Daihatsu Charade Turbo

The story of the 3-cylinder Daihatsu Charade Turbo. It's a great fun little car that responds to power-ups like you wouldn't believe!

By Michael Knowling

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Before the mid-1980s, Daihatsu Australia had never marketed a high performance vehicle - it specialised in basic passenger and commercial vehicles at affordable prices. Typifying this were the 3 and 5-door G11 Charades of 1983, which carried over the same three-cylinder CB60 engine as used in the previous G10 model. This transverse 993cc motor used a balance shaft, belt-driven single overhead cam, 6-valves and a dual-choke Aisan carburettor. With 38kW and 75.5Nm, the little engine could propel the standard G11 Charade over the quarter mile in around 20 seconds - certainly a long way short of being 'high performance'.

However, not long into the Australian life of the G11, an interesting sales avenue opened up - the Nissan Pulsar EXA and Mitsubishi Cordia GSR had created a niche for cheap turbocars. Recognising this, Daihatsu decided to import its Japanese-market G11R turbo variant to Australia. This pint-sized ball of fun arrived in June 1984 with the performance to compete closely with the established Nissan EXA. But the Daihatsu held one major advantage - it was the only Australian turbocar to retail for under $10,000.

The Charade Turbo's force-inducted 3-pot engine was a joint venture between Daihatsu Japan and IHI-Hitachi. Using the standard CB60 993cc engine as its base, the project called for a lowered static compression ratio (from 9.5:1 to 8.0:1), an electric fuel pump and associated regulator, a water-to-oil cooler, a larger diameter exhaust and a revised air filter system. The chosen V04-trim IHI RHB32 turbocharger was one of the smallest in the world; this was used to pressurise a downdraft Aisan carburettor to around 7 psi. Due to the mild boost level, no form of intercooling was required.

The Daihatsu-IHI turbo package saw power climb to 50kW at 5500 rpm, along with 106Nm of torque at 3200 rpm.

Due to the availability of this newfound grunt, a heavier duty clutch was roped-in to link the (mandatory) 5-speed manual gearbox. The gearbox ratios remained identical to the atmo's, though the open-centre diff ratio was lowered to 4.642:1. Gearbox operation - like the clutch - was wonderfully light and precise.

With an 'awesome' 50kW to haul around its 700kg mass, the diminutive turbo hatch could accelerate from standstill to 100 km/h between 10.4 - 10.8 seconds and cover 400m in around 17.1 seconds. The turbocharged threesome was never a smooth-running engine, but - nevertheless - it did deliver some unexpected performance. It was also very responsive, as the tiny IHI turbocharger was ever-so eager to climb onto boost. As you might expect, fuel consumption was truly amazing for a car with such performance - try less than 6 litres per 100km!

The Charade Turbo's relatively simple FWD suspension was based on the atmo model, though it was mildly upgraded to suit. The rear suspension used the hereditary beam axle located by four links and a Panhard rod, with the turbo model also receiving a hollow 21mm swaybar. At the front were MacPherson struts (using uprated springs) and a solid 24mm anti-roll bar. The Charade Turbo handled reasonably well, though it would push into mild understeer at extremes. As an around-town throw-about machine, however, it was fantastic fun - so long as you weren't expecting a seamless ride...

The atmo G11's steel rims were swapped for 13 x 4.5-inch alloys wearing wider 165/70 tyres, while a quicker-ratio (non assisted) rack-and-pinion steering box also made its way into the turbo variant. These changes teamed to make the car's steering quite direct and provided excellent feel. Slowing the 700kg bantamweight was the atmo model's 208mm solid front discs and 180mm rear drums; despite not being upgraded, their performance was quite adequate.

On the outside, Daihatsu were keen to identify their new hot hatch as a turbo. Turbo badges and stickers were splashed on the grille, side protector strips, rear hatch, steering wheel and the front seats. However, the turbo model's 5-door body varied little to the atmo Charade - having only a revised grille, slightly deeper bumpers and black doorframes. The aforementioned alloy wheels were the largest distinguishing feature (if you can call 13-inch wheels large...).

Indoors was a colour scheme that was - to put it mildly - eye catching. Bright red fabric inserts combined with black trimming certainly set the car apart. Additional bolstering improved the seating - but they still weren't up to the standard of the contemporary EXA or Cordia GSR. The standard Charade's instruments were also upgraded with a 180 km/h speedo, tacho and a green boost light. Surprisingly, the Charade gave quite generous front headroom and legroom - though front width and rear space (overall) was quite limited.

G11 Update (aka Series 2)

An update of the G11 Charade Turbo was released in late 1985, which has since been dubbed the 'Series 2'. Amongst its claimed 151 improvements was a new nosecone with flush headlights and a different grille, a revised rear with new tail lights, deeper bumpers, double door seals, twin exhaust tips and a relocated Panhard rod. Wider lacy-style alloys - 13 x 5-inch - were also fitted to compliment the more pleasing aesthetics.

Inside were more highly bolstered sports seats (as good as those in the Cordia GSR), a grippy three-spoke steering wheel, remote adjustable mirrors and other trim changes. Thankfully, the overall colour contrast was also turned down a notch. These interior changes - like the external ones - certainly created a more appealing package. The updated G11 turbo remained exactly the same under the bonnet and, interestingly, the 1986 introduction of unleaded fuel (and its accompanying catalytic converter) apparently resulted in no loss of power or performance.

