The Truth About Cars » toyota celica http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. Wed, 30 Jul 2014 14:05:22 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.9.1 The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. The Truth About Cars no The Truth About Cars editors@ttac.com editors@ttac.com (The Truth About Cars) 2006-2009 The Truth About Cars The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. The Truth About Cars » toyota celica http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/wp-content/themes/ttac-theme/images/logo.gif http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com Junkyard Find: 1978 Toyota Celica GT http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/02/junkyard-find-1978-toyota-celica-gt/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/02/junkyard-find-1978-toyota-celica-gt/#comments Mon, 17 Feb 2014 14:00:47 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=742825 The 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 […]

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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!

A car that gives you your money’s worth.

01 - 1978 Toyota Celica Down on the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 02 - 1978 Toyota Celica Down on the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 03 - 1978 Toyota Celica Down on the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 04 - 1978 Toyota Celica Down on the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 05 - 1978 Toyota Celica Down on the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 06 - 1978 Toyota Celica Down on the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 07 - 1978 Toyota Celica Down on the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 08 - 1978 Toyota Celica Down on the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 09 - 1978 Toyota Celica Down on the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 10 - 1978 Toyota Celica Down on the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 11 - 1978 Toyota Celica Down on the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 12 - 1978 Toyota Celica Down on the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 13 - 1978 Toyota Celica Down on the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 14 - 1978 Toyota Celica Down on the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 15 - 1978 Toyota Celica Down on the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin

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Capsule Review: Toyota Celica GT-Four ST205 WRC Edition http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/08/capsule-review-toyota-celica-gt-four-st205-wrc-edition/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/08/capsule-review-toyota-celica-gt-four-st205-wrc-edition/#comments Mon, 12 Aug 2013 13:00:11 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=498945 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 […]

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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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Junkyard Find: 1983 Toyota Celica GT http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/03/junkyard-find-1983-toyota-celica-gt/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/03/junkyard-find-1983-toyota-celica-gt/#comments Fri, 23 Mar 2012 13:00:33 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=435790 During my last trip to California, I found this ’80 Celica coupe and this ’81 Celica liftback side-by-side at an Oakland self-service yard. A few rows away was another Celica. Apparently the old 22R-powered Celicas aren’t worth enough to keep on the street. I’ve always thought the R engine was way too truck-ish for a […]

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During my last trip to California, I found this ’80 Celica coupe and this ’81 Celica liftback side-by-side at an Oakland self-service yard. A few rows away was another Celica. Apparently the old 22R-powered Celicas aren’t worth enough to keep on the street.
I’ve always thought the R engine was way too truck-ish for a sporty car like the Celica; all low-end torque and industrial clattering noises. You can’t argue with its reliability, though.
Toyota couldn’t match Mitsubishi for spaceship-style interiors, but this setup looked pretty futuristic.
Every time I see one of these things, I am reminded of this shot from my (1984) high school yearbook. Since most of my classmates drove beater Colts and Pintos— if they drove at all— the kid with the new Celica was feeling pretty sharp.

15 - 1983 Toyota Celica Down On The Junkyard - Pictures Courtesy of Phillip 'JDM' Greden 01 - 1983 Toyota Celica Down On The Junkyard - Pictures Courtesy of Phillip 'JDM' Greden 02 - 1983 Toyota Celica Down On The Junkyard - Pictures Courtesy of Phillip 'JDM' Greden 03 - 1983 Toyota Celica Down On The Junkyard - Pictures Courtesy of Phillip 'JDM' Greden 04 - 1983 Toyota Celica Down On The Junkyard - Pictures Courtesy of Phillip 'JDM' Greden 05 - 1983 Toyota Celica Down On The Junkyard - Pictures Courtesy of Phillip 'JDM' Greden 06 - 1983 Toyota Celica Down On The Junkyard - Pictures Courtesy of Phillip 'JDM' Greden 07 - 1983 Toyota Celica Down On The Junkyard - Pictures Courtesy of Phillip 'JDM' Greden 08 - 1983 Toyota Celica Down On The Junkyard - Pictures Courtesy of Phillip 'JDM' Greden 09 - 1983 Toyota Celica Down On The Junkyard - Pictures Courtesy of Phillip 'JDM' Greden 10 - 1983 Toyota Celica Down On The Junkyard - Pictures Courtesy of Phillip 'JDM' Greden 11 - 1983 Toyota Celica Down On The Junkyard - Pictures Courtesy of Phillip 'JDM' Greden 12 - 1983 Toyota Celica Down On The Junkyard - Pictures Courtesy of Phillip 'JDM' Greden 13 - 1983 Toyota Celica Down On The Junkyard - Pictures Courtesy of Phillip 'JDM' Greden 14 - 1983 Toyota Celica Down On The Junkyard - Pictures Courtesy of Phillip 'JDM' Greden Sette_Mobile_In_Infinite_Time 1983 Toyota Celica GT-Thumb Zemanta Related Posts Thumbnail

