Economy Survivor: 1989 Toyota Tercel


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You’d be forgiven if you forgot the entry-level Toyota Tercel once sported an attractive notchback coupe-body that gave this MPG champion a relatively pleasing appearance. Like so many economy cars of the mid-80s and early 90’s, clean design was a shared trait from the Civic hatchback to the VW Golf. This 1989 Toyota Tercel here on eBay has only 38,000 original miles from new and remains a far more attractive design than the amorphous blobs the Japanese manufacturers currently offer. 


From the simple dash layout to the three-spoke steering wheel, it’s easy to see why I’m nostalgic for an era when airbags and infotainment units weren’t even a consideration in an entry-level vehicle. It’s amazing to think that people born after a certain point will simply believe that a Hyundai always had a navigation screen in the center dash stack. This Tercel didn’t offer much in the way of creature comforts, but it would get you reliably from Point A to Point B and never be failed by some electronic wizardry that could otherwise stop a modern car in its tracks.


The 1.5L engine is barely broken in at this mileage. There’s only about 78 b.h.p. to work with, and with the automatic, acceleration will be quite leisurely. This was good for around 41 m.p.g.’s, which was the primary motivation for buying a car like this. However, the third-generation Tercel did sport a fully independent suspension along with rack-and-pinion steering. Sporty it ain’t, but it will get the job done. The seller claims it has been well maintained, and has recently received new tires, brakes and exhaust. The window sticker is also included.


Will the Tercel ever be collectible? I doubt it. The earlier ones with the rear-wheel drive configuration will likely appreciate modestly. However, I do believe survivor cars like this one deserve to be recognized for somehow surviving the plight that so many economy cars undergo, which is to be ridden hard and put away wet. This clean example of a pre-Prius Toyota is a nice reminder of how simple vehicles used to be, and how content we were to simply have reliable transportation. The Tercel is located in Bethpage, New York, with no reserve.

Auctions Ending Soon


  1. Daren

    Guess I’m getting old when a featured car is one I kept clean as a “lot rat” for a local dealer during high school. Loved that job!! Nice find. Great little cars. I do miss the bare bones transportation we use to have. I remember several of the Toyotas coming through with no radio, air, power steering, passenger rear view mirror, and all vinyl on seat and floors. But then you could get one new for around $6k too!

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  2. Rando

    OMG, my mom had one of these that I could use while she was a missionary out of the US. Acceleration could be timed with a calendar. Yes it got good mileage but the rest of it was as embarassing as dating an ugly cousin. The appearance is ok I guess but these cars were not exciting in any way. I dreaded driving it, but did so to save on gas and even that was barely worth it. I didn’t drive it a lot.

    Yuck. that’s just how I felt about them and still do. Can’t see any reason a car guy would even want to see it here. Just dredges up bad memories for me.

    I think I threw up a little…lol

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  3. Scotty GStaff

    That’s a great looking car, and at the current price of less than $1,000 it’s a no-brainer! It’ll probably go for twice that price, but still, a nice find.

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  4. fordfan

    I had a 88 corolla with those same cheep black bumpers .they always turn a chalky flat black no matter how much armorall I used

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  5. Fogline

    My parents 89 Camry went 300k on its original clutch and is still going. These are great cars and I am certain my dad would buy it in a heartbeat if it was closer and a stick. But that is probably why the bid is where it is.

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  6. Quay

    Did anybody else notice what I believe to be either a 392 or a hell cat in the back? I’m pretty sure those are the only cars that color comes on. Just funny to see it right next to this little econobox.

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    • JeffAuthor

      Quay, as the Dodge Charger is one of a few new cars that holds my interest, I noticed it too! That’s a new color this year, but you can get it on the more standard-issue R/T models (in addition to the Hellcat). If I were buying one new tomorrow, that’s the color I’d get – for sure.

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  7. andrew m

    Perfect city vehicle in today’s bloated car world. Small, nimble, just enough hp’s to get from light to light, and small enough to park where many can’t. Dare i say cheap and cheerful? I drove a couple of this vintage back when they were new, wasn’t impressed (at all) at their performance over 40 mph, and with the AC on it was killer slow… not a cross country grand tourer by any stretch, but downtown it’s certainly in it’s element.

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  8. David Montanbeau

    I was outbid. 1775.00 sold I bid up to 1750.00
    would have cost me 800.00 to ship to CA.
    Someone got a nice car.

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  9. Mark-A

    I’m the same as a lot of you guys & “must be getting old also”, but I really wish manufacturers would do as Colin Chapman in his Lotus days & (paraphrasing here) Increase Performance (and Economy too (My Words NOT Chapmans) by adding Lightness! Its not going to be long before 99% of cars in Scrapyards will be there due to ELECTRICAL/ELECTRONIC failures rather than powertrain problems.

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