Daihatsu continued to sell a reasonable number of Charade Turbos thanks to their updated model - even though its RRP did rise by over 10 percent.

The G100 Attempt

With the next generation of vehicles fast approaching, Daihatsu introduced their all-new G100 Charade during 1987. Wider, longer and taller than the G11, this car lost a lot of the previous car's 'skateboard' feel. On the other hand, it was much more refined - largely due to its independent rear suspension.

At the time of its low-key 1987 release, the turbocharged G100 Charade was thrown into a market where engines had advanced massively; multi-valves, double overhead cams, intercoolers and multi-point EFI were now the custom. The poor G100 Turbo - which was still using the 1-litre G11 carby turbo engine in its heavier body - simply couldn't compete. With its 50kW output, the G100 model struggled to overcome its 60-odd kilograms of extra weight and taller final drive ratio (4.642 down to 4.5:1); 0 - 100 km/h now took 12.1 - 12.9 seconds and the quarter mile stretched out to 18.3 - 18.5.

Without doubt, the Charade Turbo's sparkle had all but gone.

Just like the original 1984 Charade Turbo, the body of the G100 Turbo was barely distinguishable from the NA car. Only a couple of turbo stickers made their way on, along with a front bumper extension and 13-inch alloys (14-inch alloys were optional). Overall, it was a much less of 'lout' car, with the interior also adopting a neutral grey-on-grey colour scheme. Instrumentation, as before, received a tacho, speedo and a boost light. Air-con remained as an option.

Under the skin, the G100 moved up to MacPherson struts all 'round - its dual-link IRS improving the ride quality dramatically. Swaybars also continued to be fitted to the turbo model front and rear. Out on the blacktop, the G100 Charade Turbo's handling maintained the typical FWD bias of mild understeer when pushed. Braking performance remained average with just drums fitted at the rear.

Up against cars like the AWD Ford TX3 Turbo, the turbocharged G100 understandably sold very poorly and for only a short time in Australia. Unfortunately - despite lending a trial example to the contemporary motoring press - Daihatsu decided not to pursue the option of importing the stove-hot Japanese-market GT-ti Charade. The GT-ti model sported a twin-cam, 12 valve, EFI version of the original carby turbo engine, called the CB70. Factory equipped with a much larger RHB5 turbocharger and an air-to-air intercooler, this powerhouse generated an awesome 74kW at 6500 rpm along with 130Nm at 3500.

So - without the performance derived from this updated Japanese-market engine - the Charade Turbo quietly died off in the Australian market. Such a tiny turbocharged car has not been released here ever since.

A Used Charade Turbo?

Charade turbos are now becoming quite rare. This is primarily due to their age and - importantly - the fact that repairs can cost nearly as much as the value of the car. A typical 1984 Charade Turbo sells for $2000-3500, a Series 2 might cost an extra $500-1000 and a G100 turbo - if you can find one - goes for around $5000.

Certainly, the Charade turbo is a car that can cost a lot to repair if not properly maintained. The small IHI turbocharger can wear out ultra-fast if quality oil changes have not been performed - and the valvetrain is also prone to wear out for the same reason. Typically, it will cost around $800 to have the turbo rebuilt (drive in, drive-out) and a head rebuild might cost around the same. The bottom-end is typically only good for around 140,000 kilometres before it will require a full rebuild. Note that secondhand import Charade Turbo engines have now become almost impossible to find and the same goes for their little RHB32 turbochargers. This means, if something major goes wrong with your Charade Turbo, you'll need to rebuild it - or change to a different turbo and/or engine.

And this is where we get to the fun bit!

Instead of fixing the standard engine and returning to as-standard performance, quite a few people have transplanted in the DOHC CB70 motor out of the later GT-ti. A second-hand import G100 GT-ti front-cut typically cost around $2500 (complete with ECU and loom) and the conversion into the G11 chassis is relatively straightforward. A custom top engine mount needs to be fabricated, a higher-pressure fuel system must be installed (preferably with a swirl tank) and the rest is pretty much "easy" (so we're told). The standard G11 turbo gearbox can be left in place for service, or - if you want added durability - it is possible to install the stronger GT-ti gearbox along with custom driveshafts.

Because the GT-ti was built on a G100 platform, it's even easier to transplant the DOHC CB70 engine and driveline into the local G100 Turbo body. If you're stripping all the bits off a half-cut, the only mod that "should" be required is to adapt the EFI fuel system.

Note that the Japanese-spec GT-ti engine with - maybe - a big exhaust, modified air intake, bigger intercooler and more boost should easily be good around 100kW. This kind of power is enough to push a G11 or G100 Charade into the 14s over the quarter mile. Not bad, eh?

Pulling back a bit, however, it is still possible to get good performance from the standard CB60 SOHC carby turbo engine. In AutoSpeed's experience, just a K&N filter straight on the side of the turbo, a large (secondhand) front-mount air-to-air intercooler, high-flow 2?-inch exhaust, larger secondary jet in the carburettor and around 15 psi boost gives the car proven 15.6-second quarter mile performance.

That is, so long as the engine and turbo are still in sound condition...

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