By on February 17, 2014

05 - 1978 Toyota Celica Down on the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinThe first- and second-generation Toyota Celica was to my generation of freshly-minted California drivers (I got my license in 1982) what the early Ford Mustang was to those born a decade earlier: fairly inexpensive and sensible, but still sporty enough to make you feel cool. I drove a ’69 Corona four-door, possibly the uncoolest car a teenager could own at the time, which was to the Celica in 1982 as the six-cylinder Fairlane sedan was to the Mustang in 1972. These days, of course, all the rear-wheel-drive Celicas are considered worth having… unless they’re in rough condition, in which case they are worth little more than scrap value. Here’s an unrusty-but-still-battered ’78, done up in painfully-late-70s Crisis of Confidence Mustard Yellow, sitting in a Denver self-serve yard.
15 - 1978 Toyota Celica Down on the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinThe very sturdy 2.2-liter 20R engine made good torque, as befitted an engine well-suited for hauling Hilux-driving, Soviet-fighting mujahideen over mountain passes. You couldn’t spin the R much, as many LeMons racers have discovered, but it would outlast the rest of a Celica.
11 - 1978 Toyota Celica Down on the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinWhen did the 5-speed become commonplace enough that it wasn’t worth bragging about via badging?
02 - 1978 Toyota Celica Down on the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinSpeaking of badging, can someone explain what these “CARPET” decals on the rear quarter windows mean?
01 - 1978 Toyota Celica Down on the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinThe interior is pretty beat, but you can still make out the nothing-like-a-Corolla sportiness here.


Guys with huge Malaise mustaches and earthtone suits knew: ditch the Volaré, get a Celica!

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56 Comments on “Junkyard Find: 1978 Toyota Celica GT...”


  • avatar
    OldandSlow

    In the late 1970’ies a 5 speed manual definitely had bragging rights.

    As to the commercials, it was the epoch of the Plymouth Volare and Dodge Aspen recalls. Enough said.

  • avatar
    Roberto Esponja

    Surprised no one has pulled those Supra mirrors yet.

    I had one of these, a well-used 1980 liftback. Aside from the driver’s seat foam being all crushed up, which caused me some bad episodes of butt pain, the car was bulletproof and everything worked the way it was supposed to. I miss it…

    • 0 avatar
      dolorean

      My roommate had an ’80 SR5 in brick red while in college in ’92. He let me drive it when my ’84 Mercury Lynx 5spd broke down, which was pretty usual. I was the first car I remember sitting in that felt like it would never, ever let you down. The stick was obviously lifted from the HiLux, a large hunka chrome with a leather topper, but it shifted soooooo nicely. It had a level of refinement my little Escort wannabe just didn’t have, simple stuff now like A/C, Cruise, and a Tach! Great car.

  • avatar
    mjz

    The Scion FR-S should have been the new Toyota Celica.

    • 0 avatar
      FreedMike

      I’d agree, but I don’t think the Celica nameplate has the same kind of meaning for today’s younger buyers that it might have had for a 50-year-old guy like me.

      • 0 avatar
        Speedygreg7

        Perhaps, but the Celica name has plenty of positive equity with this 35 year old. In fact, I would completely de-badge a Scion FR-S but would proudly drive the identical car with Toyota Celica or Subaru BRZ written on it.

    • 0 avatar
      84Cressida

      Scion’s entire existence is worthless. Toyota’s marketing department dropped the ball big time not calling it the Celica.

    • 0 avatar
      Superdessucke

      Toyota don’t give no two bits about its history. Don’t be suprised to see the FT-1 marketed under the Scion brand, versus as the Toyota Supra. I think Toyota is trying to make its namesake brand as safe and boring as possible.

  • avatar
    FreedMike

    Always liked that hatchback…

  • avatar
    -Nate

    Having an AM/FM radio back then was way above the cut too .

    These were very good and well considered cars when hew .

    -Nate

  • avatar
    eggsalad

    “When did the 5-speed become commonplace enough that it wasn’t worth bragging about via badging?”

    Don’t forget that in 1978, cars like Dodge Aspens and Chevy Novas still came with a standard THREE-speed stick!

    • 0 avatar
      JimC2

      Toyota (and Honda and others) brought affordable five speed sticks to economy cars pretty early on and it made the small engined cars more liveable. It also made the difference on a lot of test drives to American customers used to higher torque and lower rpms from V8s and inline sixes.

      Toyota and Honda both brough four speed automatics to market in 1982 (Camry and Accord). The Detroit 3 didn’t get four speed autos in their *mainstream* cars until the late 1980s. Advertizing, bragging rights, and all that stuff…

      • 0 avatar
        Power6

        In their defense, all of the mid-level and up GM models had 4 speed autos in the early 80s, I had an 83 Park Ave my first car, it had the 200-4R 4 speed and this was standard across all the lines pretty much any LeSabre, Caprice etc. would have the 4 speed.

        On the other hand my ’90 Sunbird still had a 3 speed auto.

