By on August 26, 2010

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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72 Comments on “Curbside Classic: 1974 Toyota Celica...”

  • avatar

    No radio, no iPod connectivity? How young is this woman? XD

    • 0 avatar

      I see a radio cage. I bet the iPod-compatible radio got ripped off, and the owner just gave up, or is saving for a new radio.

      Given the choice, the youngest generation wouldn’t even *want* a “radio”. Install a amp and speakers, a volume knob, and a 1/8″/3.5mm plug. All set to go.

    • 0 avatar

      Sounds like what Yamaha did with their 2010 version of the Harley Street Glide (stripped bagger with big fairing and tiny windshield): Speakers are built in, volume/track controls are part of the left handlebar switches, only there’s no radio. There’s a wire with an iPod connector, a small padded shelf where the radio would normally be found on a bagger, and a velcro strap to hold the iPod in place. What more do you need?

    • 0 avatar

      I think what you see there is a removable radio, the whole unit slides in and out. I had one back when I was in high school.

  • avatar

    I do have to point out: The Mustang is still with us, the Celica is not.

    • 0 avatar

      I think Paul pointed it out with the line “Ford had rediscovered it’s roots and thrived; the Celica went in a different direction and ultimately petered out”.

      Always liked the 70’s fastback Celicas. At the time, it was one of the few Japanese cars I wanted to own.

    • 0 avatar

      Yes and no. The “tC” in “Scion tC” is a subtle riff on “Toyota Celica”. And the new tC looks more than a little bit like this car. A retro Celica to the current retro (!!) Mustang and Camaro.

      Personally, I don’t like it, but I don’t like the Mustang, Camaro or Challenger, either: I liked the 7G Celica: front drive though it was, it was light, revved like crazy and handled really well.

    • 0 avatar

      ” Yes and no. The “tC” in “Scion tC” is a subtle riff on “Toyota Celica”. ”

      Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar. The “tC” could just as easily stand for Toyota Coupe, or maybe Top Cat. Despite the somewhat sexy styling, those early Celicas were little more than gussied up Coronas, just as today’s tC shares much with other Toyota products. Maybe tC stands for Toyota Corolla.

    • 0 avatar
      Sammy B

      Re: the “tC”, the line I heard was that they wanted to use xC (to go along with xA and xB at the time), but Volvo decided that was too close.

    • 0 avatar
      Educator(of teachers)Dan

      I know, give the tC a built in humidor and ionizing air filtration system and sell it as the “Thompson Cigar Co. Edition.” Given the low sales of the tC, it might actually help.

    • 0 avatar

      TC stands for “touring coupe,” according to Scion.

    • 0 avatar

      What’s in a name? The Mustang II was nothing more than a Pinto dressed up for a cheap rodeo.

    • 0 avatar

      Which is exactly what the 1964.5 Mustang was. Except with a Falcon base, rather than a Pinto.

  • avatar

    Boy, this takes me back. My first car was a toyota celica of the same vintage and color. I loved that car. I drove it to high school. Sometimes she wouldn’t start, and I would get a friend to help me bump start it by pushing it around the parking lot. I still have the shift knob.

  • avatar

    Original Celicas look as sharp today as they did when they were new (same with first-generation Civics and Accords). These have disappeared from around here. This one looks very nice.

    One small nitpick – the bloated Mustangs only lasted through the 1973 model year. The Mustang II debuted for 1974 – just in time for the Arab Oil Embargo in the fall of 1973. You’re right that the Ford was the worst of the bunch when it came to blowing up its ponycars. Somehow, the Dodge Challenger, Plymouth Barracuda and AMC Javelin came off better in their larger versions than the Mustang did. And the Cougar…what happened to that car was a crime.

  • avatar

    I had a yellow ’72 Celica ST and in 50,000+ miles, the only thing that ever failed was the steering wheel cracked, just like the one in the picture. These cars were the begining of the Toyota reputation for quality and reliability. Too bad that’s gone the same place as the Celica. By the way, anyone remember what the Celica logo was? A swan? A dragon?

    • 0 avatar

      Looks like a dragon.

    • 0 avatar

      Maybe in some parts of the country. In Maine, Toyota is synonymous with RUST. They didn’t last long enough for anyone to find out how reliable they were. All the Japanese makes, actually. Subaru seems to have gotten a pass due to the usefulness of AWD in our climate, but you see more VWs around here than Toyotas. I wouldn’t be surprised if there are more Saabs in Portland Maine than Toyota cars.

