By on January 2, 2019

1986 Toyota Tercel wagon in California wrecking yard, LH front view - ©2018 Murilee Martin - The Truth About CarsUsed-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.

1986 Toyota Tercel wagon in California wrecking yard, door emblem - ©2018 Murilee Martin - The Truth About CarsThese door graphics must be original, but I’ve never seen them on any other Tercel. Perhaps a dealer-installed option.

1986 Toyota Tercel wagon in California wrecking yard, speedometer - ©2018 Murilee Martin - The Truth About CarsThese 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.

1986 Toyota Tercel wagon in California wrecking yard, 3A engine - ©2018 Murilee Martin - The Truth About Cars78 horses, and it uses them all.

1986 Toyota Tercel wagon in California wrecking yard, air conditioning button - ©2018 Murilee Martin - The Truth About CarsThis 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.

1986 Toyota Tercel wagon in California wrecking yard, transaxle - ©2018 Murilee Martin - The Truth About CarsWhile 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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23 Comments on “Junkyard Find: 1986 Toyota Tercel Wagon...”

  • avatar

    Are you 5’3″? Do you have 3 kids and a job and no time for anything else? Have we ever got the car for you! A/C is $500 but the only one on the lot also has a $350 sticker package.

  • avatar

    A cheap 4WD wagon is still a good idea, but no one’s listening, well, Subaru kind of was, not so much anymore

    • 0 avatar
      Art Vandelay

      Suzuki built the SX4 which had to be the cheapest AWD wagon in some time and nobody bought them.

    • 0 avatar
      Arthur Dailey

      We eventually traded our Civic AWD wagon for a Dodge Caravan (short box). In reality the original Caravan did just about everything that a wagon did, but better. So blame mini-vans for the relegation of wagons to a minor segment of the market.

      However now that mini-vans are so large, there should be a market for these small vehicles.

      However, the cost of producing them means that they will sell for close to the selling price of a much larger vehicle. Hence their inability to succeed in the American market.

  • avatar
    Art Vandelay

    In before everyone romanticizes this thing through Rose colored glasses. This thing was a penalty box. A reliable penalty box but a penalty box none the less.

    • 0 avatar

      Mine reliably left me walking more than once. I hated everything about that car.

      • 0 avatar
        Carlson Fan

        I was gonna say a buddy of mine had one of those. He despised that car. A gutless turd that left him stranded multiple times. Probably one of the worst things Toy motors ever put on the road. Total junk, kill it with fire!

    • 0 avatar

      I’m not sure what you mean by penalty box. I knew people who owned them as recently as 1994, and they all loved them. I don’t think you could find a similar level of enthusiasm about many affordable cars offered today. Mind you I don’t live in some alternative reality where Fords are reliable and Toyotas aren’t.

      • 0 avatar
        Art Vandelay

        Eh, I had old Fords and I owned one of these. I never had much trouble with either of them. I got rid of them both around 90-100k because I’m not a masochist. The 92 Saturn that followed this and the Escort was better in every way. I drove it over 300k because I had some “credit challenged” years. The Tercel, back then was a step above the “You have a job, you have a pulse, you get a car”) that my Escorts were, but with manuals they were, at least in my experience similarly reliable. Any econo car from this era with an auto…Well I wouldn’t wish that on anyone. 1994 was squarely in B13 SE-R territory and people were fairly enthusiastic and unlike any tercel (to include the later ones), I didn’t question my lifes choices in one. I’m friends with some other Fiesta/Focus ST owners that are enthusiastic. But hey, enjoy your little 80’s crapboxes.

  • avatar
    Dale Houston

    Thanks for the reference to the Minutemen.

  • avatar

    I’d buy a modern version of this, but sadly modern “station wagons” require an absence of windows, bumpers, practicality, fuel efficiency, and good looks.

    • 0 avatar

      The closest thing I can think of on the market today is the Honda Fit/Jazz. They might have to raise the ride height to fit a secondary drivetrain to the rear axle, which would (not surprisingly) give the car a similar stance and appearance to these old Tercels. I bet they would sell as well as the Tercel AWD did, which is to say not very many units.

  • avatar

    Yah!! Junkyard Finds marches on for 2019. Thank you Murilee and TTAC!

  • avatar

    The back looked like an ATM.

  • avatar

    I had one that I used for hauling firewood up from the back 40. With AWD and the granny gear in the 6-speed, it was almost unstoppable. Plus a much better turning circle than the Tracker that replaced it (important for getting around trees and close to the wood). There was enough room in the hatch to pile in all the wood that the springs could handle, which was actually quite a bit.

    The thing that done it in was rust. The front sub-frame/suspension was so rusted out that the wheels splayed (toed in) horribly when backing up, which eventually it rendered it unusable.

  • avatar

    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.

    • 0 avatar

      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.

  • avatar

    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.

    • 0 avatar
      Arthur Dailey

      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).

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