      • 0 avatar
        Exfordtech

        Ford introduced the AOD in 1979, GM brought out the 200-4R in 1980 for the ’81 model year. Not exactly late to the party.

        • 0 avatar
          JimC2

          Fair enough- 200R4 and AOD got to market earlier, both were competitive, although both were used only in RWD cars midsize or larger (no FWD compacts). I made a mistake to write “mainstream” cars of the early 1980s and instead I should have written “front wheel drive.” Ford and GM didn’t get their offerings (AXOD, 4sp versions of THM125) to market until the mid-eighties. Chrysler arrived many years later with the infamous Ultradrive.

          To GM’s credit, I remember them being first with widely available lockup torque converters.

          Regarding synchromesh first gear- that phrase is a blast from the past, a bygone era, and I’m impressed by anyone who even knows what it means. ;)

          • 0 avatar
            ClayT

            I learned about (the lack of) first gear synchro’s on my first joy ride in a friends dads Austin Healey 3000.

          • 0 avatar
            Power6

            That would be the THM-440T4, now my friend had an 85 Celebrity Eurosport and it had a 4 speed, I think in those days it was an option though.

            OD autos in cheap cars, seems to be a Japanese thing maybe since economy was a concern in the home market, but in the US a couple MPG lost to not putting an OD auto in, was no big deal in the cheap gas 80s once the worry of a second gas crisis was done.

      • 0 avatar
        84Cressida

        It was earlier than 1982, the Cressida had a 4-speed for its introduction in 1977 and I think the Corona had a 4-speed auto too.

    • 0 avatar
      fincar1

      Yeah, they thought it was a big deal if there was a synchromesh first gear.

    • 0 avatar
      danio3834

      Ah yes. I recall seeing an Iraqi Taxi Malibu with a 3 speed stick shift and IIRC, that was an ’81 model. Of course those were special order cars, but there were a lot of them, at least 10,000 for Canadian consumption.

      • 0 avatar
        mik101

        My roomate in 2006/2007 had one of these. 3 speed with a linkage that loooooved to freeze in Edmonton winters.
        It died that winter. (2007). RIP. By that point the rear doors didn’t function anymore. We got in the back by climbing over the big bench seat.

      • 0 avatar
        bill mcgee

        Canadian readers undoubtedly know the story of the Iraqi Malibus which I read about somewhere years ago . IIRC Sadaam Hussein ordered these back during the Iran – Iraq war of the early eighties to be given free to the famiies of Iraqi soldiers who had died in combat .For some reason – (an embargo? Sadaam ‘s buyers remorse ? )the sale fell thru and the Iraqibus were sold in Canada. They were cheaply equipped , built mostly with the three-speed manual transmission and little else- often delivered without even windshield wipers . IIRC they sold very slowly, albeit at a heavy discount and many of them sat around outside for months , rusting and fading .

    • 0 avatar
      scottcom36

      True, but they also had a three speed manual with overdrive!

  • avatar
    Scoutdude

    The carpet sticker was put there as an aid to salesmen when showing cars on the lot and of course meant that the car had carpet and the rest of the upgrades that came with it.

  • avatar
    bill mcgee

    As far as stupid callout badges for transmissions recall one for the ” 4 speed automatic” on the rear deck of my inherited 1985 Park Avenue which by that time didn’t seem to me to warrant bragging rights , part- icularly in a would-be luxury car . My main experience driving one of these was a 1980 Celica GT hatchback a friend rented for a long distance trip. Couldn’t help but compare it to a horrible stripper Fox Mustang I had recently rented . Recall thinking that the Celica seemed built like a Rolls-Royce in comparison.At the time I couldn’t believe how well built it seemed , even compared to my sister’s several year old Toyota . The styling also impressed me – so much cleaner than concurrent sporty Datsuns or Mitsubishis with their tacky gingerbread plastic and overwrought styling .When I was new car shopping in 1980 the Celica hatchback would have been a serious contender except for the price .By the way , I think the little stickers for ” carpet ” were applied at the factory as the car was built and the carpet was installed , presumably to be removed prior to delivery . Recall occasionally seeing these back in the day and also ones for the radio.

    • 0 avatar
      Power6

      My Mom’s 1985 Audi had a “fuel injection” badge on the trunk. Even as a very young Car and Driver reader I didn’t think that was worth calling out.

      Now that I know how rudimentary the Bosch K-jetronic fuel injection was compared to say, an electronic sequential injected 85 Park Avenue, it seems even more odd.

      • 0 avatar

        When I was in 4th grade, one of the moms we carpooled with had a 93 Suburban that still had the ‘SUBURBAN – FUEL INJECTION’ badge on the rear. Even as a budding car enthusiast at the age of ten, I found this a pretty weak bragging point, especially after my dad explained that all new cars at that time came with fuel injection.

  • avatar
    CoreyDL

    I love the metal landau strip on the b-pillar and across the roof. It wanted to be a brougham so badly!

    And what’s with the A/T tires?

