Junkyard Gem: 1984 Toyota Tercel SR5 4WD Wagon

Junkyard Gem: 1984 Toyota Tercel SR5 4WD Wagon

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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.

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