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Junkyard Gem: 1985 Toyota Tercel Liftback

Murilee Martin

During the middle 1980s, if you wanted a penny-pinching little transportation appliance to get you to work and back, the Toyota Tercel was hard to beat. Sure, such miserable machines as the flaky Subaru Justy or shoddy Hyundai Excel cost a few bucks less, but the Tercel could be counted upon to keep droning along for a couple of hundred thousand miles. Most were discarded by about age 20, but this one hung on for well over three decades, before ending up in a Northern California self-service wrecking yard.

The Tercels prior to 1987 featured a longitudinally-mounted engine driving the front wheels, via a transmission mounted behind the engine and sending power forward to a differential located beneath the engine. This arrangement made the car a bit tall, but also made it very easy to send power rearward on the 4WD Tercel wagons.

With a mere 63 horsepower from the clattery-yet-sturdy 3A engine, these Tercels were nobody's idea of fun driving, unless you define "fun" as "getting to your destination every time." The interior was typical 1980s hard plastic and Toyota function.

This car didn't even reach 150,000 miles, and the fried upholstery indicates long-term outdoor storage. Maybe it sat abandoned for years, or maybe it was driven very sparingly.

I have owned and daily-driven several of these cars, and they provided maybe 20% of the fun of their Civic contemporaries, but lacked the Civic's fragile head gasket and temptations to car thieves. In 1985, the MSRP on a new Tercel three-door was $5,348; the Civic 1300 hatchback was $5,399.

The stripper 1985 Subaru DL, a genuinely punitive car, came with a price tag of just $4,989. If you just didn't care at all about what you drove, the humorously obsolete Chevette was still available new that year (and until 1987), with a $5,340 price tag.

More! More! More! More! Which was true enough with this value-for-money winner.

In Japan, this car was pitched as sounding something like a rocket-powered tennis ball.