Home » Nearly Forgotten Runabouts: 1982 Toyota Tercel vs 1995 Geo Prizm

Nearly Forgotten Runabouts: 1982 Toyota Tercel vs 1995 Geo Prizm

Sbsd 11 22 2023
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Welcome back to another Shitbox Showdown! Today we’ve got a couple of economy-minded cars you probably haven’t thought about in a while. And the good news is, they’re not half bad deals for once! Both of them run, neither one of them is rusty, and the prices are more or less reasonable. I guess I’m just feeling magnanimous.

Yesterday’s choices weren’t half bad either, I thought, but you didn’t have much to say about them one way or the other. I expected the Valiant to tug at some more heartstrings – who doesn’t love a big chrome Hurst shifter? But in the end, the Thunderbird took an easy win.

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As for me, I’m not sure which way I would go on that choice. I do love a good personal luxury coupe. but a Thunderbird would not be my first choice. I’d be looking for a Chrysler Cordoba, I think, if I wanted a car like that. Or a G-body Pontiac Grand Prix, though they’re getting really hard to find. So I think, between these two, I’d take the Valiant, but it’s a close call. If it were a two-door hardtop or a Duster, it would be a lot more clear-cut choice, of course.

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Anyway, what do you say to a couple of old stickshift Toyotas? One of them says “Corolla” on the back but really isn’t one, and the other one actually is a Corolla but doesn’t even say “Toyota” on it. But what’s in a name? That which we call a shitbox, by any other name, would be as sweet of a deal. Or something like that. Here they are.

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1982 Toyota Corolla Tercel – $3,500

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Engine/drivetrain: 1,5 liter overhead cam inline 4, five-speed manual, FWD

Location: Salem, OR

Odometer reading: 181,000 miles

Runs/drives? Yep!

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In the late 1970s, Toyota had already made a name for itself in the US as a maker of reliable, efficient little cars, largely on the success of the popular Corolla model. Maybe that’s why this car, Toyota’s first front-wheel-drive car, bore the name “Corolla Tercel” for the first couple of years, even though it had nothing in common with the rear-wheel-drive Corolla line. Toyota also briefly sold the Starlet here, an even smaller rear-wheel-drive hatchback that looked a lot like the Tercel; I guess it wanted to make its model lineup as confusing as possible.

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The first couple generations of Tercel had a bizarre drivetrain layout, which Jason has discussed before. It has a longitudinally-mounted engine, unusual but not unheard-of for a front-driver. But the engine sits atop the differential and final drive, rather than in front of it, with the gearbox slung out behind both. Toyota apparently figured out early on that this setup would make a 4WD version easy, but this generation was never so equipped. You’ll also notice that the drivetrain is slightly to the left of the car’s centerline. No, the engine’s not canted-over like an Audi or a Saab – the whole thing is actually off-center.

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However weird it may be, it worked great, and the Tercel became at least as well-known for reliability and durability as the Corolla. They’re a rare sight these days, owing to Toyota’s near-complete lack of rust prevention in the late 1970s and early ’80s, but this one seems to have survived the decades in fine form. There’s no sign of rust that I can see, and the seller says everything works just fine. It could use new tires, it sounds like, on those sharp-looking gold wheels, but apart from that it’s ready to rock.

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You probably wouldn’t want to drive this car every day – sixty horsepower and a near-complete lack of creature comforts would get tiresome quickly – but unlike a lot of classics, you could, if you wanted to.

1995 Geo Prizm LSi – $2,200

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Engine/drivetrain: 1.8 liter dual overhead cam inline 4, five-speed manual, FWD

Location: Hillsboro, OR

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Odometer reading: 194,000 miles

Runs/drives? Indeed!

A decade or so later, in California, New United Motor Manufacturing Incorporated was cranking out Toyota Corollas for the US market, only they didn’t call them Corollas. Okay, they weren’t quite Corollas; they were actually based on a Corolla variant called the Sprinter, but they weren’t called that either. They were Prizms, sold through Chevrolet’s short-lived Geo brand.