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Junkyard Find: 1981 Toyota Celica Liftback http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/02/junkyard-find-1981-toyota-celica-liftback/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/02/junkyard-find-1981-toyota-celica-liftback/#comments Fri, 10 Feb 2012 00:30:04 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=430110 We saw a fairly solid junked ’80 Celica coupe yesterday, and a good example of its liftback sibling was located in the same California self-service wrecking yard. It’s like a history lesson in Sporty Malaise Era Commuter Cars With Truck Engines! In fact, these two Celicas are parked side-by-side as they await The Crusher’s jaws. […]

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We saw a fairly solid junked ’80 Celica coupe yesterday, and a good example of its liftback sibling was located in the same California self-service wrecking yard. It’s like a history lesson in Sporty Malaise Era Commuter Cars With Truck Engines!
In fact, these two Celicas are parked side-by-side as they await The Crusher’s jaws. Next stop: the Port of Oakland, where the ground-up remains of these cars will be put on container ships heading to China.
The ’81 was the last of the second-gen Celicas, and the big difference between the ’80 and the ’81 was the upgrade to the 2.4-liter 22R under the hood, a 200cc increase in displacement over the 20R.
These cars weren’t exactly high-performance machines, but they held together pretty well and they came with some nice— for the era— crypto-luxury touches. Check out the herringbone upholstery!
This period was the era of the split between California-emissions-legal cars and “49-state” cars; we’re looking at a car that probably spent its life in California.
The junkyard had this Celica in their “runners” section for a while, but nobody wanted it. Another rust-free pseudo-classic about to get crushed— it happens every day on the West Coast!

12 - 1981 Toyota Celica Down On The Junkyard - Pictures courtesy of Phillip 'Murilee Martin' Greden 01 - 1981 Toyota Celica Down On The Junkyard - Pictures courtesy of Phillip 'Murilee Martin' Greden 02 - 1981 Toyota Celica Down On The Junkyard - Pictures courtesy of Phillip 'Murilee Martin' Greden 03 - 1981 Toyota Celica Down On The Junkyard - Pictures courtesy of Phillip 'Murilee Martin' Greden 04 - 1981 Toyota Celica Down On The Junkyard - Pictures courtesy of Phillip 'Murilee Martin' Greden 05 - 1981 Toyota Celica Down On The Junkyard - Pictures courtesy of Phillip 'Murilee Martin' Greden 06 - 1981 Toyota Celica Down On The Junkyard - Pictures courtesy of Phillip 'Murilee Martin' Greden 07 - 1981 Toyota Celica Down On The Junkyard - Pictures courtesy of Phillip 'Murilee Martin' Greden 08 - 1981 Toyota Celica Down On The Junkyard - Pictures courtesy of Phillip 'Murilee Martin' Greden 09 - 1981 Toyota Celica Down On The Junkyard - Pictures courtesy of Phillip 'Murilee Martin' Greden 10 - 1981 Toyota Celica Down On The Junkyard - Pictures courtesy of Phillip 'Murilee Martin' Greden 11 - 1981 Toyota Celica Down On The Junkyard - Pictures courtesy of Phillip 'Murilee Martin' Greden Zemanta Related Posts Thumbnail

