Curbside Outtake: Toyota Tercel (gen1) Liftback and Mercedes 400E (W124) – Two Oldies Reminiscing

Who turned the clock back a couple of decades? This would have been a typical sight 20, 15 or even 10 years ago, but not so much in 2021. Both of these are becoming scarcer, so finding them together talking about the old days was a pleasant surprise. And they’re both cars I’m rather familiar with, although not the V8 version of the W124.

If they don’t have things to reminisce about, I do.

The 400E is a post face-lift version, so 1993 or later. Jeez, these W124 sedans were made for eleven years (1985-1995), and the wagon, coupe and convertible went on even longer. I’ve written up the W124 here, and it’s been used as a citation in Wikipedia. My own 300E’s story is here. And Jim Klein wrote up his 400E as a COAL here. And there’s more in the archives, so I’ll try to restrain myself here, although it’s not easy. I still get a pang every time I see one…

I’ve also done a full CC on the gen1 Tercel here. I have a lot of respect for these little cars; they were Toyota’s first mass foray into FWD, and they utterly nailed it. These were exceptionally tough, reliable and durable, just like GM’s first foray into mass-production FWD cars, the Citation.

My utterly unforgettable Tercel experience: On January 13, 1982, the same afternoon of the tragic Air Florida Flight 90 crash into the icy Potomac River, we arrived at the Baltimore Airport expecting my parents to pick us up. They weren’t there, and the weather outside was a nasty mixture of ice rain and snow.

I called them up from a pay phone (remember those), and they said it was impossible for them to come, as ice rain followed by snow had closed the streets and even the Beltway. You’re on your own. What to do? Check out all the rental car counters and hope to find a FWD car, not a given in 1982 (certainly no AWD vehicles then at a rental company). There was only one, a blue Tercel SR5 hatchback.

It took us almost four hours to get to Towson, for what usually took barely 30 minutes. I had to wend myself through the city, mostly on obscure side streets, as the police had shut down most major arterials due to ice-rink conditions. I also had to consider geography, and constantly avoid anything that looked remotely like it was going to head uphill. At one point, I drove down several blocks the wrong way on a one-way street, as it was the only way off another closed-off street, or un-navigable. All this without a map, and in parts of the city I didn’t at all know, except in a very general way.

It was very intense; I’ve never had a more demanding drive in my life, and keeping the Tercel from sliding into parked cars and moving forward took every last bit of concentration. I slammed into one curb with locked wheels pretty hard, and the Tercel bounced right up over it, fortunately without any damage. We pushed it back into the pavement and kept on slipping and sliding.

Our two-year old daughter slept through it all in the back seat, except for the crash over the curb. I love intense drives in bad conditions, but this one was almost a bit too much. But it makes for a great memory now. And my respect for the Tercel has never diminished.

There goes the Mercedes; that leaves just the Tercel. I’d take it…