Junkyard Find: 1990 Daihatsu Charade SE Hatchback

Murilee Martin
by Murilee Martin

Daihatsu is one of the oldest motor-vehicle manufacturers in Japan, though it's now a division of that relative newcomer, Toyota. On the streets of Japan today, you'll see Daihatsu kei cars and trucks everywhere (including such fine models as the Taft, Canbus, and Thor), but Daihatsu's foray into the North American market didn't go so well. When I saw a Daihatsu appear in the online inventory of an independent self-service yard south of Denver a couple of months back, I hopped in my kei van and got right over there to document it.

junkyard find 1990 daihatsu charade se hatchback

Daihatsus were sold here for the 1988 through 1992 model years, and only two models were available: The Charade and the Rocky. Since I started documenting inhabitants of car graveyards in 2007, I have managed to find just eight discarded Daihatsus prior to today, mostly more than a decade ago: Five Charades and three Rockies.

Yes, it's an unfortunate name for a car. In some other markets, it was known as the Social, the Winner, and the Classy; North America got the home-market name.

It wasn't the name that doomed the Charade over here, though it certainly didn't help. Lack of name recognition played a part in poor Daihatsu sales, but the high price tag relative to other three-cylinder imports proved the toughest barrier to big sales numbers.

You could get a 1.3-liter four-banger as an option in the 1989 Charade, but this 1.0-liter engine and its 53 horsepower is what most Charade buyers got. The Charade was also available as a sedan in 1990.

The cheapo SE hatchback, which is what we've got here, listed at $6,497 for 1990 (about $15,198 in 2022 dollars). That wasn't bad for what you got (though a recession was just getting started at that time), but there was tough three-piston competition from more established names: The Subaru Justy cost just $5,866 ($13,722 now) and the Geo Metro was $6,695 ($15,661 now).

Meanwhile, your Toyota dealer would sell you a zero-frills Tercel EZ for only $6,488 ($15,177) and Honda's least expensive Civic started at $6,635 ($15,520). If you were brave in 1990, you could get a new Hyundai Excel for $5,899 ($13,799); if you were brave and didn't mind owning a car built in a country that was beginning to teeter on the brink of civil war, there was the Yugo GV and its $4,400 price tag ($10,292).

The list of four-cylinder-equipped new imports that competed directly against the Charade on price continues (the Ford Festiva, Volkswagen Fox, Mazda 323, Mitsubishi Mirage and its Colt/Summit siblings, Nissan Sentra, and … okay, you get the idea), and that's not even getting into the many Detroit machines that came uncomfortably close to the Charade's price tag.

By most accounts, the Charade was pretty well bolted together. This one made it well past 150,000 miles during its career. Toyota was a powerful shareholder of Daihatsu by 1990 and presumably helped push build quality ever higher. But if you wanted Toyota quality at a Daihatsu price, there was the boring-but-bulletproof Tercel. Hell, you could buy a new Corolla for just $8,748 in 1990.

At least the Charade came with a five-speed manual as base equipment. If you wanted to spend an extra 900 bucks ($2,105 today), you could get a three-speed automatic.

Everybody charged serious money for radios in econoboxes when this car was new; this AM/FM/cassette unit tacked on another $415 to the price tag (that's $971 now).

This car came with the keys on a cable hanging from the steering column, a sign that it was at an insurance or trade-in auction and failed to beat the floor bid offered by the junkyard. When I revisited it more than a month after I shot these photos, no additional parts had been pulled; it appears that there isn't much demand for used Daihatsu parts around here.

[Images: The author]

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2 of 22 comments
  • Art  Vandelay Art Vandelay on Dec 13, 2022

    There was always one of these in the final puzzle on “Classic Concentration” back in the 80s. This, the Excel and theRenault Alliance were staples.

  • EngineerfromBaja_1990 EngineerfromBaja_1990 on Dec 14, 2022

    The only Charade I remember was back in middle school when one of my friend's parents owned a black Charade HB. Coincidentally he lived near me so the Charade was a common sight for me. That was early 2000s.

    Fast forward a few years and the car was still there when I started HS so I'd guess it was kind of solid despite having some unobtanium parts by then. I don't recall seeing charades before or after that.

  • Charles I had one and loved it . Seated 7 people . Easy to park , great van
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