By on February 15, 2019

Today’s Rare Ride is the rarest version of an already rare economy car. It’s a sporty and simple Toyota Paseo cabriolet, hailing from 1997.

Toyota first offered the Paseo in 1991 as a sporty replacement for the deceased two-door Corolla. The Paseo and its more economically-minded and serious Tercel sibling rode atop the Toyota Starlet platform. Though the Starlet was a successful vehicle abroad, it was only sold in North America between 1981 and 1984.

In its first generation, the Paseo was offered solely in coupe format. There was also one engine option: the Corolla’s 1.5-liter inline-four. It produced 100 horsepower in most places, or 93 horsepower for Californians. Sports driving was assured via a five-speed manual or four-speed automatic.

An image of the first generation is what comes to mind for most people — if they remember the Paseo at all.

Toyota felt Paseo was successful enough to warrant a second album, and in 1995 a new generation was released to the Japanese domestic market. North American customers held their horses until 1996. The Paseo received gentle visual revisions for its second generation, appearing a bit sharper and tidier in proportion.

Japanese-market Paseos (called Cynos) were now powered by a smaller 1.3-liter engine, while elsewhere a modernized version of the 1.5 returned, benefited by more modern engine management electrics. In the pursuit of lower emissions, all North American examples were de-tuned to 93 horsepower, matching California’s specifications.

But where Toyota took away power, it added an additional body style to the lineup — a cabriolet. Available a year after the new coupe, 1997 was the only year for the Paseo cabriolet in the United States. Canadians felt more optimistic about the Paseo, and sales there continued for the 1998 and 1999 model years, before Toyota axed it globally. There was no real Paseo replacement; perhaps the closest in North America was Scion’s tC in 2004.

Today’s happy Paseo cabriolet is a California resident, recently appearing for sale on Craigslist (in case you were wondering, this is how you do car photographs properly). In spectacular condition and with just under 60,000 miles, the owner tells me he received very nearly his asking price of $5,000.

[Images: seller]

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42 Comments on “Rare Rides: A Pristine 1997 Toyota Paseo of the Cabriolet Variety...”


  • avatar
    cimarron typeR

    That’s got to be the world’s most well cared for Paseo in the world. I remember a friend from college had coupe 5mt Paseo. Holy moly that thing was slow , my gen 1 4cyl Probe LX 5 spd felt like 5.0 after driving his Paseo.At least he had a good stereo though

  • avatar
    Superdessucke

    At only 163 inches long, this was from a time when many cars had everything you needed and nothing you didn’t. This would have been a great car for the city. I feel like I need to throw a boat anchor out the window of my 192 inch long Honda Accord. Why that car needs to be that long, I have no clue! Even a new Civic is 2.5 feet longer than this.

  • avatar
    FreedMike

    Someone got a great little car for five grand.

  • avatar
    dukeisduke

    You should clarify that the Paseo is related to the 90 Series (P90) Starlet, which was FWD. The Starlet that was sold here in the US was the 60 Series (P60) model, which was RWD. A completely different car.

  • avatar
    MRF 95 T-Bird

    ASC did the droptop conversion on these. I don’t know how solid they were or if there was any convertible prone cowl shake.
    For $5k it’s not a bad deal for a summer and weekend cruiser and interesting Radwood show car.

  • avatar
    dukeisduke

    Heck yes! It’s got driver and passenger airbags (so you’re good there), and the a/c uses R-134a, so you don’t have to freak out about adding refrigerant.

  • avatar
    dukeisduke

    I still see the coupes on the road every once in awhile, but it’s been a long time since I saw a convertible.

  • avatar
    Car Ramrod

    Wow that’s clean. Most of the dealers can’t take a photo this good. I have a theory that the only people the dealers allow to take photos of inventory are coming off a 5 day bender and have the worst shakes imaginable.

    I remember these well, but only because I was 15 in 1997 and spent my free time ordering and reading every brochure from every car company that did business in the USA. These were actually sorta popular in my hometown on the west coast of Florida.

    • 0 avatar
      gearhead77

      This is million times. Why can’t people take decent pictures of cars, especially dealers? I was considering an inexpensive Jeep Wrangler that appeared on my Facebook Marketplace ( another buying format for car temptation, ugh, just what I need…)

      The distance shots were all of the same side, no front or rear shots. no interior, no dash, no closeups of any issues. I emailed the person and got back the pictures I wanted, which showed it to be a rusty mess. Could have saved a lot of time and miscommunication if those pictures had just been there.

      • 0 avatar
        JohnTaurus

        Yep. I was looking at a Lexus GS300 ad today, and it was absolutely pathetic.

