why are 4wd tercels so great, anyway?

dylan is coming over tomorrow for some help doing some routine maintenance on his 4wd tercel i sold him over a year ago. i’m pumped to hang out with a good bud that i don’t see very often, and to work on a terc.

i used to hate tercels. a bunch of our friend’s parents had them when i was growing up and i thought they were the ugliest things i’d ever seen. couldn’t figure out why everyone had them. fast forward to 20 years later when i was looking for an extremely economical, reliable, capable vehicle, and learned that they excelled in all these areas. i found a well-loved one locally for a good price and quickly learned how ridiculously easy to work on they are too. i had never done much mechanic work prior to owning a terc but i found a forum of fanatical tercel followers that gave me confidence in my abilities so i was off and running.

i’ve now owned 6 of them, 4 that i’ve fixed up and sold and 2 that were used as parts cars. dylan has #3, a blue sr5 model that i rescued from a crackhead in port alberni. it was in gross condition when i got it, reeking of sweat, cigarette smoke, rotting garbage, and dog. it was love at first sight.

#3 after limping it home from port alberni with a CV axle threatening to explode the whole way.

a good indicator of the car’s overall shape when i first got it.

the rear swaybar creatively repaired with a hose clamp and a shoelace.

found two holes in the floor that required patching.

after i don’t remember how many months of learning as i went, the car was finally back in good working order.

all done!

i gave the car to my friend gen, who had just moved home from finishing her phd in the UK and needed a car. amazingly, her family had owned the exact same car and she had learned to drive on it, so it was a match made in heaven. she drove it for about a year before her parents insisted that she get rid of it in favour of something safer. coincidentally, my pal dylan was looking for something more economical and jumped on the car. he’s been happy with it for over a year now. i have a soft spot for this one because it was in such rough shape but turned out really good, and was the first car i fixed up completely on my own.

to me, these cars are the unicorns of the vehicle world because they are so great in almost every way.

  • they have a true 4wd system with no center differential. this means less tire slip in hairy situations.
  • the manual transmissions have an extra low gear that is only accessible when in 4wd. it’s slow as all hell and excellent for steep climbs.
  • the tiny 1.5L engine is carbureted, which can be a pain if you’re unfamiliar with or intimidated by carbs, but they are bone simple and actually very easy to troubleshoot. carbs are quirky and neat.
  • the engine is longitudinally mounted, and the front portion of the vehicle frame can be unbolted and removed for complete access to the crank and cam pulleys–very handy when replacing timing belts, water pumps, seals, etc.
  • there is tons of space to work in the engine bay. this is crucial to me because i hate banging my knuckles or even worse, not being able to get a cock sucking tool in where i need it. the whole car is actually designed this way, with maintenance in mind. the car is made to be easy to work on–that’s genius.
  • it’s a station wagon so there’s tons of room inside for hauling crap, humans, human crap (literally and figuratively), whatever.
  • the ’83-’84 sr5 models came with an inclinometer on the dash which measures the angle of the vehicle at any given moment. this is almost 100% useless but it’s so fucking cool that it’s probably my favourite feature of tercels.

despite all this, i haven’t had a tercel as a daily driver for a few years now. i modified the hell out of my first tercel, swapping in a bigger engine and a performance carb, lifting both the front and rear suspension, and giving it a loud as all hell paint job. it was only after doing those things that i realized i prefer a stock vehicle–mods make for all kinds of guess work later on, and having a nicely painted, flashy car made me paranoid about it getting damaged or rusting. so when i came across a stock 4wd corolla wagon (the successor to the 4wd tercel) in decent shape for a good price, i jumped on it. i had wanted one ever since i saw the one owned by trisha twiss’ parent’s, and it was actually what i was looking for when i stumbled across my first terc. i was excited to have finally have one, and right when my disappointment in my tercel mods had reached its fever pitch.

i’ve been very happy with the corolla and have a ton of respect for it. it has superior brakes, a great OBD-1 fuel injection system that is wonderfully reliable, way nicer styling than the tercel, a much smoother ride, more comfortable seats…

 

 

…but it’s just not as cool as a 4wd tercel.

so i’m looking, and when i find the right tercel–one with manual steering (even less stuff in the engine bay, one less thing to potentially fail, and less drag on the already feeble 62-hp engine) and no sunroof (i hate sunlight and heat, and they’re a potential leak source)–i will be fixing it up for myself in the hopes of returning to the 4wd tercel fold.

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