Weekly Craigslist Hidden Treasure: 1985 Toyota Tercel Wagon

Car Culture

Jesse Pinkman drove the same model, only this one doesn’t suck.

The Toyota Tercel station wagon. The epitome of 1980's design, but with a quirky side. It didn’t look much like other traditional wagons of the era, such as the Oldsmobile Custom Cruiser and other offerings from GM. Those wagons had a far more conservative design. By contrast, the Tercel wagon had personality.

But let’s just get something out of the way because you likely know it anyway: “Breaking Bad” character Jesse Pinkman famously drove a beat up old Toyota Tercel wagon around town when he wasn’t cooking, or getting into trouble elsewhere. But unlike Jesse, the Tercel was reliable. It was well-built and could be driven into the ground.

Many owners proudly kept them running for well over 100,000 miles with relatively few problems along the way. The Tercel first arrived in the US back in 1980, but it wasn’t until the second generation debuted two years later that it begin to earn a rock-solid reputation.

Available as a three- and five-door hatchback and wagon, all body styles were powered by the same 1.5-liter four-cylinder engine with 63 hp. Clearly it’s not a drag racer. But what was cool about the wagon is that it could be equipped with four-wheel drive instead of the standard front-wheel-drive.

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On top of that, four-wheel drive wagons also had a six-speed manual transmission option. Another cool fact: four-wheel drive models could be shifted from two- to four-wheel drive without having to come to a complete stop. Toyota, you could say, was kind of ahead of its time with the four-wheel drive Tercel wagon. Think about it.

In many ways, this now goofy-looking wagon was an ancestor to today’s crossovers. Coincidentally, it was Toyota’s luxury division, Lexus, which launched the supposed first crossover of the modern era, the Camry-based 1998 RX. Clearly Toyota understood early on that America appreciated wagons but didn’t necessarily want to drive them as their parents did back in the 1960s.

When Chrysler launched its minivans in 1984, the demise of the wagon began in America. The first-gen Lexus RX confirmed wagons were a dying breed. But some are still classics, as this 1985 Toyota Tercel 4WD SR5 wagon confirms.

This week’s Craigslist hidden treasure is up for sale in Los Angeles for an asking price of $12,000. Yep. You read that right. Twelve grand for something that originally only cost around $3,000. Even taking inflation into account brings that original price to around just under $7,000. So what makes this particular Tercel wagon so special and worth the extra dough? For starters, it’s in mint condition. Seriously. The seller claims he bought it from a Malibu, California, estate where it has spent its entire life. His words: “It looks, drives and smells new.”

Based on the photos posted, we’re inclined to believe him. The exterior blue paint looks flawless and there’s absolutely zero rust. The only areas that required some attention have already been handled by the seller, and they include a refurbished set of factory correct alloy wheels and a new a/c compressor. That’s it. Even the textures on the steering wheel and shifter are described as “still fresh.”

In case you haven’t already noticed, the Craigslist ad photos are excellent and there’s a reason why: the seller claims to be a professional car designer whose hobby is finding and restoring vintage Japanese cars. With just around 15,000 miles on its odo, this manual-equipped funky 4WD Tercel wagon is a truly unique find. Jesse Pinkman references are guaranteed.

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