Toyota Celica Story
Toyota Celica is the Japanese pony car that helped jumpstart America’s love affair with imports. It kicked in WRC and taking names before the W.R and Evo even showed up to the party. This is everything you need to know about the Toyota Celica. The year was 1970 and American muscle cars were selling like hotcakes. Japanese cars, on the other hand, weren’t so much. Toyota realized that to sell more cars to Americans.
Toyota Celica Born
Toyota was going to have to start building them more suited to American tastes, bigger engines, bigger seats. At the Tokyo Motor Show that October, they launched a new two-door coupe designed for the worldwide market. Meaning it could fit tall drivers. It was named the Toyota Celica, which came from a Latin word that meant celestial or heavenly. It was based on the Toyota Carina and it was a little bigger than the ultra-compact Corolla. Of course, it was practical and affordable, but the Toyota Celica had some more.
It was sporty and it launched in the US in the middle of nineteen seventy-one with a price significantly lower than the Mustang. Under the long hood was a one-point nine leader in line for that made barely 90 heavenly ponies.
To top it off, the best selling Mustang had gotten a case of the bloat and both its weight and waistline were increasing, just like that crazy TV doctor’s time-traveling telephone booth. The Toyota Celica was small on the outside but big on the inside.
Celica was also the first Japanese car to be partially built on an automated assembly line, which gave it better build quality than its American competitors. It had standard front desk brakes, a sweet 4-speed manual transmission, and independent McPhearson Strutt suspension upfront. The little Japanese bad boy car had a lot of things going for it and people started buying them. One of those early cars went to Anderson, who kicked off the siliceous long racing career in the WRC with a ninth-place finish in their first rally.
He formed Toyota Team Europe and kept racing while he waited for boost and even more drive wheels. Soon higher performance trims were introduced and both engine size and sales crept higher. In 1976, they introduced a sporty or more practical liftback model with folding rear seats and a 2.2-liter engine.
You have the Toyota left by the new trim, had vertical taillights and louvers on the sea pillar, and it looked suspiciously like a little Mustang. Suspicious or not, it was a huge hit and motor trend in the Celica, their import car of the year. Toyota had already sold over a million of the Japanese poni cars worldwide before 1977 was done.
The second-generation Toyota Celica debuted in 1978 with a new look pendent Toyota Sokal design studio by former child actor David Stolarik.
The new car was a little bigger and more comfortable with a low beltline and expansive windows. It had the same 2.2-liter engine, but the already good Toyota Celica was so improved that it one motor trend import car of the year. Again, only two years after its first win in the rest of the world, the Celica was offered in what was called a full choice system with two body styles, a bunch of engine sizes, a bunch of transmissions, a bunch of optional features.
And at one point there was forty-nine unique sell covariance for sale in Japan. This car is confusing. I’m sorry if it is wrong.
It was at this point that the Toyota Celica started to spawn some celestial children first in 1979, a new trend called the Toyota Celica Supra was born.
You ever heard of a little pig's little piggies?
I bet when I said that word, some of you were making ramen and you were like, huh, Supra?
It had a Celica but with a longer front end to fit a one hundred and ten horsepower, 2.6-liter straight-six under the hood. The rest is tooner history. We covered this car in one of our first episodes of Up to Speed. Oh, you know what that reminds me of.
Then in 1980 four-door Celica Camry came out in Japan. It was just the Toyota Corona with a Celica Super Front end, but it soon spun off one of the most sedate and successful sedans in America. Right about when Indiana Jones was trying to raid the Ark of the Covenant before the bad guys did, the redesigned third-generation Toyota Celica came out. It got a full early eighties makeover, complete with flat body panels, boxy lines, and aerodynamic headlights, a tilted forward just like the Lamborghini era.
You are so beautiful, Toyota Celica.
The interior took a futuristic leap forward with a digital dash and one of the world’s first in-car GPS navigation systems. In eighty-two, the first turbocharged Celica finally went on sale in Japan. And you better believe a fire breathing 320-horsepower group B rally car and a few 180-horsepower homologation models weren’t far behind.
Unfortunately, the Toyota Celica was only rear-wheel drive, and it really didn’t stand a chance at winning the championship against its all-wheel-drive competitors, but that didn’t stop it from beating up on its big brothers a little bit.
Especially when the fan was a road trip in Africa. The Celica won most of the WRC rallies on that continent over the next four years and became known as the King of Africa.
