Forgotten Mirco Car: 1990 Daihatsu Charade

By: Sam Andrews

Daihatsu is the oldest Japanese manufacturer of automobiles, although they may be least known in the United States.

There were only two Daihatsu vehicles ever sold here: the Rocky, a micro SUV, and the Charade, a micro sedan and hatchback.

Daihatsu has used the Charade nameplate continuously since 1977, but only the third generation was sold here from 1988 to 1992. This is a 1990 Charade sedan.

If the name seems unusual for a car, it’s because it was translated from Japanese and resulted in a less-than-ideal word in English. Typically, any name that has any remotely negative connotation (“This car is just a charade!”) is not a good name for a car, especially if it can be turned into jokes. But it was kept until Daihatsu pulled out of the US market in 1992.

The Charade was powered by either a tiny 3-cylinder engine or a slightly more powerful four cylinder engine. Fortunately, this cute gold example has the 16-valve four cylinder.

As far as compact Japanese cars go, the Charade is typically styled from the era, with smooth corners, unpainted plastic bumpers and quirky cut-off rear wheel wells. The c-pillar is more upright than the a-pillar. The name “Charade” is proudly written in large lettering between the taillights. Basically, it fit right alongside any other entry-level front-wheel drive car at the time.

Why was Daihatsu’s presence here so brief, then? A lot of small factors, starting with the “Charade” name. They were also priced slightly higher than the competition, there were few dealerships, and the weak three-cylinder engine made these cars poor performers. In 1989, only around 15,000 were sold, low number for an affordable economy car.

Still, the fact that there was no one big catalyst made the Daihatsu a mysterious little brand that just came and went.

Fortunately, we have this generously donated example to Habitat for Humanity’s Cars for Homes program to remind us.