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Junkyard Find: 1980 Toyota Celica Coupe http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/02/junkyard-find-1980-toyota-celica-coupe/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/02/junkyard-find-1980-toyota-celica-coupe/#comments Thu, 09 Feb 2012 01:00:10 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=429902 The Malaise Era Celica sold very well in the United States as a fuel-efficient-yet-reasonably-sporty commuter vehicle. They were very reliable (by the not-very-high standards of the time), cheap, and easy to repair. Even so, nearly all of them are gone now, save for a few survivors that hung on long enough to stay out of […]

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The Malaise Era Celica sold very well in the United States as a fuel-efficient-yet-reasonably-sporty commuter vehicle. They were very reliable (by the not-very-high standards of the time), cheap, and easy to repair. Even so, nearly all of them are gone now, save for a few survivors that hung on long enough to stay out of the junkyards until the second decade of the 21st century. Here’s an ’80 that I found at a Northern California self-serve yard last week.
When did Toyota drop the “Celica Dragon” emblem?
I neglected to photograph the 20R engine under the hood, but let’s contemplate the idea of a sporty car with such a truck-ish powerplant. Yes, the R engines were just about impossible to kill, verging on Chrysler Slant Six-grade levels of abuse tolerance, but they were better-suited to dragging a Hilux loaded with a dozen AK-wielding mujahideen through the Khyber Pass than for the smooth-running/high-revving exploits you want for a sports car. At least Celica owners got full gauges.
And this luxurious ashtray!
This car was a runner until very recently, if we are to judge by this not-yet-expired Berkeley parking permit. Perhaps the car was found parked in the wrong residential area and towed away with extreme prejudice; that’s how Berkeley rolls when it comes to parking enforcement.

15 - 1980 Toyota Celica Down On The Junkyard - Pictures courtesy of Phillip 'Murilee Martin' Greden 02 - 1980 Toyota Celica Down On The Junkyard - Pictures courtesy of Phillip 'Murilee Martin' Greden 03 - 1980 Toyota Celica Down On The Junkyard - Pictures courtesy of Phillip 'Murilee Martin' Greden 04 - 1980 Toyota Celica Down On The Junkyard - Pictures courtesy of Phillip 'Murilee Martin' Greden 05 - 1980 Toyota Celica Down On The Junkyard - Pictures courtesy of Phillip 'Murilee Martin' Greden 06 - 1980 Toyota Celica Down On The Junkyard - Pictures courtesy of Phillip 'Murilee Martin' Greden 07 - 1980 Toyota Celica Down On The Junkyard - Pictures courtesy of Phillip 'Murilee Martin' Greden 08 - 1980 Toyota Celica Down On The Junkyard - Pictures courtesy of Phillip 'Murilee Martin' Greden 09 - 1980 Toyota Celica Down On The Junkyard - Pictures courtesy of Phillip 'Murilee Martin' Greden 10 - 1980 Toyota Celica Down On The Junkyard - Pictures courtesy of Phillip 'Murilee Martin' Greden 11 - 1980 Toyota Celica Down On The Junkyard - Pictures courtesy of Phillip 'Murilee Martin' Greden 12 - 1980 Toyota Celica Down On The Junkyard - Pictures courtesy of Phillip 'Murilee Martin' Greden 13 - 1980 Toyota Celica Down On The Junkyard - Pictures courtesy of Phillip 'Murilee Martin' Greden 14 - 1980 Toyota Celica Down On The Junkyard - Pictures courtesy of Phillip 'Murilee Martin' Greden Zemanta Related Posts Thumbnail

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Gator-O-Rama LeMons Day One One: Celica, 280ZX, J30, SHO, E30 Make Up Top Five http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2011/02/gator-o-rama-lemons-day-one-one-celica-280zx-j30-sho-e30-make-up-top-five/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2011/02/gator-o-rama-lemons-day-one-one-celica-280zx-j30-sho-e30-make-up-top-five/#comments Sun, 27 Feb 2011 03:40:02 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=385428 As is typical for races at MSR Houston, the mechanical carnage has been quite extreme. We saw sheared axles, blown head gaskets, thrown rods, and a Jetta with its engine dragging on the pavement (the last one is a first in my experience). Still, some cars haven’t broken, and the battle for the win on […]

