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Our recent trip to the Hagerty Festival of the Unexceptional proved that classic cars can still be had on a low budget, if you’re willing to be open minded with your definition of classic.

Low budget is a less controversial term, and I think we could all agree that £1,500 is a small enough amount of money to take a chance on a car if it ticks the boxes of being unusual and rare. This week, I’ve set out to find the scarcest and most overlooked car for sale right now that would tick all the boxes required for entry into next year’s Festival; those everyday cars that have slipped from our consciousness into absolute obscurity. If I say so myself, I think I’ve knocked it out of the park and  even saved nearly a third on my self-imposed budget. Get ready to be impressed because I’ve found an almost extinct Toyota Tercel.

The Tercel nameplate ran from 1978 – 1999 but it’s the second generation we’re concentrating on here which was in production from 1982-1986. Available as a three-door Hatch, five-door Hatch or 4WD five-door Estate, it was never a big seller in the UK, so it’s not surprising it has slipped from the public consciousness. I recall seeing more in Ireland, but that was a hotbed of Japanese motors back in the 1980s and a fair proportion were imported as used cars directly from Japan, so all manner of strange specifications could be found. The 4WD Estate is the model that people remember now and represents most of the survivors, but even that memory is almost certainly limited to Japanese car anoraks. Serving a niche market, the Estate has a utilitarian charm all of its own not unlike its only real contemporary competitor, the Subaru Leone station wagon. With its distinctive offset rear number plate, vertical rear lights and rhomboid rear quarter glass you won’t mistake it for anything else. The 4WD capability was the major selling point although it actually only has occasional four wheel drive as the drivetrain lacks a centre differential so, if you run it in all wheel drive on a road surface that doesn’t require it, the transmission won’t be happy for long. The Estate doesn’t share the body or transmission with the Hatchback so the sharing of the nameplate isn’t particularly logical, and even less so when you consider what is under the skin. The engines and front wheel drive components were carried over from their siblings but the coil sprung rear axle was taken from the rear drive Corolla, so it’s a real hybrid.

We can’t let the Estate take the limelight here though because it’s too distinctive to be truly unexceptional, and in fact borders on the cool – or at the very least the kitsch. For our purposes the hatchback is where it’s at, which is great apart from there is very little particularly interesting to write about it. From a technical perspective it’s as unadventurous as they come. There was no performance variant and the engine choice was limited to 1.3 or 1.5 litres, with even the larger motor failing to exceed 90 BHP. The styling is barely worthy of the word “styling” but the worst that can be said is that it is forgettable. It’s too conservative to be ugly, rather it’s just very restrained and perhaps anonymous. The interior is a sea of mouse grey, the seats are as flat as a pancake and the controls limited to the essentials. But so what? That’s exactly how it was meant to be. Toyota are very good at building hardy and reliable everyday cars. You may think it’s nothing but an appliance, but that’s exactly why it’s so rare now, and because it was so good at being a consumer appliance most people never considered preserving one. DVLA records show that across all models remaining in the UK there are 77 parked up and declared SORN with only 16 of any type are licenced and on the road. Of the total survivors, an overwhelming 70 are 4WD Estates but as that’s the most (or only) interesting variant so it makes sense. The regular Tercel hatchback is therefore extremely scarce, but we’ve found one and it seems to be the only example for sale right now in the UK.

We found this 1984 Tercel GL Automatic in a private classified advert on Car and Classic and it’s a time warp car. The seller reports it only had one owner for its first 33 years and covered a mere 23,000 miles in that time. The handbook and stamped service records are present and it’s still got the original Toyota tool kit too. It looks smart enough in the photos and whilst the seller advises it needs attention to a front wing the rest of the body looks straight. The MOT has expired so we’d advise a close inspection and a good rummage underneath. You can check MOT history online these days so you can get suss out any previous problem areas from the comfort of your own home, and whilst there may be some points worth closer inspection it actually looks reasonably encouraging. If you want a Tercel you could be waiting a while to find another and this one is advertised for £1,100 with “serious offers invited”. I’m not going to debate if it’s a “classic” or not, but it’s a great survivor of a model that has no airs and graces and doesn’t pretend to be anything other than a dependable, no-nonsense car. At worst, you’ll have nearly a year to get it fully shipshape for the next Festival of the Unexceptional and surely a concours award is in the bag? After all, you can’t possibly be much more overlooked than a Toyota Tercel. And it rhymes with Turtle. Get it bought.
Here are a few pictures which we borrowed from the advert:

And not least, if you’re tempted by all this mediocrity while having a profound desire to impress at next year’s Festival of the Unexceptional, you will of course need a link to the advert: 1984 Toyota Tercel 1.3 GL automatic


With our Saturday instalment of Prime Find of the Week, we’re offering our services to the classic car community, by passing on our favourite classic car for sale from the week that passed. This top-tip might help a first-time-buyer to own his first classic, or it could even be the perfect motivation for a multiple-classic-car-owner to expand his garage with something different. We’ll let us inspire by anything from a cheap project to a stunning concours exotic, and hope that you will do the same.
Just remember – Any Classic is Better than No Classic! We obviously invite our readers to help prospective buyers with your views and maybe even experiences of any given model we feature. Further to that, if you stumble across a classic which you feel we ought to feature as Prime Find of the Week, then please send us a link to

2 Responses

  1. Anders Bilidt

    I’m always fond of the underdog. The second generation Tercel is most certainly that!
    It is indeed immensely average in every perceivable way – except f course for just how rare it has become today.
    Still, if I was going to become a Tercel owner myself, it would have to be the three-door first generation Tercel with the big glass hatchback.


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