For about six months in 2005/6 I had the pleasure of owning a 1998 Daihatsu Charade GTI, mine was a pretty ropey example but it was a very entertaining 6 months!
Daihatsu has a bit of a history with slightly mad small cars, I’m sure most car enthusiasts will be familiar with the little 3 pot turbo Charade GTti of the late 1980s and early 1990s. Daihatsu have since gone on to give us the 660cc turbo charged Cuore Avanzato TR-XX R4 Kei car (surely a contender for the longest car name ever) and the bizzare but strangely appealing (to me anyway) YRV Turbo.
Fewer people however, seem to be familiar with the GTI version of the 4th generation Charade which was produced between 1993 and 2000. By Daihatsu’s standards this was a fairly unexciting car, no turbo, no 4 wheel drive but what it did have was a pokey SOHC 1.3 16v engine producing about 100 bhp. The first time I clapped eyes on the Charade it was sitting on a driveway with a ‘For Sale’ sign in the window and neither I nor my friends had any idea what it was (this example had also been de-badged, making the guessing game even more difficult). After passing the car daily for a couple of weeks, curiosity got the better of me and I went to find out what it was. I was glad I did, after a good check over and a test drive it was clear that the car was quick and handled well and shortly afterwards I became the new owner of a Charade GTI. The rarity value of the car appealed greatly and I loved that no one know what it was!
This car had a fair few modifications (in fact, looking back on it, it was slightly chavvy) in the form of a 4 branch manifold and performance exhaust, lowered suspension and some white OZ multi-spoke alloys. The high revving little engine and non-standard exhaust combined to make a lovely deep but subtle noise and the lowered suspension meant that the car remained very flat around corners, the pay off for this was a harsh ride and serious arch rubbing if anyone sat in the back! Ultimately the car was relatively unsophisticated but the engine was free revving and pulled hard, the gearbox was smooth and the brakes were strong. The interior was typically Japanese but very comfortable and functional.
Life with the Charade ended after 6 months as it had quite a liking for Castrol and required frequent top ups, it then disgraced itself in an MOT station by filling it with white smoke – its head gasket had failed whilst it was sitting in the garage! Faced with the decision of paying to fix it or just move it on I opted for the latter. However, of all the cars I have owned, if I could go back and own one again this would be pretty high up my list, a rare and underrated car which was cheap to run and insure and was fantastic fun to blast around the B Roads of Mid-Wales. In the 6 years or so since owning mine I have never seen another one the road and have only ever seen one other for sale, they certainly don’t seem to have attracted the following of the earlier GTti but perhaps one day I’ll find another.