Toyota’s ads throughout the ’80s are easily remembered for their large graphics and simple approach. Buyers were urged to pick a Toyota because they were honest and a good value. Claims of uncommon sophistication and appeals to progressive design were for the other guys. This ad for a 1981 Corolla Tercel, in all its yellow glory, shouts this message clearly. Toyota’s first front drive car boasted care-free motoring and little else. Even in the midwest, these cars were common on the roads until about twenty years ago, making this a rare example of truth in advertising.
Related reading: 1979-1982 Toyota Corolla Tercel – Toyota Nails Another One
I see one of these being used as a daily driver. I’m pretty sure that it used to be the same yellow, but time has not been kind.
That mid 80s Toyota ad campaign and product line up were the best this industry has ever seen! One of the main reasons I am such a fan of the 80s. I think that was the best decade for cars. I consider today to be more of a malaise era where all products are good, but bland.
I literally took this ad up on its suggestion once, when we arrived in Baltimore during a terrible snow and ice storm, and I insisted on a FWD car. A Tercel was the only thing they had, and it got us through, despite terrible conditions.
I am a little embarrassed to say that I bought my first Toyota (this year) at 70 years old. I don’t know why I waited so long. This truck (95 4runner) has 197k miles and everything still works. It might be the most solid vehicle I ever owned. Unless something stupid happens I think Toyota is going to share a spot with Nissan at the top of my personal pedestal. Probably would have replaced a lot fewer head gaskets if I had bought them while I was a contractor instead of the NIssan.
Well, you got one of the famously overbuilt Toyotas. Enjoy it; I’d love to have one of those. If it’s a V6, keep an eye on it for overheating (weak headgaskets).
From what I’ve learned (and owned), the 3.0 6 cylinder is the one to keep a close watch on for head gaskets. The 3.4 that replaced it is regarded as much more durable.
Is that you, wvstarvingteacher?
Yes Toyota SUVs (and cars) from the 90s and earlier are magnificently overbuilt beasts, the only thing they’re afraid of is road salt. Like Perry said, the one thing to look out for on yours is the headgaskets, more specifically the head bolts. Apparently Toyota torqued them under the assumption of a different older style gasket. Same thing happened with the Cressida/supra inline 6.
Love the Tercel ad, I wish fwd econocars were still built with decent ground clearance and robust suspension components, some of us like to take them hiking and off the beaten path! I currently have a 1996 4Runner (105k miles, just getting started!!) to fill all of my bike/canoe hauling and camping needs. Feels completely unkillable on potholed fire roads.
“I wish fwd econocars were still built with decent ground clearance and robust suspension components, some of us like to take them hiking and off the beaten path!”
I hear you, since 2009 I think I’d brush the bottom of the front airdam on a driveway, speed hump or ramp type situation on a road on almost a daily basis thanks to longer front overhangs. Also since 2003 the lower ride height occasionally gives real harsh hammering, bottoming-out of the suspension from potholes on an unsealed road even traveling at much slower speed. I can only imagine what the old short stroke double wishbone Hondas were like!
Yup, it’s me. My 3.0 is the last year they made it. Went to the 3.4 in 96/ It’s got 197k on it now and I think the head gasket was probably fixed before they quit making them. It sure is slow but a manual 5 speed is the answer to automatics that keep going out. After some years driving NAPS Z nissan engines I have developed a quick reflex for overheating.
The CC effect is getting curiouser and curiouser. Went to rent a heap from enterprise today. Driving to Lubbock for a funeral tomorrow. 9 hours. The car they gave me was a corolla and I’m having a blast. Driving a slow car fast.
My folks had a 1980 in silver. It was a 2 door stripper version with HAH(Hot as Hell) black vinyl seats and a 4 speed manual trans. My father got it as a commuter car and my mom drove us kids in the 1976 Mercury Monarch. In 1986 My folks traded the Monarch to a neighbor in exchange for redoing our home’s bathrooms and bought a new Aries K station wagon. Some of my memories of that car was all the times we all piled into it to pick up or drop off that Aries at the dealer(such a POS) the Tercel only needed regular maintenance like oil changes and tires. In 1990 my grandfather gave my folks his garage kept and well maintained 1980 Malibu(it was always a second car to his 1979 LeSabre and then a 1986 Park Ave.) That Malibu was such a piece of junk, so from 1990 to 1993 we had two crappy cars instead of one. The Aries got dumped in 93 for a 1993 Taurus(which lasted 16 years with no issues) and the Malibu was given to me in 1996(when they bought a 1996 Century)
I know people that are smarter than me probably appreciate these as cheap reliable transportation, and while I wouldn’t know, maybe they even handle well and are tossable as the auto writers like to say.
This is the sort of car that just repelled me in the 1980’s. It looks generic, cheap, boring, and even incomplete with the mis-matched framing around the door window and the rear quarter window. The wheels are worthy of a commercial service vehicle.
If I recall correctly, all the interiors were the same cheap black vinyl. No character whatever. The experience inside was buzzy and very bottom of the line, a sweatbox in the summer. If anything was positive, the front seating area seemed adequately roomy and the view out was unrestricted.
The advertising was completely incongruous – “Oh! What a Feeling!” I don’t see how anybody could have been excited about this car. It screams: “I’m at the bottom of the automotive food chain, bring on the Tercel, ’cause I have to.”
A friend of mine got one of these new when we were in high school. It looked quite forlorn in the sea of GM mid-sizers in the school parking lot. Bizarrely, other kids that didn’t know my friend would regularly challenge him to stop light races – just to rub in the reality of his situation, I guess.
At least they eventually styled the car and made it look complete. The ’95 version also posted today is simply a HUGE improvement over this.
