By on August 12, 2013

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As America’s favorite pastime grapples with a cheating scandal involving its biggest stars, I can’t help but imagine motorsports devotees are looking on with jaded amusement. Cheating, along with exorbitant costs and tobacco sponsorships, is part and parcel of the fabric of motorsports, no matter the geographic location or formula. But few have cheated like Toyota. Who else has been accused of, or caught red-handed, at cheating in NASCAR, CART, Formula 1, and WRC? In each instance, Toyota’s machinations were always subtle and ingenious, nothing like Smokey Yunick’s 7/8th scale Chevelle or any of the famous “bending the rules” yarns. Take for example, the car you see above.

Group A cars were required to be fitted with a specific turbo restrictor that served to limit engine output. Toyota was able to engineer a special bypass valve that could not only defeat the restrictor without creating any evidence of tampering, but was designed to conceal itself when FIA technicians dismantled the turbocharger for inspection. Max Mosley himself called it “…the most sophisticated and ingenious device either I or the FIA’s technical experts have seen for a long-time.” By bypassing the restrictor, Toyota could get as much as 25 percent more airflow into the turbocharger, allowing the GT-Four to put down as much as 350 horsepower in a field where cars were limited to 300 horsepower. According to Toyota’s own specs, my friend Rob’s GT-Four puts down about 255 horsepower, but it sure feels like there might be a bypass valve in there somewhere.

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Other assorted WRC bits are there as well. Those black GT-FOUR logos you see above are actually riser blocks for the rear wing. There are provisions for an anti-lag system, as well as an intercooler water sprayer. While the latter is easy enough to find and install, the anti-lag is a true competition-only piece. Running it on the street would necessitate regular rebuilds, something that Rob isn’t keen on. But remove the interior, add a rollcage, some bucket seats and some radio equipment and you have a ready-to-roll rallycar.

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Unlike other GT-Four models, this is a WRC special, a true homologation vehicle of which only 2500 copies were produced. Previous iterations of the GT-Four were sold here as the Celica All-Trac, but the only way most people will experience the ST205 version (as its known to Toyota otakuis through copies of Gran Turismo. The “grass is greener” mentality, along with exposure via console games has led a number of enthusiasts to lionize Japan’s “bubble cars”. Some, like the Mazda RX-7, are truly special. Others, like the R32 Nissan Skyline GT-R, are just quick versions of plebian salaryman sedans, and were never imported for good reason. They spent all their money on the powertrain and threw their most dismal 240SX parts bin components at the interior. The car would have cost 300ZX money and without any of the Gee Tee Arr mythology, it would have undoubtedly languished in the showrooms compared to its more stately, luxurious and well-known brother, the 300ZX Twin Turbo.

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The GT-Four was likely the victim of similar circumstances. Previous All-Tracs sold in minimal quantities, and most Celicas were sold to the secretary crowd. Rally racing’s popularity in America at the time rivaled that of Eugene Debs during WWI. Packed full of advanced technology that nobody would have understood, yet saddled with the exterior styling and interior materials of the regular Celica, it likely would have been a flop in a marketplace that wasn’t quite ready for Japanese sports cars. But what a spectacular flop it would have been.

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Once you get over the whole right-hand drive thing, you are reminded of what good cars used to feel like. The clutch is beautifully linear, smooth engagement at just the right point through the range of pedal travel. The steering is full of heft and feedback in a way that is simply missing from today’s sports cars, save for perhaps a Lotus Exige. It’s not razor sharp like a Miata (or an FR-S, if you will), but this car isn’t for clipping apexes; no, this car is at home barreling down a snow-covered logging road, gently stepping the tail out sideways in response to careful left-foot braking. The slightly slow but communicative nature of the car is just what you want for that task.

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The Yamaha-tuned 3SGTE mill builds power in a way that reminds you of the days of journal-bearing turbochargers, but it’s not nearly as laggy as, say, an early “bugeye” WRX. Rather than the Subaru’s “dead-below-3000-rpm” on-off style of power delivery, the GT-Four lets you feel the power build slowly below 2500 rpm, before it kicks in like a jumpmaster pushing his troops out the door and towards the dropzone. Once you hit 3000 rpm, the power seems to build in a logarithmic fashion, until your left hand is forced to change cogs. Each shift is punctuated by a crisp, satisfying “kssshhhtt”. It sounds like it should be aftermarket, but it’s not. The GT-Four stops as well as it goes, too. Like the clutch, brake pedal feel is firm, with the big, monobloc calipers (borrowed from a MKIV Supra Turbo) bringing the nearly 3200 lb Celica to a halt quickly. Sourcing rotors highlights one of the unpleasant realities of owning a rare import: rotors must be ordered from Europe or Japan, and the front set alone costs $400 by the time they get to your door.