  • avatar

    As Quentin Willson would stay that is a Curbside Classic “I would dearly like to own”.

    I’m smitten with that simple chrome luggage rack. It looks useful enough to make me forget that the integrated truck rack was once a “styling feature” on GM’s long-lived A-bodies … out of the thousands of Celebrities, 6000s, Cutlass Cieras and Centuries I’ve seen I’ve never once seen one with luggage (or anything else) mounted on the truck rack (what a waste!).

    • 0 avatar

      This should warm the cockles of your heart then. Many people give me grief about that rack, but dammit, it is USEFUL!

    • 0 avatar

      Chuck, that’s a very classy set up you’ve got there (beautiful Jag!).

      I had to think twice before clicking the link, though. For a split second I thought it might be a photo of an ’88 Pontiac 6000 with a bunch of Rubbermaid totes lashed to the trunk … thankfully it was not!

  • avatar

    A buddy of mine had one these, but I think it was the next generation when it was the “Celica Supra”. It was right before the style I really loved which looks like the Starion, have all kinds of sharp edges and pop-up lights.

  • avatar

    I had a co-worker who traded his Buick LeSabre (he called it a “Bu-Hog”) for a 1974 Celica. He was delighted with it – mostly because of the better gas economy – we had just had the first oil embargo.

  • avatar
    Educator(of teachers)Dan

    “losing the original up-curved face and its delicate little geisha-butt.”

    I hate it when they loose their butt. I couldn’t finish the review without giving my part-Japanese lady a call to tell her how beautiful she is.

    I wish someone would still build cars like this in “low price” market. Lightweight, 4cyl, stick shift, RWD… Oops, that’s right they still do, it’s called the Miata.

    • 0 avatar
      Rod Panhard

      You are correct, sir. My first car was a 1974 Celica GT. One of my current cars is a 1993 Miata. The Miata is very 1st Gen Celica-esque, but improved in all the right ways. In fact, it’s so improved, I see no need to get another Celica and restore it.

  • avatar

    “the engine at least and sounded felt like it was trying hard”

    Couldn’t the same be said for the Aveo and Caliber (both of
    which were recently reviewed and despised here)?

    I know we are talking a different time in automotive history
    but let’s call a spade a spade. These cars were slow.

    Somehow this becomes acceptable for the Toyota but absolutely
    despicable when used in ref to American cars of any vintage.
    Not trying to bust your chops Paul.. A friend had one
    of these and it was nightmarish to merge with in to traffic..
    But- I will say this, it outlasted it’s contemporaries by far.

    • 0 avatar
      Paul Niedermeyer

      With about 90 hp and weighing only about 2200 lbs, it was reasonably lively for the times. Not a muscle car; but that was not its purpose in life.

    • 0 avatar

      About the same power-to-weight ratio as the Pinto 2.0, Mustang II, Vega, or any other US compact of the time . . . ALL of which are vilified by everyone for being underpowered.

      Is this because of the “fun to drive” factor? I have a friend who refused to buy a Saturn Astra because it was “underpowered”. He then went and bought a Toyota Matrix, which is even more gutless and less fun to drive. But it’s a Toyota, so it’s OK.

      People trash the original K-Cars for being underpowered, but say nothing about, say, the gutless and unreliable Tercel.

      You can’t deny that imports have always been given a pass when it comes to the power department. The fact that it’s an “import” seems to cast a mysterious halo over a car so people can overlook the obvious faults.

      Having said that, I would most certainly take the Celica over any other car in its class of its time.

    • 0 avatar

      I guess underpowered is a relative thing … relative to the times. I had a ’72 Manta Rallye with the 1900cc 90hp engine, and it was what I considered “lively” for the time. Lively enough to top out around 118 on a straight stretch given about two miles. However, I had a friend that had a ’74 Celica and we both competed head to head in SCCA Solo 2 slalom competition. He was always mad at me because the better handling Opel would consistently kick his Toyota’s behind … usually by a good margin. Both of these cars had a case of the understeeer blues, but it was much more pronounced in the Celica. It also had the added disadvantage of a severe case of dog/firehydrant syndrome when asked to corner at anything above walking speed. Nothing like lifting the inside rear tire to kill your exit speed. BTW, the Opels did pretty good in SCCA SSB back in the day ….