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As is typical for races at MSR Houston, the mechanical carnage has been quite extreme. We saw sheared axles, blown head gaskets, thrown rods, and a Jetta with its engine dragging on the pavement (the last one is a first in my experience). Still, some cars haven’t broken, and the battle for the win on laps has been cutthroat; meanwhile, the battle for the Index of Effluency— LeMons racing’s top prize, which goes to the team that accomplishes the most with the worst car— seems to have settled into your classic Tercel-versus-Camaro-versus-W110 slugfest.

It’s probably too early to get serious about the IOE discussion, since the Pontiac Montana may recover from its damage and blow away the competition on Sunday. Let’s discuss the race for the win on laps, which has the GT$500 Toyota Celica leading by a single lap. The GT$500, as you may recall, won the 2009 Laissez Les Crapheaps Roulez LeMons and led the 2010 Louisiana event before throwing a connecting rod in spectacular fashion.

In second place, we see the Z-Wrecks Datsun 280ZX. Most observers of LeMons races (me included) feel that a 280ZX cannot take the win on laps, due to innate horribleness, but the veteran Z-Wrecks car, with its excellent drivers and bewildering reliability, may be the only example of the breed that has even the slightest chance. With a crazy-fast best lap of just 1:56.012, the ZX is getting around the track nearly four seconds quicker than the GT$500′s best effort… but reliability and consistency, not raw speed, win endurance races. We’ll see what happens tomorrow.

We’re shocked to see a 280ZX in second, but an Infiniti J30 in third is just as startling. The Swine Flew Raycing car has a couple of top-ten LeMons finishes to its credit, and it’s now perched just two laps behind the leader.

We’ve seen a Ford Taurus SHO win a LeMons race before, but mostly we see the SHOs scattering engine and/or transmission parts all over hell. The SHOTime Ford will be threatening the other leaders all day tomorrow… as long as it doesn’t blow up in typical SHO fashion.

So many E30s in the race, but only one in the Top Five. The Theissen’s Revenge car has been breakdown- and penalty-free so far, and only four laps stand between it and the lead.

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Window Louvers Aren’t Enough To Save This 1976 Toyota Celica ST http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2010/12/window-louvers-arent-enough-to-save-this-1976-toyota-celica-st/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2010/12/window-louvers-arent-enough-to-save-this-1976-toyota-celica-st/#comments Wed, 29 Dec 2010 16:00:40 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=378898 Remember window louvers? They were sort of terrible, yet it’s still interesting to see them on a quasi-sporty Malaise Era car. This Celica ST’s louvers will soon be ground up and digested by The Crusher. It’s sad to see another 20R about to get crushed. These engines should be immortal!

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Remember window louvers? They were sort of terrible, yet it’s still interesting to see them on a quasi-sporty Malaise Era car. This Celica ST’s louvers will soon be ground up and digested by The Crusher.

It’s sad to see another 20R about to get crushed. These engines should be immortal!

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Curbside Classic: 1974 Toyota Celica http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2010/08/curbside-classic-1974-toyota-celica/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2010/08/curbside-classic-1974-toyota-celica/#comments Thu, 26 Aug 2010 15:23:09 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=363810 Today’s Curbside Classic is a precautionary tale; a lesson in how difficult it is to predict the future, and how humbling it can be to bet on the wrong pony (car). In 1972, I worked briefly on a small construction crew in Iowa City. Two of the young guys had just bought brand new cars. […]

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Today’s Curbside Classic is a precautionary tale; a lesson in how difficult it is to predict the future, and how humbling it can be to bet on the wrong pony (car).

In 1972, I worked briefly on a small construction crew in Iowa City. Two of the young guys had just bought brand new cars. They were both painted silver, and were sporty coupes, but couldn’t have been more different otherwise. One bought a base Mustang coupe, just like in this picture, right down to the wheel covers, but with a vinyl top, no less. The other one bought a Celica Coupe, pretty much like this one. And the two of them argued endlessly about which one had made the better choice.