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Driving a rally-ready homologation special on a warm summer night when the tarmac is dry is almost a waste, but the biggest impediment to going fast in this car has more to do with your author than anything else. Getting used to right-hand drive in such a short timeframe was challenging. Shifting with the left hand proved to be somewhat less than impossible, but keeping the car oriented properly was tough. Throughout my drive, Rob would constantly be waving his hand to the right, a sign that I was coming close to drifting out of my lane on the left hand side and not staying far enough over on the right. I was reluctant to push the car too hard when I had trouble just staying in my lane. But I also plan to practice. According to him, it takes a few days of getting used to sitting on the “wrong” side of the car before you become proficient. This is something I plan on doing. After all, winter is coming…

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Thanks to Rob for his photographs and turning over the keys to this very special bit of motorsports history. 

 

 

 

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29 Comments on “Capsule Review: Toyota Celica GT-Four ST205 WRC Edition...”


  • avatar
    Redshift

    Nice review. A friend of mine had an ST205 and it was an interesting car. I got to drive it once, but was too distracted with dealing with being on the wrong side of the car to get much of a driving impression.
    It was a car I was always interested in. As you say, the power was good, but the whole car gave me an impression of being heavy and slow to respond. (But it might come alive it higher speeds.)

    I helped him work on it a few times, and the only real impression I have of the car is that it was not designed to be maintenance friendly. He did have to deal with the cost of brake rotors, and also had to do a set of eye-wateringly expensive struts.
    Also changing out the pump for the air to water intercooler took several times longer than it should have.

  • avatar
    Sam P

    It seems like the much more common (and 4 door) WRX STi would be the much more sane choice for ownership, but car enthusiasts are rarely about sanity.

    Great writeup.

    • 0 avatar
      CoreyDL

      Agree. This sounds like such a hassle to maintain.

      • 0 avatar
        Athos Nobile

        From my experience with another rare AWD Japanese car, there would be 3 main items that would make the whole ownership a PITA for the non-resourceful person:

        Rear struts, rear bearings, transfer case.

        Other than that, I don’t see why regular Celica bits couldn’t be used with some coaxing.

  • avatar
    Detroit-Iron

    Awesome, thanks for that. Celica All-Trac is one of my favorites from that era and of course the real deal >> All-Trac.

  • avatar
    CoreyDL

    You best be gettin’ that Scion key chain offa that key! That just ain’t right!

  • avatar

    Fantastic write up… there are crazies in this country (read: me) who are trying building their own ST205… its actually not a horrible conversion with getting parts from Japan or Europe being the real horroshow, both in price and lead time.

    https://plus.google.com/u/0/photos/103151874212590068324/albums/5704495272050887361

    hopefully that link works…

  • avatar

    I think the biggest obstacle to selling ST205 GT-Four’s would’ve probably been the cheaper, faster, lighter, simpler, road-oriented Eclipse GSX here in the states.

  • avatar
    talkstoanimals

    Man-oh-man is that a handsome car. Nice clean lines that convey a sense there’s some substance behind them. Even the wing can be excused since it is actually functional. What a contrast to most, but not all, modern Toyotas that look vaguely Rubbermaid (i.e., bland, amorphous, and disposable) to my untrained eye.

  • avatar
    daiheadjai

    Nice write-up.
    There’s a reason why even now, JGTC GT300 class cars often use the 3S-GTE engines.

    I suspect part of the allure of owning or building something like this is that the aforementioned WRXs and STis (and now, even Evos) are just too common to have much mystique.

    The 6th gen Celica looked nice (Baby Supra), but in North America, it was just saddled with too little engine for all that weight.
    IIRC, the top model we got here had all of 135hp to propel the 3000+lbs of weight.

    Integras could eat these up all day.

    • 0 avatar
      epsilonkore

      The 135HP model didnt weight 3000+ pounds, it was 2415 with all fluids (I had a first year 94 fwd stick, it was probably the lightest car I have owned). The GT4 with turbos and all wheel drive weighed in above 3000. The GT (135HP) wasnt a scorcher by any means, but it was quick, and its light handling and baby supra looks were hard to compete with. Integras of similar price points (to the GT and ST) were marginally better performers, but there was never an all wheel drive Integra with turbos from Acura that could come close to GT+4 ST205 numbers from what I can remember…

      • 0 avatar
        daiheadjai

        Good to know! Thanks for the correction.
        It certainly looked a lot beefier than 2415lbs!

