In terms of the unique cars I see out in the wild and post to my Instagram account (@MountainWestCarSpotter, follow me!), I can break things down into a few different tiers, which should help to explain why I was so excited when I saw this Daihatsu Charade.
First, you’ve got more common cool cars that I can find something interesting to talk about, like old Ford Broncos and Toyota Land Cruisers, maybe a Volkswagen Eurovan here and there or a high-performance Audi model like the RS4.
Next come the oddballs, like a grey market Mitsubishi Delica or some other JDM oddity, or a Volkswagen Vanagon Syncro, or maybe a North American-spec Land Rover Defender — these vehicles are around and you see them fairly consistently, but they’re still pretty rare and pretty cool.
From there, you get into the really weird stuff, like a Subaru BRAT, a Toyota Van, a Merkur or maybe a YJ Jeep Wrangler Renegade. These are cars that are super rare, but still have a small following given the reasonably positive attributes they hold, and hence, you’ll see them on occasion.
Then are the unicorns, cars that statistically speaking, you should almost never see because they are extremely rare, very difficult to maintain, offer few positives or have some business school case-study-worthy reason as to why they failed miserably in this market. Almost nobody cares about these vehicles. Things like the Nissan Axxess, the Hyundai Scoupe or a U.S.-market Mitsubishi Van or anything sold in the U.S. by Renault or Peugeot or Sterling … or Daihatsu.
That’s where the Charade falls. Daihatsu tried to enter the U.S. market in 1988, but it only lasted until 1992, as the cards were stacked against it from the start. Over the course of these five model years, Daihatsu offered either two or three vehicles, depending on how you look at it. There was the Rocky, a compact, convertible 4×4 in the same vein as the Suzuki Samurai and the Charade, which was sold in two body styles — a 4-door sedan and a 3-door hatch, which is pictured here.
The Charade that I saw was a 1991 SE model, and based on its automatic transmission we can tell that it employs a 78-horsepower 1.3-liter 4-cylinder engine — the more powerful of the two engines offered, believe it or not. The Charade’s closest competitor was the Geo Metro, but the Charade’s problem was that it gave you less car for more money than the Metro, which, as demonstrated by Korean automakers over the last two decades, is the exact opposite of what any automaker should do when looking for success in a new market. Still, by most accounts, the Charade had excellent build quality, and other things, such as pricing mistakes and the uphill battle of establishing a brand in a new market, likely played a large part in Daihatsu’s failure in the United States.
I spotted this Charade on my way out of Breckenridge on a recent trip to Denver, Colorado. As I tend to do, I opted to take a side street on my way out of town, rather than the main road, with the hopes that I might unearth some hidden gem like this. As I rounded a bend, the Charade immediately caught my eye, thanks to the panel between its taillights and its unique, oh-so-1990s teal color. "It’s probably just a Ford Festiva," I told myself. Alas, it was not a Festiva, but a piece of 1990s automotive history. Check out the video for a little exterior tour of the Charade.
Chris O’Neill grew up in the Rust Belt and now lives in Salt Lake City, Utah. He worked in the auto industry for awhile, helping Germans design cars for Americans. On Instagram, he is the @MountainWestCarSpotter.
MORE FROM OVERSTEER:
Video | Here’s Why I’ve Already Spent $28,000 on My 2005 Ford GT
This Chrysler PT Cruiser Looks Like a London Taxi
Autotrader Find: Never-Titled 1997 Plymouth Prowler With Matching Prowler Trailer