Toyota is totally revamping, selling because every four years at this point, the fourth-generation debuted in 1985 in a softer, more aerodynamic shape and they switched from a real drive to a front-wheel drive.
The new transverse engine layout let them redesign the suspension and McPhearson struts to the rear, which gave it better handling. Dan Gurney’s all-American racers teams started dominating the IMSA race series, proving Celica could hustle around a race track as well as a rally stage, even with front-wheel drive.
But Toyota still had rallied on the brake because they soon introduced the 190-hp turbocharged 2.0-liter Toyota Celica for the all checked bumper. It was the most powerful two-liter to come out of Japan. And this bad boy had a:
- Full-time all-wheel drive.
- Center locking differential.
The Toyota Celica was finally able to beat up on its Routley brothers, Lars and Carlos, Signe’s took home the 1990 WRC driver’s championship. Toyota was the first Japanese manufacturer to race all-wheel-drive cars, and WRC, and beat the European manufacturers to win rally titles right on schedule. A super curvy Celica facelift arrived at the end of 1989. All the selling cars were vastly improved, with upgraded interiors, smoother engines, and bigger wheels and tires. Meanwhile, older selling cars were actually winning awards from the press for their reliability.
The new all track Toyota Celica got more aggressive than everybody, but the US got a limited run. A special edition with lighter bumpers event vented hood better inner cooler. The newly pumped-up Toyota was laying it in WRC, winning the drivers championship three years in a row, starting in 1992.
Yep, you guessed it, after four years of the ultra round body style, the sculpted six-generation Toyota Celica arrived in 1993.
The rest of the world got a sweet new GTI for making 250-ho and in the States, we didn’t get it.
That’s a shame because this was the coolest homologation Celica yet it had an upgraded Turbo and Superstruct suspension, a lightweight aluminum hood, and a big wing. Well, it also left the factory with water injection, a water sprayer on the inner core, and all the plumbing needed for a fully functional anti-lock system that’s pushed back from the that’s that I got.
Toyota’s successful racing streak continued with the new GT for the six-generation Toyota Celica was the first rally car used in the antithetic system, which is common practice now. Rod Millán won the Pikes Peak International Hill climb three times and set a record time that stood for ten years.
Toyota lawyered up and threw a fit. No way you can punish us. We had no idea what was going on. And the FAA was like, even if it wasn’t your idea, it’s still your problem.
Toyota Team Europe was still doing really well in the 1995 WRC season to actually they were doing really well until Rally Catalunya when they were found to be cheating.
Earlier that year, those pesky FIA rules guys had decided that WRC cars were creeping closer to dangerous group speeds again, and they made all the fastest turbo cars install a restrictor plate to limit horsepower. But someone at the Toyota team came up with a brilliant workaround that let ergo right past the restrictor plate.
Yes, some independent teams still ran for us in 1997. But that was pretty much the end of the Toyota Celica’s rally glory.
Last Celica Generations
Toyota took a little more than four years to bring the seventh and final generation Celica to the market. This time they showed a dramatically different concept car at the 1999 Detroit Motor Show. And the 2000 Celica came out looking almost exactly like it.
It was angular and chiseled, just like my pecs and the long-running coupe convertible and GT for models were all in favor of a simpler all hatchback lineup. The same dude who managed the 3rd generation development, Tadashi Nakagawa, was also in charge of the latest Celica. His mission was to make it cheaper and lighter, which he did by eliminating redundant interior controls, making the sunroof out of plastic, and using a smaller 1.8-liter engine. But it wasn’t just any old 1.8-liter engine.
It was a high-performance VTI 1.8-liter engine. That means variable valve timing with intelligence. The base trim got the 140 hp, ZF, and the GTS got the 180 horsepower. Toyota Celica had DTL, which means variable valve timing, and left with the intelligence. So it was like Toyota’s version of the attack and was one of the handful engines with a red line over 8000 rpm, and making more than 100 hp per liter.
It’s such a good engine that Lotus used it in the Elisse and there were a ton of trade performance parts available. There was even a factory body set with a front fascia, side skirts, and a big boy rear wing. It was all these stuff car enthusiasts should have wanted, but it was all coming at a time when the import scene was starting to cool off and more people wanted SUVs. Sales dropped off fast and furious, and the Toyota Celica was pulled from the American market at the end of 2005.
Over more than 35 years Toyota made millions of affordable sports cars and the Toyota Celica may now be gone, but its spirit lives on in our hearts.