    • 0 avatar

      I have the cure sitting in my garage right now: Twin Cam 18RG-R. 140hp, bolts right in!

  • avatar
    Mark MacInnis

    “Celica” is a German word for Swan, IIRC…hence the swan icon in the original logo for the early iterations of the car.

    Thanks for acknowledging that the 2nd gen borrowed heavily from the 1969-70 Mustang fastbacks (“Sportsroofs”)…..

    I remember in the early 1970’s Toyota always bought the center spread of Sports Illustrated (it seemed like for every week) to advertise the Celica…how it had features like a 5-Speed, a DOHC engine, reclining cloth seats, AM-FM radio, and air-conditioning standard…I now understand that they were using the (at that time VERY)favorable yen-to-dollar rate to upcontent their cars, because they new that in the price range, the Toyota’s would be cross-shopped with the ‘strippers’ of the domestic world….a brilliant strategy, and not unlike what Hyundai has been doing lately….(and a process I am certain the Chinese will emulate in the near future.)

    This particular car’s design has held up well and with minor modifications would probably sell quite a few in the current market….but then, this car doesn’t have air bags or any of the other automotive accoutrement the nanny-state has decided we must have today…

    • 0 avatar

      Sorry Mark, Schwan is German for swan. (I speak German.)

      Shiratori is Japanese for swan. (I don’t speak much Japanese.)

      Celica translates, via Google, to Kōgōshii, and translated back to English it doesn’t change. Putting Kōgōshii into Google search, throws back a lot of manga pictures, none of which remotely resemble a swan.

      So, unless Kōgōshii represents some kind of special Japanese swan, the mystery continues…

    • 0 avatar
      Paul Niedermeyer

      As per wiki: The name (Celica) is ultimately derived from the Latin word coelica meaning “heavenly” or “celestial”

    • 0 avatar

      “Thanks for acknowledging that the 2nd gen borrowed heavily from the 1969-70 Mustang fastbacks (“Sportsroofs”)…..”The photos in the C&D review of the 3/4-scale ’69 Mustang-derived Celica fastback had a guy in a Nixon mask leaning out the window, doing the iconic double-peace sign.

      Those were the days [sigh].

  • avatar

    They two things I remember about Japanese cars back then were: How do I pronounce “Celica? “Suh-lee-ka” with the accent on “lee”? Or, from the sales brochure “…using high-quality American vinyls” If the vinyls were such high quality, why did Jaoanese cars’ interiors smell so sickly-sweet bad? Finally, why did the sun visors turn into limp lumps of vinyl sacks with wire in them? Okay, that’s three.

    That being said, I knew something was happening, ’cause people that I knew that owned Japanese cars really loved ’em. The one car I always go back to wishing I would have bought was a 1976 Corolla 2 dr. hatchback SR-5. It was yellow w/black interior, stick shift. That sure was a looker!

  • avatar

    I’ve owned two Celica’s:

    ’83 GT liftback (RWD) loved it!
    ’87 GT notchback (FWD) hated it!

  • avatar

    The RWD Toyotas of that era (I’d say late 1960s through early 1980s) had delightful shifters–almost the snick-snick of the Lotus shifter.

    I wonder if the confidence those direct-linkage shifters imparted may be the missing ingredient that makes so many cable-linkage shifters on FWD cars fail to inspire current generations and drive them toward automatics.

    • 0 avatar

      It’s possible that the Celica’s shifter was a direct copy of a Lotus one so your comment might be more true than you think. The Japanese learned a lot of their car design came from the British.

  • avatar

    I have seen very few of those locally. And they’re neat, when in good condition.

    I went to wiki to see the liftback. Gorgeous, sort of a mini Mustang in the back. Toyota did some nice cars (the 2000GT also comes to mind)

    But my favorite Celica is the 5th gen liftback/hatchback etc. I don’t care if it’s WWD or AWD. The lines on that car are beautiful.

  • avatar

    The early, or first phase Celica, was exactly my argument through the years…the Japanese copied to get their look.
    I know everybody does it to some extent, but the Japanese did it to almost illegal levels.
    To their dismay, the Koreans are doing thexact thing to them today.
    The Hyundai brand copies everything it can from Mercedes on.

    Somebody tell me, what do YOU think this look reminds you of?
    No wonder the argument of the Celica vs Mustang lived!