Frankly, I thought they were both nuts to hock themselves at their tender age; I was driving a $75 1962 Corvair, and hit the road with it as soon as I had saved a few hundred bucks, leaving them to dig footings and keep their argument going. But that’s beside the point, mostly. Of course I got caught up in the debate, and you probably won’t be surprised with which camp of the pony wars I had enlisted with.

You didn’t really need to be a very early Toyota fanboy for that. The 1971 – 1973 Mustang was not only the nadir of Mustangs, but pretty much of the the whole pony car segment. It was huge, overwrought, and excessive in every way possible. And though it reflected badly on Ford, all of the Big Three were similarly guilty at the time, with a few exceptions. As I looked at that bloated Mustang with its white wall tires and vinyl top, my personal Detroit DeathWatch ratcheted up a few notches. I just couldn’t see where they were going, other than off an inevitable cliff.

Yes, the Celica was a skinny little underfed Japanese kid (2200 lbs), and its approx. 90hp 2.0L four hardly set the world on fire. For the times, it was lively, and compared to the Mustang, it was actually fun to drive. The stick shift was slick, the engine was willing and at least sounded and felt like it was trying hard, and the manual steering and handling were…well, not up to BMW 2002 standards, but you could toss it around on the back roads and have a ball. It was so slim, one wore it like a suit. In comparison, the Mustang might have been your grandmother’s Grand Torino or LTD coupe: dull, soft, and slow; its de-smogged 302 losing out to the battle of its terminal bulge.

The original Mustang, especially a six with a stick, was much closer akin to the Celica than its 1973 namesake. And Toyota’s timing with the Celica was perfect, even more so a year later when the energy crisis hit.  The drastically-downsized Mustang II was Ford’s acknowledgment that the Celica had it right. But by that time, the Celica had won over a lot of loyal fans, especially with its 1975 refresh and the very Mustang-esque Liftback.  And with the very handsome 1978 restyle, which was penned at Toyota’s brand-new Calty SoCal studio, it seemed that the Celica was well on its way to becoming America’s new pony sweetheart.

That was quite the trick too, considering that this first gen Celica is very Japanese in style and feel. Yes, inspiration and the popularization of the affordable sporty coupe segment may be largely attributed to the original Mustang, but the execution here, especially the details, are anything but Detroit. Actually, the gen1 Celica was progressively “Americanized” throughout its fairly long lifespan, losing the original up-curved face and its delicate little geisha-butt. By the mid-seventies, Toyota knew clearly where the greatest opportunity for growth lay, and opening up the styling studio in California made that official.

We’re not going to recap the whole pony car wars here, and we all know how the Celica story ended. Not like I predicted in 1972; that’s for sure.  But in the mid eighties, two significant events turned the tide: the lightweight Fox-body Mustang GT reappeared with its lusty 302, and the Celica went to a FWD platform. Ford had rediscovered its roots and thrived; the Celica went a different direction, which ultimately petered out. That’s not to say it didn’t leave some highly memorable (All-trac turbo), fun and reliable cars along the way.

I’m a fan of late-sixties – early seventies Japanese design, even when it becomes fodder for the word’s ugliest car contests. It was a time when the Japanese were finding a unique design language of their own, before they either mastered a more universally acceptable look, or opened styling studios in California (and Europe). I don’t know where the Juke was designed, but Nissan is certainly more than willing to mainstream distinctly Japanese vehicles, like Cube. Meanwhile, Toyota’s Scions, some of them specifically designed for the NA market, are stylistic dullards. Toyota’s race to dominate the American market extracted a price.

The owner of this particular Celica is very representative of so many other Curbside Classics. She’s a young woman who works in the cafe at this neighborhood market, and it was her uncle’s car, who had bought it new. Family keepsakes, passed from generation to generation, like genes. It’s her daily driver, having learned what it takes to keep a vintage Toyota on the road. I smile every time I see it (often), even though it humbles me to remember how cock-sure I was about its future in 1972.

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