        It’s like he said “heres a door, heres a slightly different angle of that same door, heres 9 inches of the rear seat back, and heres a great shot I took through the window of my SUV as I was parked 7 spots away. (Dont forget to zoom way in so you can barely see the caved in fender rubbing on the tire that I neglected to mention in the ad.) Enjoy!”

        When I post an ad, I’ve been flagged down because my pictures look *gasp* decent, and usually the only decent pics you see for cars under $10k are actually stolen pictures from a different ads being used by a scammer (“2012 Camry for $1724” or whatever).

        I finally started putting “Not a dealer or scam” on my ad as the first line, and I stopped getting flagged off.

        • 0 avatar
          MRF 95 T-Bird

          Take a look at some real estate ads. Many are professional grade like this but a fair number are really sad looking, blurry not a full view of the property. Plus some people leave the place too lived in with a lot of junk around in the rooms. Do you really need to see living room clutter or some kids Big wheel or Cosy Coupe in their room?

          • 0 avatar
            JohnTaurus

            Lol, yeah I’ve seen them. It’s truly sad what people try to get away with. It’s like they spend 0 effort and expect you to fall at their feet with a briefcase full of money.

            I think the worst car pic I saw was taken from the person’s chair inside the house, across the room from a window, and on the other side of the yard was a white blob, which was supposedly a Chevy Venture. How lazy can you be?

            Kudos to those who take the time to OPEN THE CAR DOOR to take an interior picture. How is this not the only way to do it? They take a pic of it through the closed window and all I see is a reflection of their ugly @$$ holding their phone. I swear, on many of them, you cant even tell for certain what color the interior is. What the hell are you trying to show me? That it does indeed have a steering wheel and at least one seat?

    • 0 avatar
      JohnTaurus

      “I remember these well, but only because I was 15 in 1997 and spent my free time ordering and reading every brochure from every car company that did business in the USA.”

      Holy $#¡t I thought I was the only one.

  • avatar
    gearhead77

    It’s funny, I submitted a completely different Paseo Convertible also in red, with about 60k on it in really great shape, but at a dealer in Ohio a few days ago to the editors.

    .https://www.tedsautos.com/mobile/mdefault.aspx?ordby=make&pordby=make&cursort=asc&curpage=4

    They’re out there, not a lot, but they are.

  • avatar
    Stanley Steamer

    Hmm, this or the Elan…perhaps a ’91 Capri.

  • avatar
    JohnTaurus

    Cant argue with the condition or the pictures, which honestly are car brochure quality, but I’d honestly rather have a base Tercel coupe with the silver steelies.

    You can put that tachometer cluster in it, though. Lol.

    Btw Corey, there is a Pontiac dealer in Massachusetts that’s still open and staying in business by the service department and selling only used cars. Thought it was interesting, and you’d appreciate it.

  • avatar
    healthy skeptic

    Blast from the past. I’m probably the only TTAC-er who actually owned a Paseo. Not the drop-top, but a green 1997 coupe with a 5 sp mt.

    While the horsepower may have been anemic, it was a fairly rev-vy and torque-y engine. Combine that with short gear ratios and a 2,300 lb curb weight, and it actually felt fairly sporty below freeway speeds. You could have some fun on twisty backroads. The 31/37 mpg wasn’t too bad either for a kid just out of college.

    Passing someone on the freeway was a whole different matter. Unless you wanted to take all day, you had to drop down into 4th and rev the hell out of it.

    • 0 avatar
      Featherston

      “I’m probably the only TTAC-er who actually owned a Paseo.” Actually, you’re not. My family had a first gen. It was one of those “buy the history, not the particular make and model” purchases. We needed a second car, and an acquaintance with a healthy dose of OCD was moving to Manhanttan and needed to sell his two-year-old Paseo. Terrific buy, as it was like getting a nicer but less expensive CPO car.

      I prefer the first-gen’s looks, although that’s a slight preference, as they’re so similar. Judging from photos (huge grain of salt), it looks like the first gen’s interior was of a slightly better quality. The first-gen’s upholstery and instrumentation were more understated.

      I’m no expert on Toyota powertrains, but I believe the 2nd-gen had some meaningful improvements to the 5E engine and probably was a better performer. Being both an automatic and having a pre-VVT engine, our first-gen was by no means a fast car in a straight line.

      Handling on first-gens was terrific; it was a very fun car to drive. I don’t think there was any particular wizardry to the chassis tuning; it was just a byproduct of short wheelbase and low center of gravity.

      Build quality and reliability were terrific on ours. People who bash these almost certainly have zero firsthand experience with them.

