Junkyard Gem: 1984 Toyota Tercel SR5 4WD Wagon
Subaru began selling Americans small wagons equipped with four-wheel-drive in the 1975 model year, followed by American Motors in 1980 (the ahead-of-its-time AMC Eagle had all-wheel-drive, in fact, though the term wasn’t in widespread use at the time). Americans living in snowy areas appreciated having four driven wheels in a vehicle that wasn’t like something built for comfort-loathing soldiers, and so when Toyota created a version of the Tercel with a tall wagon body and optional 4WD, the decision to sell it on our side of the Pacific made sense. This was the 1983 Sprinter Carib, a goofy-looking-yet-practical machine that came to our shores with Tercel badging. Today’s Junkyard Gem is an ’84 Tercel 4WD Wagon with the top SR5 trim level, found in a Colorado car graveyard last summer.
Toyota began selling the front-wheel-drive Tercel here in the 1980 model year, giving it Corolla Tercel badges to take advantage of the name recognition for the unrelated, larger (and still rear-wheel-drive) Corolla.
Tercel sales continued here through 1998, and the Tercel has the distinction of being the very last new American-market car available with a four-speed manual transmission (that milestone happened in the 1996 model year).
This car doesn’t have a Skinflint Edition four-on-the-floor, however. It has a six-on-the-floor, with an Extra Low gear for seriously steep trails in the bundóks. Though a four-speed manual was standard in the very cheapest ’84 Tercel liftbacks, all the 1983-1988 Tercel wagons got a five-speed manual as base equipment. The Deluxe and SR5 Tercel wagons got the six-speed.
However, the Extra Low gear was only available when you were using 4WD mode (which also had to be selected manually).
If you left your Tercel in the 4WD setting on dry pavement for too long, you would tear up the tires and maybe break something more expensive. Four-wheel-drive Subarus of the era had the same truck-style system, which confused many American drivers, but most U.S.-market car manufacturers got into the all-wheel-drive game later in the decade. Toyota’s All-Trac AWD system never was available on the Tercel, but you could get it in Celicas, Camrys and Corollas here starting in 1988.
The first two generations of the Tercel used longitudinal engine mounting, with the engine sitting above the transaxle assembly (giving these cars their distinctive tall-hood look). The transmission component of this rig was very easy to remove, held in place by just four bolts and the shifter linkage. Unfortunately, the clutch lived in the differential housing, so that component wasn’t easy to access.
The engine is a 1.5-liter 3A four-banger, incredibly sturdy but rated at a miserable 62 horsepower and 76 pound-feet. Having owned several of these cars, I can say from personal experience that they are slow (though I’ve driven more underpowered cars). The curb weight of this car was a mere 2,280 pounds, which helped.
Tercel 4WD Wagon owners tend to love their cars and do their best to keep them alive as long as possible (you could get the FWD version of the Tercel Wagon in North America, but these cars weren’t as prized and have mostly disappeared by now). This one attained a respectable final odometer reading, though I’ve found a discarded Tercel 4WD wagon with well over 400,000 miles on the clock.
If Mark Toyota was in Aurora, Colorado, then this car’s final parking spot is just a few miles from its original showroom. If it was in the Chicago suburb of Aurora (there’s a Mark Toyota dealership operating today in nearby Wisconsin), then this car must have fled the Upper Midwest soon after purchase, because Tercels rusted to nothingness in a hurry in that region.
It appears that this car spent some of its early life at the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs.
There’s an owner’s manual here, but it’s for the 1985 4WD Tercel.
Do you like plaid upholstery in your cars? If so, you’ll love the 1983-1988 Tercel SR5 wagon! It was available in beige-and-brown as well.
Toyota’s SR5 trim level is still with us today. Supposedly standing for “Sport Rally Five,” it originated way back when five-speed manual transmissions were considered exotic and racy. You couldn’t even get an automatic transmission on the 1985 Tercel SR5 (it was available for an extra $350 — about $1,019 in 2023 dollars — on the regular front-wheel-drive Tercel wagon that year), so the numerical component of the name was accurate at that time.
How much was this fuel-sipping, off-road-capable, plaid-upholstered machine? That would be 8,278 American 1984 dollars, which comes to around 24,111 American 2023 dollars. The cheapest available AMC Eagle wagon that year started at $10,225 ($29,782 now), though it was much bigger and got 84 horsepower from its base four-cylinder engine (which just about nobody wanted).
On the move again. Destination: Fun!
Listen to that JDM engine roar in the Canadian Rockies! An 88-horse engine was available in the 1984 Sprinter Carib’s homeland.
The best car ads of the 1980s came out of Japan, no question. And the very worst car ad of the 1980s was for a German-market Japanese car.
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