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This is a second-generation Prizm, based on the seventh-generation Sprinter. It’s the fancy LSi model, powered by Toyota’s 7A-FE four-cylinder engine, driving the front wheels through a five-speed manual. I used to own a Corolla of this generation with the same powertrain; it’s as sturdy as they come, but it won’t exactly raise your pulse rate. The seller says it runs just fine, and that the engine was “serviced” in March. That could mean anything, but hopefully it includes the timing belt and water pump, due every 60,000 miles on these, if I recall.

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As an LSi model, it also includes such niceties as a sunroof, power windows and locks, and – surprisingly for a Geo – leather seats. The photos show a popped seam on the driver’s side, but otherwise it looks pretty good for a twenty-eight-year-old car with nearly two hundred thousand miles.

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This car would, obviously, make a brilliant daily driver, assuming you want something with a stick, and if not, why are you reading this site? Yeah, it’s a little dull, but at least it’s not the zero-options penalty box that my Corolla was. It’s funny; I used to love plain-Jane base models, now this is about the bare minimum of stuff I’m willing to tolerate on a daily driver.

I’m not sure there’s a bad choice here, which is unusual, I know. They’re not performance cars, but performance isn’t everything, and a well-built car just feels good to drive. Either one could be daily driven, and frankly, either one could be tidied up a bit and shown off at Cars & Coffee. I mean, when was the last time you saw a nice Geo Prizm or first-gen Tercel? All you have to do is choose.

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(Image credits: Craigslist sellers)

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Shaun hoffman
Shaun hoffman
1 month ago

I actually bought that Tercel for my daughter for her first car . It gets a lot of looks and compliments, most the paint polished out nice aside from the hood and truck . She’s having a blast learning to work on cars. Ditched the carb and all the emissions bs (30 lbs of stuff ) and put on a Webber . Finding some parts is almost impossible mostly the windshield other than she absolutely loves it .

Andrew Martin
Andrew Martin
4 months ago

Tercel for me, all day.

I grew up riding in the back of a 1982 Tercel 2-door, in this exact color. It was a more muted red – I wonder if this one has been re-sprayed.

We’d fit four of us in the thing, with a big floppy canvas bag of camping equipment strapped to the roof. I can still remember the tin can sound of the doors. Huge nostalgia.

If I had the space, I’d be seriously tempted to buy it.

Scott
Scott
4 months ago

The Prizm looks like it’d be easier to live with on a daily basis of course, but something about the bare-minimum simplicity of the Tercel makes me want it more. 😉

Urban Runabout
Urban Runabout
4 months ago

The Geo for an everyday beater.
The Tercel for Cars and Coffee.

67 Oldsmobile
67 Oldsmobile
4 months ago

It would be fun to build something tracky out of the Tercel,but if you want to do that,i guess you could just buy a Starlet or something instead. Suppose I would get the Geo as a daily driver because it is cheaper and more comfy.

The F--kshambolic Cretinoid Harvey Park
The F--kshambolic Cretinoid Harvey Park
4 months ago

The prizm, because you can actually drive it comfortably every day on most roads. I had one, and the moving parts were 100% reliable Toyota, while the plastic bits were 100% shit Chevy and mysteriously fell out or got unmoored from their clips.

Iwannadrive637
Iwannadrive637
4 months ago

My wife had a five speed Geo Prizm when I met her. Best bundled package ever.

ProudLuddite
ProudLuddite
4 months ago

The Tercel is much more interesting to me than the still kinda old used car plain Prizm, easy pick for me. Sixty ponies is plenty in this tiny platform.

Squirrelmaster
Squirrelmaster
4 months ago

I’m going to go with the Tercel, but only because I find it more interesting. My sister and her family had a similar vintage (’96, I think) Prizm back in the 90s and it was a great economy car. I think both options are decent picks.

Ford_Timelord
Ford_Timelord
4 months ago

Have had different models of both these cars. 2 X Tercel 4wd wagon (they are awesome) and now Corolla 4wd Wagon (all-trac).
I would take the Geo as this is the model designed to be a small Lexus by Toyota. The 7afe has a heap of torque for its size and the little mod cons of the LSi version would make it for a fine daily just update the suspension and brakes and you will have a fun budget car.