      • 0 avatar
        Styles79

        What a shame you guys in the US didn’t get the 3S-GE spec that was available in Japan. I can’t believe that you guys got lumbered with the 7A-FE too, wow, I though that the NZ-new ones with the 5S-FE were weak. I can’t imagine what they’d be like with the 100-odd hp of the 7A!

        • 0 avatar
          Athos Nobile

          Toyota sold the previous gen Celica with the 3S-GE in Venezuela. 150HP.

          The next one, got a 2.0 lt engine, watered down to ~135 HP.

        • 0 avatar
          epsilonkore

          It was pretty slow, but the 7A-FE 115HP manual version were even lighter than the GT 135hp manual. A couple of benefits of low output and even lighter weight: 33+MPG was easy to achieve, and the 7A-FE would last forever with proper maintenance and a smart driver.

  • avatar
    Travis

    So so so jealous. You’re also dead right about the R32/33 interior. I’ve driven 2 32s and I can’t imagine them being something easy to live with, even in stock form. When I’m feeling especially stupid, I kick myself for not purchasing one when I had the chance.

  • avatar
    mnm4ever

    Monkey Wrench racing was selling a 7th-gen Celica with a 3S-GTE transplanted in it, it must be a monster.

    I have always loved the All-Trac, but back in the day I was too dumb to realize the potential these cars had. I wish I had picked one up back in the day and just held onto it.

  • avatar

    The trick to driving a car with the wheel on the wrong side – and by this I include the US spec VW I dragged to Japan – is to mind edge of the road and figure that if you do that right the middle will take care of itself. It takes a while to get comfortable with that, I know, but it isn’t impossible.

    It’s much harder to remember which stalk is the blinker and which is the windshield wipers. I can’t tell you how many times I cut someone off with my winshield wipers flapping madly…

  • avatar
    el scotto

    Uh, no tobacco sponsorship in the US. I really wish you guys would get a proofreader. An editor would be beyond the pale.

  • avatar
    Athos Nobile

    “According to him, it takes a few days of getting used to sitting on the “wrong” side of the car before you become proficient”

    More like a couple of weeks. 3 months to get full confidence. It is harder if you work in the industry as you can guess, everything is “inverted”

    I still from time to time try to open the LH door (passenger) to get into the car.

    Japanese and Aussie built cars also have the stalks inverted. So you can picture the “directionals” wiping the windscreen.

    Curiously, European cars on which people pay top coin, have the regular LHD stalks setup (like my Saab).

    That car is nice, I usually like the ST185 ones.

    I’ve seen here plenty of the “forbidden” fruit: TME EVOs, GT-Rs and almost every variant of 32; 33 and 34 Skylines (the “del pueblo” versions are hideous), TT Soarers (think SC300 with Supra TT engine), Starlet turbo, Pulsar turbo, Gemini Irmscher R, Delicas, Elgrands (nice US-like style vans), Stageas (one of my coworkers has one, modified), Sylvias, S15s, Caldinas…

    • 0 avatar
      RobertRyan

      @Athos Noble,
      Took me ages to get to the “wrong” side of the road in Hawaii.My Wife was “riding shotgun” so I did not collect any cyclists riding in Maui. Did all three Islands including Hawaii. Very narrow roads with hug drop offs in places.

  • avatar
    Brock_Landers

    R32 GTR has plain interior indeed, but all the technology inside would have justified the price, if it would have been sold when new in the US. The engine itself is full of race spec technology, compared to the more tame and torque orientated 300zx TT engine.

    I think if R32 GTR would have been sold from 1989 in US then it would have made quite a sensation. For starters RB26 would have made BMW-s M engines (for example S38B36) look technologically dated and under powered.

    But what comes to ST205, it was truly an engineering marvel – all the rally technology in a production car, supra calipers in the front, 315mm discs all around – which was quite a setup for production car of that time. In our country a special traffic police unit had few of those in the 90′s (i think the only ones in the country at that time), those cars were quite notorious among streetracers and hooning crowd, always had to be on look for that big wing and ventilated bonnet, if you didn’t want to get in trouble for having fun with your car.

  • avatar
    manbridge

    Careful with these on snowy roads. My ST185 is like driving a sledgehammer. All that weight up front causes a lot of “push” when it’s slippery. Once you get them set up right with good tires and larger rear anti-roll bar they are better, but not great.

    I believe the ST205 had the multilink superstrut design which was known to get all loosey-goosey over time.


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