Thank goodness for Toyota that they were able to start offering a reliability reputation. Otherwise the behind the Iron Curtain look of these cars would have been the death of the company in the U.S.
Well of course it was nothing special and to be honest it was a bit of a miserable penalty box but you have to take it in the context of the early 1980’s. It was cheap but reliable and gas friendly and compared to most offerings out of the Big Three in those years(Chevette or Omni anybody??)
As cheap looking and homely as this Tercel was, the endearing part of it and the reason these sold like hotcakes was because you could go out in the morning and put the key in the ignition and know it would start up. You could not say the same with that midsize GM. In high school, I had one of those 1980’s midsize GM products of the type you were talking about and thought it was well taken care all its life, it was still a big steaming pile of crap.
So you are correct in your assessment that if something as crude as that Tercel would have come out today, then its maker would not be long in business but in the early 1980’s these were prized as being uber reliable compared to its American competition.
I guess my thought was that the car could obviously be better, and certainly styled with a little effort – as Toyota eventually did. Early OmniRizons in this era could be ordered with AC, nice trim packages and more. Some looked pretty sharp.
In 1981, most GM product in our school parking lot was ’70s vintage and generally worked pretty well. My ride was a ’76 Cutlass with the 350 4 and THM350. I enjoyed that car for several years. Those cars made the appeal of these a head scratcher. The lower cost of acquisition and insurance for a GM used made up for the gas mileage. And, the AC was totally worth the operating costs!
I am looking for an 1981toyota tercel hatchback to old times sake
There’s a silver one in worn but decent condition in the parking garage at work. It’s 3 or 4th owner was a friend of mine who bought it as his SR-22 mobile after a DUI. Cheap to insure at the high-risk rate, I am sure. He sold it before moving to Colorado to work the ski resorts. It’s current quite frugal owner still works for the company and parks in the garage. Still has all its hubcaps, too…
You run across an 81 hatchback let me know
We had a white 82 sedan with blue interior
You’re right about the distinctive layouts. I remember finding a dps for a Celica fastback in a similar graphic style with the background printed as a matt metallic silver. Gave it to a girlfriend with the same car.
An old girlfriend had the exact car in the ad. One of my first manly duties in the relationship was to buff out the faded yellow and restore it to taxicab vibrancy.
She was a bit of an environmentalist, and would issue me an “environmental ticket” if I did something not 100% environmentally responsible, such as leaving the water running while I brushed my teeth. One morning she went out to her car and found that the gas tank had sprung a leak. We called a tow truck, and in the meantime some official or other showed up and issued her… an environmental ticket. I sure had a long laugh over that.
The garage that put in the new tank screwed something up, and the car would stop running whenever it got below half full. Given that the tank capacity was about a gallon and a half, the buzzbox wasn’t very serviceable after that.
I remember reading that Toyota UK declined to sell the first generation Tercel SR5 liftback because it was too ugly to sell in England. Considering the British car styling at the time, that’s saying something.
There was an early 90s Tercel diesel for sale nearby when I was looking for another car I never got to try it someone bought it the day it was advertised must have been a good one.
This has got to be the back cover of National Geographic! Takes me back
Nope, not Nat Geo… guess again.
No… only luxo cars in the Playboys I’ve seen.
Hmmm… Downgrade a bit. What about Hustler? Joking. Paper creases look like thin stock. R&T?
I’m trying to think what was laying around the house when I was a kid… Must be a car mag, or you wouldn’t have saved it this long? Motor Trend or Playboy… Ha
Just to clarify… Playboy was not laying around the house when I was a kid. That sounded bad (!)
I miss my blue 82 Corolla Tercel… I bought it in 1993, then sold it a few months later. One of MANY in my years of Toyota ownership.
I currently own an 81 Corolla 2dr sedan, an 83 Corolla 2dr sedan and an 87 Nissan/Datsun 200sx notchback.
I bought a ’82 tercel new… It was my first of many Toyotas and I miss it a lot. I understand why people that can’t understand loving a simple car as this, but there is a purity in simple, reliable cars. I still buy “plain” vehicles. I always felt excessive trim ruined the purity of line and gimmicking options were the first to fail. I would buy another 1982 Tercel today….alas, I’m in the minority.
I saw one of these today being driven during morning commute hours. It had the all-glass hatchback and looked to be in great condition.
My daughter had an 1981 toyota tercel hatchback and loved it, someone pulled out in front or her and totaled it, I been looking for another one ever since.
I have a 1981 Toyota Tercel with 34000 miles. I found it after searching for it for three years. I have not decided to either sell it to someone that appreciates it or keep it for my son. The car may need about $1500 to be in a great shape. Some old age . Someone told me to keep the original paint and do not paint it since it will drop in value. I can easily say that I believe this is the only Tercel in United state. I am not sure how much would I let it go ? Any idea guys?
Does it have 2 or 4 doors? Is it a hatchback or coupe? Is the inside clean? Are the seats ripped? Also you said it needed work to make it right so that will hurt the value. Can the buyer start it or does it need the work before they can start it?
Stuff like that will make a big difference. I would keep it for my kid honestly because it’s a low mileage car and I know mine was very dependable.
Thank you for your email. It is a 4 door, the car starts right up , the repair is just to make it superb such a small separation of seat cover which can be sewed back by couple $ , the car needs a resurface dashboard . Which also can be resurface with few hundred . And ultimately at some point a carberatur . And I think I will follow your suggestion. My children are growing with this car in the years and I think I keep it for them. I briefly placed it on eBay and highest bid came to $17500. . Thank you again.
My first car was an 81 Tercel. It was a manual tranny and got the best gas mileage of any car I ever owned. Never had a mechanical issue with it either. Drove it till it had 250k miles on it!