  • avatar
    EGSE

    On a warm sunny day convertibles sell themselves even if they’re slow. Riding shotgun in a friend’s wretched drop-top Sebring, life was good and its POS-ness receded into the background.

    • 0 avatar
      gearhead77

      Totally agree. I found a low mileage 92 Lebaron LX a few months ago at a dump of a BHPH lot 5 minutes from my house. The car was OK, in pretty good shape cosmetically but it was leaking oil from every seal and had been for a long time. More of a project than I wanted and it needed a new top.

      But as a drove it around, top down on a sunny day, listening to that old Mitsubishi V6 burble through an exhaust leak, you couldn’t wipe the grin off my face. The digital dash was awesome too. But it was going to be a 2500 car that needed another 1000 to be usable and still only be a 2500 car.

  • avatar
    quickson

    My favorite version has got to be the Japan-only (of course) Sera with it’s butterfly-wing doors. Such an insane thing for a 90s-era econobox.

  • avatar
    CrystalEyes

    I see I’m not the only one that looked at this car and started thinking about the Lotus Elan M100.

  • avatar
    stereorobb

    i remember the Paseo, but i remember alot more 1st gens then 2nd gens. seems like they were always gold and had steelies on them, and always liked like crap. never remember seeing a really nice one, they always looked clapped out even 20 years ago in my high school parking lot. seemed like most of them vanished in the mid 00s but i still see one once in awhile still holding on for dear life, clunking and smoking down the street. 2gens have always been kinda scarce and i cant even remember the last time i saw a convertible.

  • avatar
    epsilonkore

    “There was no real Paseo replacement; perhaps the closest in North America was Scion’s tC in 2004.”
    The tC was a “Scion” Celica replacement. Yaris was the Starlet/Tercel/Paseo replacement (lacking a sporty “paseo” aka “stroll” variant).
    When the tC was released it was never compared, even remotely to a Paseo, always referred to as a more grown up monospec Celica replacement (from Scion) that was based off the European Avensis platform.

    • 0 avatar
      epsilonkore

      Also 0-60 of the 2000 Celica GTS and 2004 tC were in the mid 6 to low 7 range, Paseo? 9.5-10 seconds. Thats squarely Yaris territory despite it looking sporty, and handling quite well (look up the 1G for a G package for the Paseo) it was slow. Tercel slow.

  • avatar
    SoCalMikester

    pretty sure the paseo was a “sporty” version of the 2 door tercel. no real relation to the starlet,corolla or scion tC. the 1.5 liter powertrain had more in common with the later echo, yaris, and 2004-2006 scion xA and xB.

    thats easily worth the $5k, and FWIW, the license plates are original. that means it wasnt totalled or salvaged any time during its life.

    its also passed every smogcheck since 2001. no do-overs, no failures.

    • 0 avatar
      MRF 95 T-Bird

      Yes the Paseo was a “sporty” version of the 2 door Tercel. Think Geo Storm/Isuzu Impluse, Nissan NX 2000/1600 or Mazda MX-3. The sporty version of the more pedestrian subcompact.

    • 0 avatar
      JohnTaurus

      Yes, it was related to the contemporary Toyota Starlet, it and the Tercel were all on versions of the same platform.

      Corey didnt say it was “related” to the tC, only that the tC pretty much filled the void left by the Paseo, which had in turn filled the void left by the vacated Corolla coupe.

  • avatar
    craiger

    Until I saw this I thought the Paseo was only sold in the U.S. for a year or two. I don’t think I’ve ever seen one on the road. I’ve already wasted enough of our time talking about the Paseo.

    Was it based on the Tercel? I’m too lazy to research it.

  • avatar
    pb35

    My I’m-laws bought my wife (then girlfriend) a ‘92 Paseo on her birthday, which also happened to be the 50th anniversary of Pearl Harbor day. I gave her shit for years about that. They wanted her to have a reliable car as she headed off to grad school in Ann Arbor. It was a great car for college, I put a set of Blizzaks on it and it was unstoppable.

    After she graduated, we moved to Manhattan. I sold my ‘96 Probe GT and kept the Paseo in the city. It was the ultimate city car, zipping around in traffic. We could practically park it in a motorcycle spot. We took it uptown for a weekend visit to the Cloisters and to Brooklyn for pizza during the week. Getaways consisted of visiting our families on Long Island, the perfect car for 2 people and our weekend bags.

    It was an auto so it was recommended that we hit the AC button when passing. On the other hand, I remember filling it up for $9 and it lasting her for weeks. We eventually sold it to our doorman for $1000 and used the proceeds as part of our down payment on a new G35x.


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