$1,400 Winter Beater: 1983 Toyota Tercel SR5 4WD

Since I just lost my beloved 1997 Subaru Outback due to rust a few days ago, after buying it new and driving it for 359,400 miles, I’m on the lookout for another winter car. A lot of folks here may think that this 1983 Toyota Tercel SR5 4WD 6-speed wagon isn’t old enough or classic enough to be shown here, but this was a reader tip and it’s older than a good percentage of the Barn Finds readers are. This winter wagon can be found here on Craigslist in Baker City, Oregon with an asking price of $1,400. Thanks to Miguel for submitting this tip!

For $1,400 you already know that this SR5 Tercel isn’t perfect. I have a friend in California who has a couple of these and has had several and one that his family bought new was just nut-and-bolt restored, mainly because of his memories of it growing up. He’s also a huge vintage Japanese car fan as I am, so maybe that’s why they stand out so much for me. A small, 4WD wagon is just cool, there is no arguing that. This example has a few dings but not much rust other than surface rust, the benefit of living where they don’t dump thousands of tons of salt on the roads every winter.

These cars will fit a huge amount of cargo in the back, just remember that they’re underpowered by today’s standards so adding a lot of weight will make them even slower. But, they generally go almost forever, like Subarus, until rust takes over and makes them unsafe to drive on public roads anymore (not bitter). Why in 2018 isn’t there a road salt or other chemical to keep roads clear of snow and ice without causing vehicles to rust out so badly? Why, why, why?! (stomping feet). I’m back to wanting to move to Tucson again. Speaking of that, the seller says that the AC works great in this Tercel!

The interior looks great with the famous plaid seats front and rear. These seats are literally almost worth the asking price on this car all by themselves. And there’s a whole car wrapped around those cool seats. This is a second-generation Tercel and they were available in either front-wheel-drive or 4WD as in this example. The drivetrain operated in front-wheel-drive only until a lever was pulled back, or in the case of an automatic, they had a button on the gear selector to put it into 4WD. There is no center-diff so snow and loose gravel is the best idea for longevity, but I love the option of being able to switch my 4WD on and off, I’m funny that way. I recently sold my 1986 Nissan Stanza 4WD 5-speed wagon which had a button on the 5-speed stick to lock in the rear wheels, it worked great. This car has a 6-speed manual transmission, which if we learned anything from the movie Spinal Tap, that’s one better (as opposed to one louder). Other than the fantastic plaid seats, these had the “inclinometer” in the dash used to measure the slope that you’re on. Yes, these cars can be used for mountain goat duty, other than a severe lack of power compared to other 4x4s, but they were great in the snow and off-road.

The seller says that this example could use a new battery, a tune-up, and a cooling system flush, but that it runs great and starts right up. It comes with a spare carburetor – yes, these weren’t fuel-injected yet, unfortunately. This is Toyota’s 3A 1.5L inline-four with a mere 63 hp. For an unusual vehicle with 4WD, a 6-speed manual, and loads of cargo space, not to mention 14 $100 bills, this could be a good winter car/beater for someone looking for a quirky yet proven winter ride.

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  1. Jamie Palmer Jamie Palmer Staff

    NO…the Subaru is dead? Bummer. Not even a Viking funeral of LeMons?

    • Scotty Gilbertson Scotty Gilbertson Staff

      Ha, sad but true, Jamie. It still literally runs like new but the transmission pan is so rusty that it’s leaking and to fix it would require breaking off other rusted parts and it would turn into a nightmare. Then, if I fixed that, something else would break just as I’m passing a Peterbilt and that would be the end. I hate road salt.

      • LAB3

        I’d have gooberd it up with some of that gas tank patching putty stuff, you learn to live with rust in Michigan.

  2. Howard A Member

    If I may offer my condolences, one doesn’t put that much time in vehicle without getting attached to it, not to mention their a$$ groove in the seat.That’s some pretty big shoes to fill, replacing the Ooootback with this car. Short of another Outback, it won’t happen with this. Not a bad car, every type of 4 wheel drive is represented here in my town, and I see a couple of these, all pretty haggered, but still driving. One thing for sure, you won’t find a low mileage Outback to start over again, they all have 300K miles.

