CC Capsule: 1985-87 Daihatsu Charade – A Childhood Curbside Classic, Two Decades Later

The first cars to disappear from our roads tend to be the cheapest. No matter how reliable and well-built, A- and B-segment vehicles are thanklessly used up and thoughtlessly thrown away. When I spied this Daihatsu Charade in the corner of my eye, I quickly spun around and went to take photos of it. It wasn’t just because it was one of the last surviving examples of a trusty yet forgotten car, it was because it was a fixture in my childhood.

Growing up, our street was a mixture of retirees and young families. Across the street lived two elderly friends (sisters?) with a beautiful garden that I spent a lot of time in. Their car was a white, second-generation Honda Accord hatchback, a base model that I’m sure had very few miles on the odometer. I remember being impressed even as a child at how “new” it looked, like it had just rolled off the showroom floor.

A couple of doors down was a family with a second-generation Mitsubishi Nimbus (aka Expo, Chariot and Space Wagon) which, despite its three rows of seating, seemed to be a squeeze for the family.

Further up the street was, from memory, a Fiat 131. That homeowner also had a Series 1 or 2 Jaguar XJ that sat in his driveway, almost entirely concealed under a tarp. I still remember being scared by what I perceived to be a menacing scowl formed by the taillights and chrome bumper, peeking out from under the tarp. I was too young to know the word ‘pareidolia’ but to this day, that generation of XJ still creeps me out.

Directly next door to me lived Dorothy, a nice, older lady who kept a clean home. I distinctly remember the first time I saw the inside of her house and I marvelled at how clean it was. That’s not to knock my mother’s housekeeping abilities but, rather, my father’s ability to accumulate stuff. My childhood drove me to regularly declare from a rather young age, “When I have my own place, I want it to look like a display home!” For the most part, I’ve eschewed clutter ever since.

As is common with older people in Australia, Dorothy drove a small and economical car: a second-generation Daihatsu Charade. When I saw this example in Alderley, I had flashbacks. Her car was the same color, although it was in better condition (of course, this was 20 years ago), and in fact this could be the same car and it simply changed hands. To give perspective to our North American readers (as most of the rest of the world received these), the second-generation Charade was dimensionally almost identical to a Chevrolet Sprint/Suzuki Swift.

While looking through old photo albums at my parents’ place the other week (I may or may not have been looking for photos of the parents’ old Mini Moke), I saw a photo of me taken on Christmas Day when I was 5 or so. In the background, you can see Dorothy’s Charade.

Photo courtesy of Vauxford

The brownish-grey colour of the Charade, if I recall correctly, was a similar shade to the Triumph 2000 owned by… her ex? Her partner? Her friend? This was 20+ years ago and I barely remember the personal details of my former neighbours (I can’t remember how many kids the Nimbus family had!) but I certainly remember the cars. Later in the decade, Dorothy finally traded the Charade in for a brand new, bright turquoise Daewoo Lanos. If the quality and reliability weren’t up-to-par, the Giugario-designed Lanos certainly made up for it in style.

That’s not to besmirch the second-generation Charade, one of a long line of utterly reliable, dependable small hatchbacks and sedans. Maybe I’m misremembering, like I might have when reminiscing about my old substitute teacher and his Mazda 121, but it always seemed like Daihatsu’s buyers skewed older here in Australia.

Maybe that’s because the sporty variants were driven to death and scrapped before my inquisitive child eyes could spot them. If old A- and B-segment cars disappear quickly from our roads, sporty A- and B-segment cars are even quicker to vanish. In addition to naturally-aspirated 1.0 three-cylinder powered models, this generation of Charade was available with a turbocharged 1.0 three-pot that produced 68 hp (up from 55). Turbo Charades also had a stiffer suspension and thicker anti-roll bars, making for a sharp-handling and rather sprightly little hatchback. It was like a more modern, Japanese Mini Cooper.

Interestingly, there was a Mini connection as Innocenti’s rebodied versions of the little Brit switched to using Daihatsu Charade components in 1982, making the Charade almost a spirtual successor to the Mini. That Daihatsu-infused Innocenti, known as the Minitre, had a Daihatsu-powered, turbocharged De Tomaso variant

…like the Charade. Alejandro sure didn’t mind having his name applied to all manner of subcompacts, including the Dodge Omni 024.

Those brash, little pocket rocket Charades were niche offerings, however. The vast majority of Charades sold throughout the world were much like Dorothy’s, with unassuming looks and naturally-aspirated engines. Toyota has been involved with Daihatsu since the 1960s (the Charade’s predecessor was the Toyota Publica-derived Consorte) and has had a controlling stake in the company since the 1990s. The quality and dependability of these little cars is certainly Toyota-esque. Perfect for the lovely older lady next door…