Junkyard Classic: 1988 Toyota Tercel Coupe – Oh, What A Feeling (Seeing This Here)!

Here’s a little secret: Back when I was in my second year of college, I wanted one of these and tried (in vain) to figure out a way to afford it.  The one I wanted was white instead of ivory like this one and with the gray interior instead of the tan.  Seeing this example in the junkyard immediately took me back to my college days, leafing through the brochure, and doing the math on the payment vs my paystubs from my sandwich delivery job at Osos Street Subs.

After all these years I still find it to be an attractive car; that character line running down the side gives it a lot more, uh, character than usual for cars of this class.  And the fact that it was available as a 2-door coupe instead of just a hatchback as with the prior generation was a plus too, it gave the whole line a little more class.

I could be mistaken but I don’t think we have ever featured this generation of Tercel at CC.  Plenty of Gen 1 and 2, and then the wagon is evergreen of course, and the later blobbier ones made an appearance or two as well, but not this one, at least not that I could locate.

Toyota introduced this model for the 1987 model year; this one is a second year 1988 model and is pretty much the same.  The hatchback caused a minor stir among budget econo-freaks when a version was introduced as the Tercel EZ and stickered under $6,000 which was really Hyundai Excel and Yugo territory around that time.

As decontented as a Tercel in general already was, the EZ really went to town tossing anything out that could remotely cost money.  A girl I was dating at the time had one, as I recall complete with very shiny and sort of sticky vinyl seating, a 4-speed instead of 5-speed and rubber flooring.  I’m sure there were other indignities, but at least hers was red.

I didn’t remember that these didn’t have a rev-counter.  Still, the instrumentation that is there is neatly presented, easy to read, and does the job it needs to do, I suppose.  This car made it to about 219,000 miles, not bad at all but nothing overly spectacular for a Toyota.

The interior is fairly basic but attractive with its two toned theme.  Besides the driver’s bolster and side of the seat, the fabric has held up quite well to 31 years in the Denver sunshine.

The door panel has held up even better.  A) It’s still attached and B) It looks like it’s hardly seen any wear.  A win in my book. That whole upper lighter section is all cloth, kind of a heavy tweedy sort that hides dirt and apparently resists wear, there is many a much newer car with door panels in much worse condition.

The backseat is tight but serviceable, again, almost no wear but likely wasn’t used very much at all. Looks like someone tried to get under the seat for some reason or other, and probably left the mat on it while looking for change or whatever.

Trunk space is alright, of course the hatchback would be more useful but coupe style counts for something, or did back in the day at least. A simple trunk liner, nothing on the lid, simple hinges, and it all works just fine.  No rust either!

If you squint just a little bit, isn’t there just a touch of BMW 3-series in there?  Maybe squint a little more?  I think I probably squinted a lot in 1988 when I was looking at this.

The little 1.5liter 4-cylinder with 12 valves put out an economically respectable 78hp and 87 lb-ft of torque.  That got you 31/37mpg with the overdrive 5-speed.  It only had to push 2000 (yes 2000!) pounds around so that power figure is a little better than it seems at first glance.  That also let it run on 155 section 13-inch tires, all in the name of economy and thriftiness of operation.

The hubcaps are an add-on, stock the Tercel didn’t have any, just little silver steelies.  Do you remember those little antennas a a lot of Japanese cars had just like this one at the top of the A-pillar?  You could stick your hand out the window and either pull it out or retract it for a car wash or whatever.

Ah, a good ol’ J-VIN.  Built in Japan in June of 1988, right as I was finishing my first year of college.  The Tercel was a good seller for Toyota in the States, and lasted for several more generations before it was shuffled off after the 1999 model year in favor of the likes of the Echo and I suppose the Scion brand cars through no fault of its own.  I haven’t seen one of these coupes on the road for a long time, so it was good to catch up here the other day even if the headline references the Toyota tagline that ended in 1986.  By 1988 it was “Who could ask for anything more”, which I had to look up and realized I have zero recollection of.  So I’ll just end here with a good feeling about this car.