  3. JC Root

    Just picked up a Mint rust free 1996 Outback here in Bend Oregon for $750 5 speed and 2.2 engine with 225,000 miles. There are still good deals out there.

  4. JC Root

    1996 Outback rust free!

    • Miguel

      I bought a green one of these new back in 1998.

      I was impressed with how capable it was in bad weather.

      I really liked that car. It is too bad the new one doesn’t look anything like this.

      They can call them crossovers all they want, it will always be a wagon.

  5. LAB3

    Knew a guy that had a similar one with an automatic and four wheel drive. He was leaving to move to the east coast and at his going away party I learned he had planned to pull it behind a rental truck with a tow dolly under the front end. Had my suspicions about towing a four wheeler and let him know that it might be a good idea to drop the driveshaft off the rear wheels just in case. Sure enough, it turned out that when he hit 50mph some sort of centrifugal clutch kicked in and the wheels would lock up.

  6. Howard A Member

    Scotty knows this story, and I even suggested him looking into it. 2 years ago, I spent the summer in Upstate NY ( apparently, everything north of the “City” is considered upstate) and the people I stayed with had an Outback. NY has a rigorous inspection policy, and my friends car, the “check engine” light was on. Naturally, it failed the emissions test, and try as they might, they couldn’t get the light to go out. Cost him hundreds to get it to pass. Just about every repair facility or car dealer has at least a few of those sitting, I’m sure because they can’t pass emissions. If you don’t have a testing program, that would be the place to get one.

    • George

      That’s what electrical tape is used for. Done right, they can’t see the light or the tape… (Driver of many sub standard cars when living in NY)

      • Howard A Member

        Ha! That’s what we did in the Badger. NY got no sense of humor in that regard. All tests are performed by licensed shops, and the test has to be done on camera. Upon passing, every vehicle gets a certain color sticker( changes every year) for the windshield, and cops specifically look for those stickers, even on roadside checkpoints ( while looking for other things, like booze)

  7. Brian

    I had one of these for a winter beater in the Detroit area one winter. Mine was nicer than this one, and I paid only $600 for it (20 years ago). You won’t find a slower car anywhere, but it’s amazing what a lack of torque and 4WD can do for traction.

  8. phoch

    Had one in white while going to college in the White Mountains of New Hampshire. An absolute animal in the snow that never let me down. She was christened the “Mighty Gregorian” (or Grog for short) as my friends were convinced she was reincarnated from a Viking vessel.

  9. chad

    the Stanza was 1 of the 1s to have (along w/2, 3? other pre-minivans to the likes of caravan & its crowd). Several like this Tercell (Honda’s civic RT waggy, etc).

    Round here this model was de reguer for the 1st of the Boomers 2 have kids.

    I’d like it as DD, would do a lill body wrk, a lot of mechanical.
    Wish they hadda slew of current/new compact wagons on mrkt.
    Seeking a lill bigger – the fox-bodied LTD/Marquis (’83/6).

  10. Chebby Staff

    Do any TRD superchargers fit this engine?

  11. DayDreamBeliever Member

    Hmmm. I wasn’t aware that the Toyota had a N/S engine placement, always assumed that the I4 was E/W like most FWD/4WD imports from Japan. There has to be a more powerful replacement that would fit?

    Potential buyers must be aware just how tinny the imports were 35 years ago. In a crash, this would not fare well at all.

  12. TakWang Chan

    I almost bought one of these for $1500 cdn in ’04 in Hornings Mills. ont.but a doc beat me to it! The predecessor was the ’88 -’92 Corolla 4wd wagon. honda made a version for 2 gens. Called the Wagovan

    • Dino

      The 88-92 Corolla All-Trac wagon was the successor to this car. My first car was a navy blue ‘91 and I miss it so much! It was automatic and IIRC the button on the dash was to lock the center differential.

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