thing we can be sure of given Toyota's recent decisions it's that the strongest version of the next Camry will be a hybrid. Sadly, the buttery V6 is toast.A Camry with the Highlander/Sienna PSD powertrain would be basically competitive in the sedan market, with the slow death of V6 and big-turbo options. But for whatever reason it seems like that powertrain is capacity challenged. Not sure why, as there's nothing exotic in it.A Camry with the Hybrid Max powertrain would be bonkers, easily the fastest thing in segment. It would likewise be easy to build; again, there's nothing exotic in the Hybrid Max powertrain. (And Hybrid Max products don't seem to be all that constrained, so far.)