SirRaoulDuke
SirRaoulDuke
4 months ago

I’ll choose daily driving something far newer and nicer than the Prizm and take the Tercel as an inexpensive hobbyist car that I would be more than happy to take to the local cars and caffeine.

Bison78
Bison78
4 months ago

A Tercel about this vintage was the first car I drove in America. I got a puncture and I found that the spare wheel wasn’t entirely round, so it had to go back to Hertz.

JDE
JDE
4 months ago

I was all set to go Prizm, then I saw the looks of the tercel and started to waffle, until I saw the buy here, pay here stealership….the Prizm it is.

Though I do prefer the RWD and intriguing 80’s styling. And It would be interesting to try to fit a last gen F body 3.8 v6 and modern 5 speed in that little rig.

Sandshadow
Sandshadow
4 months ago
Reply to  JDE

Both these cars are FWD.

JDE
JDE
4 months ago
Reply to  Sandshadow

I did not realize they set it up that way to avoid scaring people off initially. Kind of make you wonder how hard it would be to make on AWD with say a Toyota pick up transfer case or something. weird.

Myk El
Myk El
4 months ago

Prism. I think it’s a better value, plus it will fit in with my pattern of getting cars from dead brands.

Cyko9
Cyko9
4 months ago

The Geo is a better value. I guess the Tercel is pretty rare, but it doesn’t seem desirable enough for that price. Might be a little “Toyota” tax there, too, since the Prizm is incognito.

Chump Change
Chump Change
4 months ago

I’ve got a soft spot for those old Tercels.
About 25 years ago I was back in school in the SF Bay Area and daily driving my ’67 Sprite. I traveled between the two campuses in Oakland and SF, and living in Marin, crossed the Golden Gate bridge on a regular basis. My girlfriend (and now my wife) had just been given her brother’s old long bed Mazda pickup, so I got to drive her now sidelined old Terecel. You may describe it as the “bare minimum of stuff,” but I was overwhelmed by the sheer opulence of the car! I could hear the radio. And it even had an interior light! I drove that little Terecel every time my Sprite required some work. (So quite a lot.)

Sandshadow
Sandshadow
4 months ago
Reply to  Chump Change

So you drove the Tercel more often than the Sprite?
🙂

Cheap Bastard
Cheap Bastard
4 months ago
Reply to  Chump Change

As the former owner of a TR3 I’m obligated to point out your Sprite had the sheer opulence of roll up windows and (maybe) a heater.

FloridaNative
FloridaNative
4 months ago

Nothing wrong with the Prizm and it’s more logical (and the better value) if you want some basic transportation, but that Tercel is a knockout to me! Usually not a fan of the gold treatment, but those wheels really work for that car!

J Edgar
J Edgar
4 months ago

I guess it depends on whether I’m looking for a shitbox daily driver or something strange to add to the harem, but Tercel for me. It’s local and the engine bay feels slightly familiar to this lifelong Saaber. If I didn’t already have 9 cars (7 Saabs) I’d go check it out.

Gilbert Wham
Gilbert Wham
4 months ago
Reply to  J Edgar

I could see why you’d want it, but I’m not entirely sure you own enough saabs yet to go buying other cars.

Manwich Sandwich
Manwich Sandwich
4 months ago

Geo Prizm for me. Of all the Geos, it’s probably the best one to get.

Geoffrey Reuther
Geoffrey Reuther
4 months ago

Tough one. Went with the Tercel just for the rarity-and-age factor, though I’d rock either one.

Now if it was a DIFFERENT Geo, perhaps one made by Isuzu, my tone would be quite different…

JDE
JDE
4 months ago

the storm was OK, but nothing great really. still perhaps a more fun version of a GEO I suppose. They should have tarted up the MR2 and perhaps elongated it a little to provide the same tiny back seats.

Geoffrey Reuther
Geoffrey Reuther
4 months ago
Reply to  JDE

See, I found the Storm and the Saturn SC2 to be quite fun while still being economical, reasonable to insure, and have at least a modicum of practicality. As a young driver not living at home at the time, those were very important.

Andy Individual
Andy Individual
4 months ago

$3500 for a 40year old economy car. It’s probably close to what it cost new. What a world we live in…

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