Rare Rides: A Pristine 1997 Toyota Paseo of the Cabriolet Variety

Corey Lewis
by Corey Lewis
rare rides a pristine 1997 toyota paseo of the cabriolet variety

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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  • Pb35 Pb35 on Feb 17, 2019

    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.

  • Bgf65689880 Bgf65689880 on Nov 25, 2022

    I have a '97 convertible with 40K miles.

    Where did you get those lights in the little vent areas of the front facia?

    This car has the WORST headlights ever. Must be the lens design.

    I beefed up the wiring and relays to put 100W LED bulbs is. Brighter but I can drive with the bights on and NEVER get a blink from on-coming traffic.

    Please post the lights and where you obtained them.

    Thanks

  • William The Peugeot 308. I got to drive the last gen model on vacation to the SE Netherlands and I wanted to take it home. The new gen looks awesome. I want one bad.
  • TCowner Among my 25 year thus far Lincoln daily driver list of nearly all Town Cars, I took a dip into the PLC world with an 88 Mark VII LSC from 2006-2008. Beautiful handling car, comfortable seats, and oh that 5.0. I'd love to have one as a summer road trip car (I'll take a dark green '92 please) but had to get back to the big Town Car after some scares with the intricate ABS system and some other hard to find parts.
  • Analoggrotto I'd try to smash a can of tuna and some crackers with some fruit to avoid the sugar, cholesterol, refined starch and other crap in fast and packaged foods. Otherwise, Wendy's spicy chicken sandwich without mayo is good.
  • TheEndlessEnigma The tires are worth more than than rest of the car. IT's also a Michigan car, probably has unreported frame rust problems.
  • TheEndlessEnigma Fiesta ST, I have a 2016, I'd love to grab the newest spec 2023.
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