Spannerhead Dot

Unforgettable: My 1982 Toyota Tercel

August 5, 2011 by Matt

1982 Toyota Tercel 5-Speed

First car. First whiff of true freedom. First opportunity to bond with a machine and develop hard opinions about makes and models. First taste of the “me versus the world” rush when you’re driving alone at night, tape deck stereo blaring, windows down on a cool fall evening, the soft glare of the dash lights and piercing stare of the streetlights merging to bolster the rhythm of the music in your mind. There’s something to it.

My conveyance for all those experiences was the chariot pictured at the top of this post: a 1982 Toyota Tercel. 1.5l SOHC 4-cylinder. 60 hp of fury. 5-speed. Twinkie.

Yes, Twinkie. Other than our present minivan (the Minkevan), it’s the only time a car of mine has acquired a name and it stuck. It was so named ostensibly because it was sort of Twinkie-shaped, light brown with white stuff inside. Yeah… The nickname was so apt, actually, that for a time Twinkie was more well-known in my social circles than I was. “Oh, you’re Twinkie’s owner,” was a phrase I heard more than once.

1982 Toyota Tercel 5-Speed

The car saw me through everything. It knew more about me than literally anyone. And it was the epitome of faithfulness: Over the six years and ~75K that I owned it, it broke down exactly once, when the timing belt snapped northbound on I95 near Roanoke Rapids. Even then, $45 and two hours repair at a local gas station later, it was back on the road, running as well as ever. Longitudinal, non-interference engines FTW.

The car’s time with me spanned my last two years of high school, and all of college, amassing countless stories, but I’ll just share this one. When I moved to Florida right out of school (early ’02) and got my first real job with a boatbuilding firm, I knew Twinkie was nearing the end of its time with me. Its paint was fading, its silver wheels were darkened and the rust spots here and there were growing, its deterioration exacerbated by the hot, salty climate in St. Augustine.

With the acquisition of my Supra Turbo a month or so after I arrived, I started looking for a new owner for Twinkie. Fortuitously, a coworker of mine, Bob (incidentally, my favorite person in Florida), needed another car. Bob was a ponytailed, chain-smoking ex-hippie who lived in a trailer that looked as if he had constructed it himself entirely of plywood sheets. He had an assortment of farm animals in the backyard and even kept two or three peacocks. He was handy with tools and had built his own catamaran when he lived in Clearwater, on the Gulf side of the state. His family was the most functional imaginable; his beautiful wife and two boys were beyond polite and hospitable.

He was also a VW Beetle enthusiast, with around a dozen rusting Beetle carcasses in his backyard along with some other projects like an old MGA roadster and a Triumph motorcycle in his shed. He drove an orange Beetle to work every day, but complained regularly about how hard it was to start in the mornings. He mentioned offhand to me how nice it would be if he owned a car that would start for him every morning. I told him I was selling Twinkie and we struck a deal.

1982 Toyota Tercel 5-Speed

It was hard to watch him drive away from my apartment in the car that had borne me on so many adventures, but I knew it was in good hands. The ultimate confirmation of that came a few days later. Walking from my usual parking spot into work, I passed Twinkie sitting in the lot and did a double take. Bob had completely cleaned it up. The rust spots were gone, filled in temporarily with some putty awaiting a sanding and respray. The wheels had been cleaned and polished. The front speakers, the little paper cones I had meant to replace for years, Bob had yanked and put in new 4″ Sonys. And the whole car had a nice coat of wax and was shiny and beaming. I knew I couldn’t have passed it on to a better new owner. It brought my time with Twinkie to a fitting close.

Filed under: Car Stories, Our Cars, Toyota


  1. asher swing says:

    my first car too was a 82 tercel, silver color, loved that car, was like a tank in snow, could go through anything

  2. asher swing says:

    my next car was a 85 celica

  3. asher swing says:

    sold my tercel to a new immigrant from africa, worked as a pizza delivery driver

Leave a Reply