$1,600: 1980 Toyota Corolla Tercel SR5

Scotty GilbertsonBy Scotty Gilbertson

Here’s one for your ice racers, this is a 1980 Toyota Corolla Tercel SR5. Yes, for the first two years that these cars were sold in the US they went by both names, Corolla and Tercel. In 1982 they dropped the Corolla name and it just became the Tercel. This one is on craigslist with an asking price of $1,600. This car is located in Whitefish, Montana. And about that dent? A deer ran into the side of the car. Thanks to Quinn for submitting this find!

I used to take my 1971 Corolla wagon around an ice racing track in the early-80s but that was a rear-drive car, I’m not sure how a front-drive car would be. Saab sure had a lot of success with it. Here’s a YouTube video of a 1982 Corolla Tercel in the snow. The seller says that this one runs great and it’s driven a few days a week between Whitefish and Eureka, Montana, about 50 miles each way. But, then they say that the only reason for selling it is that it’s a third car and it doesn’t get driven much.

You can be the 4th owner of this car, it really would be a nice little commuter. The SR5 model (a $600 package in 1980) had a 5-speed manual transmission and this one comes with a full set of summer tires as well as the winter tires seen here. No word if the optional alloy wheels are on the summer tires or not. Black, urethane bumpers were more ding-resistant and also lighter than chrome bumpers so that’s what these cars got. You can see the super cool plaid interior in this photo, but there are no photos of it! Arrrrggghhh..

It almost looks like it was just washed and the interior windows are fogging up, or the recirculating switch is on. Or, is that ice on just the side windows? Here are a bunch of way-too-happy Toyota Corolla Tercel owners on YouTube. This engine, oddly enough for a front-drive car, isn’t transverse-mounted, it’s longitudinal. In order to make that work, the transmission had to be mounted underneath the engine and floorboards in order to get it to fit. Why Toyota went with that rather than a transverse engine is a bit strange for a company with so many engineering ideas. This engine is a 1.5L inline-four with around 60 hp, and again, there are no photos of it. Supposedly it runs great and has had a new timing belt, distributor, thermostat, and a full tune-up. I bet this is a pretty fun car to drive in the winter, it’s cheap enough that you wouldn’t have to worry about it rusting out, and if a deer runs into it again, hey, no big deal!

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  1. Blyndgesser

    Rarely seen without the air-conditioned bodywork….

  2. Stang1968

    Be glad it wasn’t a moose. That tercel would be toast!

    • Rocko

      I had a friend hit a moose ,unconscious for a few days in the hospital, he was never the same again, lost his patience at the drop of a hat, died two years later….Bill Lee, i used to call him Billy.

  3. Chuck Farley

    “SR 5” means “Secret Racer, 5 spd”. “Secret Racer” because you can race everyone every time/all the time and it’d be a secret – no -one – not even the guy you were racing against – would ever know you were racing him!

  4. Howard A Member

    These vintage Asian cars had such crappy heaters. Every one of them frosted up on the inside. Such awful rusters too. Never see one like this in the rust-belt. Great find as a cheap economical beater. Probably last you for years.

    • geomechs

      Hi Howard. You nailed it with the crappy heaters. I had a Toyota pickup that would make an 8 inch circle on the windshield for the driver and a 4 inch circle for the passenger, while everyone’s feet froze. And that was in 20 degree weather. The worst vehicle I ever had….

  5. cj

    Wow… I’m surprised it’s not eaten up with rust. Nvh seems better to me with this type of FWD. Driving a late 70’s VW golf back to back with a Quantum or Audi 80 the transverse set up seems much more rubber bandy with the engine rocking forward and backward in on off throttle.

  6. jef ray

    I bought one new….loved that car. If I wasn’t already full of cars I would buy this! As it is, our house looks like a Toyota dealership. Just glad there’s one out there still knocking around.

  7. Will

    Strange. Between the first video and the second the price went up $1300. I think they are only 2 years apart.

  8. Sam W

    Vintage toyotas are the best you can buy, especially old 4wd. Here in the UK all we had for years was the truly awful landrover, then the toyotas appeared and were revolutionary and so reliable. We still have a 94 landcruiser with 550,000 miles on it

  9. geomechs

    These cars took a lot of people a lot of trouble free miles (a good friend and co-worker has an ’84 model with over 400K miles and still going) but they weren’t very tough, especially in a collision.

    August 1980: It was a blistering hot day and I had just come back to town from a couple of hours of flying. I was on the main drag about to make a left turn; I just joined the line and waited for the signal to change. Next thing I knew, there was a ringing in my ears and I was looking at the ceiling of my truck. I felt something grainy in the back of my head and little particles running down my back. As my head cleared I realized that I’d been hit from behind and those little particles were pieces of glass from the shattered rear window of my truck (made by my head).

    I looked behind and all I could see was smoke and steam. I threw the truck in park and jumped out to see what happened.

    A Tercel, not unlike this one had crashed into my backside. The car was folded up like an accordian; there were two smashed spots in its windshield, obviously made by the occupants’ heads. Antifreeze, engine oil and transmission fluid was running into the gutter, and there was a strong smell of gas.

    Emergency crews had to section the car to get the people out and spent over an hour getting the driver’s mangled foot free from the crumpled firewall (I shudder to think what would’ve happened if a fire had started).

    The Tercel was obviously a write-off; the people were taken to hospital (EMS insisted I go get checked out too). My truck, a ’79 GMC K-1500, suffered a dented rear bumper, (1) sheared-off 3/4 inch bumper mounting bolt and a shattered panel in my rear window (the latter, from my head). I fixed the truck and still own it.

    I remember two police officers talking. One cop’s daughter was heading for college and she had her heart set on a new Tercel. ‘I just made a monumental decision….,’ the cop said.

  10. Rustytech

    This is the best looking Tersel I’ve seen since 1990. They were everywhere in the early to mid 80’s and we’re know for dependability. Unfortunately the mechanical’s usually outlasted the bodies. How this one escaped that fate in the north is beyond me! Very nice find.

  11. kenzo

    Up here in the pacific north west there are a lot of these for real beater / parts prices that still run. Can’t figure out why this is worth $1600….Go over it with a magnate and the price should drop by $1000.
    not being negative just realistic!!!!

  12. LD

    I did a lot of I’ve racing in NY and MN, all fwd BTW, wouldn’t have anything but. This little ‘turtle’ would be a good candidate for an ice racer, but I always favored Datsun F-10’s, the wagon was best.
    But $1600 for an ice racer? I think $200 was tops for an ice racer BITD and it had to take me to my corporate job during the week (had to park way back in the far lot!)

  13. rando

    My mom had one. 3 spd auto. Later model than this. Left it for me to drive occasionally while she was out of country (Russian missionary). I hated that car. I called it the Turdcel. ugh.

  14. Glen

    My Mom had an 85 Corolla SR5, it was great, and was RWD. Fun to drive, and very economical. It became an ice racer here in Haliburton, Ontario. I remember one Winter morning the temp. was -30 something in Celsius ( -30C is -22 F) the only car that started was the Corolla, we used it to boost the other vehicles in the driveway, including my Dad’s Cadillac.

  15. Charlie

    I bought this! Whitefish local and only found this post after I bought it. The defrost does work. The night I took it for a test drive it was about -10 F outside.

    • Will

      Can you share some interior pics? Is it as nice as it looks in the pics?

      • Charlie

        Yes, I’ll take some soon.

  16. Charlie

    Some interior shots

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