  • avatar
    wmba

    I found these cars to be incredibly stodgy and boring to drive. The only thing advanced about them was the 5 speed. The engine reminded me of a dull boy at school – unresponsive. A ’77 Rabbit was much nicer as a driver’s car. This was still back in the day when we thirty something car nuts wondered when the Japanese would actually make something interesting. You know something with a decent engine and maybe some handling too. This wasn’t it. Just another Toyota that would chug along forever as the body rusted apart.

    I suppose they did abandon a leaf-sprung rear axle for coils, but so did the ’58 Chevrolet. Nope, I think time and longevity of the oily bits have left more of a twinkle in the eye of the old reminiscer than the car deserved at the time. The car mags would go on and on about understeer, and the first gen Celica Supra could show you what REAL plowing was all about what with a torpid six and longer hood.

    A pleasant and sporty runabout, if you spelled sporty like Detroit did. I have the same reservations about the not very good suspension of Kias and Hyundais today, as well as Honda and their limited suspension travel. A measure of art is needed as well as the basic layout to get the feel right, and in those days none of the Japanese were much good. The early 1970s Datsun 510 was great, but a copy of the BMW 1600. Nissan proved it by following up the 510 with a series of car sprung atrocities, showing they had not figured out what they had copied.

    There was still reason for hope in Detroit in those days, because anyone who took a drive in a new Chev Impala or Caprice with the $50 F41 suspension option got great handling, a quiet ride and a deserved feeling that it was better than that little pi*spot Japanese car Bob three doors down was driving.

    Of course, things changed gradually in the eighties.

  • avatar
    AllThumbs

    I drove one just like the featured car for two weeks in 1986. It may have been a year off, but it was the same color. At the time, I had a 1984 Toyota pickup (first car I ever bought brand new), and swapped it for the Celica for two weeks because I had visitors in town and we couldn’t fit in the truck.

    I was not impressed with the Celica. Other than five speeds (the truck only had four, so there’s a reference), better gas mileage, and being a bit faster, I liked the truck a lot better. So did the guy I swapped with; afterward, he often commented how much he preferred my truck.

  • avatar
    scottcom36

    The newest car I remember with a 5-speed callout was a Tempo.

  • avatar
    SCE to AUX

    In fastback form, I was very much in love with these cars.

    “When did the 5-speed become commonplace enough that it wasn’t worth bragging about via badging?”

    Well, since Toyota has persisted with the 4-spd automatic in Corollas until recently, I’d say a 5-speed is still a novelty at Toyota!

  • avatar
    TonyJZX

    i would have expecting someone would have taken the 5 spd box for some transplanty duties already?

  • avatar
    Andy D

    There were very few women working the night shift in the shipyard. Rosie, was a petite bachlorette of Italian descent.Barely 5 feet tall and pretty. She was a 2nd generation Yard bird. Her welding was pretty too. Like a row of dimes. She drove a white 80s Celica Supra . It too, was pretty.

    The Japanese cars were beating British Leyland at their own game. They moved into the vacuum left by the end of the VW bug in the US. The other Euro cars of the day had nothing at the same price point. KInda ,sorta what the Koreans are doing with their cars. BMW didnt have a 5 spd until ’81 BTW

  • avatar
    raresleeper

    Love the commercials. Good old fashioned touch of Toyota nostalgia.

    The actors really make that lengthy throw while shifting look damned concise, don’t they?

  • avatar
    MoDo

    My dad did bodywork in the mid 80’s at our house and I vividly remember a white fastback one of these sitting in the driveway forever, especially the “5-speed” logo on the back.

    Man, the rotted out junk that passed through there, stuff that wasn’t even very old!

  • avatar
    bachewy

    Miss my ’76. I got it when it was 18 years old and it was flawless. Unlike the American cars of the age, everything still worked perfectly. I had to sell it when I got orders overseas. I’d love to rebuild one today with all modern bits underneath it. Imagine a turbo in one of those!

  • avatar
    JMII

    Two people I knew well in high school in the 80s drove these cars: one in the same mustard color, another in silver. I remember they seemed stylish and modern even compared to my ’81 Mustang. However they were smaller and slow.

    How did people function with out syncro mesh? I just had the 3rd gear syncros in my 350Z die (common problem with the original ’03 trannys) and rev-matching up and down into 3rd sucks all the fun out of driving a stick. A tranny swap with an ’06 G35 and I’m back in business.

  • avatar
    sobe80s

    I have a 1980 Celica USGP in red. USGP United States Grand Prix editions were supposedly only built in a few hundred per the three color schemes and came equipped with a white interior with black piping, MKI Supra radio with beautiful EQ and awesome body graphics. I never tire of how beautiful she looks and while I have to plan getting on the highway because it had become too heavy by 1980 for the 20R, it’s quiet and comfortable. Every time I drive her, even 20 year olds comment on her looks.

  • avatar
    TylerGremlinKing

    They mean (1970s) “Hey! My Toyota’s got carpets! Woo!”


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