  • avatar

    While I’d almost bite my hand off rather than admit it, Toyota made some very pretty Celica’s over the years.., unfortunately they never kept up with the engine and drivetrain. By the end of the model run they were anemic at best, posermobiles. One of Toyota’s very few styling successes, IMO.

  • avatar
    Rod Panhard

    My first car was a 1974 Celica GT. 5-speed. The GT featured the 5-speed gearbox, an egg-crate grille, and 185-SR13 tires (from Dunlop, by the way) instead of the 165SR13 of the ST.

    I drove the car in high school for a while, then got it back for college, and then three years of marriage. The problems it had were:
    – needed a battery every now and then.
    – needed two slave cylinders
    – needed a transmission tail seal.
    – needed a starter
    – tires, brake pads and rotors.

    Obviously, it received routine maintenance. As Mr. Niedermeyer wrote, it was very fun on back roads. The first time I drove it on some sandy back roads in Florida, I was completely stunned at the car’s ability to just plain pivot as one wanted it to. Swedish rally driver Ove Andersson discovered how great these little unknown cars were and competed well on the rally circuit, even against factory-sponsored teams.

    For what it’s worth, “Road & Track” tested the Celica GT in the June, 1974 issue. They found the Celica had the second best time through their slalom course, a fact they buried way into the story, at almost the end of it. Best time, at that point, was the Corvette.

    Did I know all this when I acquired the car? Heck no. I didn’t find out about the Road & Track bit until I bought a copy on Ebay about eight years ago. As for the Celica’s rally story? No, I didn’t find out about that until one night I was watching “Speedvision” back when they used to show old rally films and none of this interesting mothballed rally info was on the internet, yet.

    Anyway, the Celica GT was a terrific car, especially during a time when, well, let’s be honest…cars stunk in the 1970s and that’s all there is too it. They were unreliable, slow and mostly ugly unless you paid big bucks.

  • avatar

    “The name (Celica) is ultimately derived from the Latin word coelica meaning “heavenly” or “celestial””

    That’s way too close to “cloaca” for me and I am certain none of us want to go in that direction.

  • avatar
    H Man

    I owned a 76 GT for a few years and loved it. I’ve wanted another one ever since, and still check craisglist from time to time. Had a bead on a 77 recently but it sold before I got there.

    BTW, I took pictures of this exact car in the parking lot of Sam Bond’s last year. I thought it would make a great CC. heh Looking at my picture now, I see homework on the passenger seat,
    the lower radio din is completely empty, and the original AM mono is still there. Same tree air freshener, too.

  • avatar

    Fact remains that some versions of the Celica aped the Mustang style, and never the other way around. Paint this thing Highland Green, and it could have been the mini-me of the Bullitt Mustang.

  • avatar

    Long ago, I drove my girlfriend’s 79 Toyota Celica. It was 10 years old, but better than any Detroit car.

    In fact, once you own a Toyota or Honda, you will never go back to Detroit iron. When I travel, I frequently get stuck with Detroit rentals. When I get back into my Toyota or Honda ( I own both ), it feels like I just moved forward by 10 years.

    • 0 avatar

      Not true. Toyota lost me as a customer in ’86, switched to Ford trucks, and have never looked back.

    • 0 avatar

      I’m driving a Ford right now after three Toyotas over 24 years. I’d have no hesitation about buying either brand for my next car.

    • 0 avatar

      I owned a 1986 Honda CRX when I was in college from 1988-1990. The transmission failed at 75k miles. Fun car to drive, but after that experience I vowed NEVER to buy another Honda. Toyota’s I’ve owned (’79 Corolla, ’80 Corolla, ’85 Corolla, ’90 Celica, ’01 Corolla) have all been reliable and solid, if not fun to drive. I’ve been a Ford guy since 1999 though (’99 Ranger, ’97 Explorer, ’98 Mustang GT, ’03 Focus). All reliable and solid. Never plan to buy Japanese again.

  • avatar

    I think it’s a really nice looking car. I wish modern toyotas had half this level of aesthetic. I’d smile if I saw that thing on a weekly basis.

    +10 to educatordan

  • avatar

    I’d quibble about the Fox Mustang thriving. Its sales declined pretty steadily throughout the eighties, to the point where its post-1993 future was again problematic. It was in an awkward position: it was selling well enough to keep it profitable at rock-bottom prices (since the tooling had been well and truly amortized), but not well enough to justify a significant redesign. (Even a makeover with the revised controls and hardware from the SVO would have been a great improvement.)

    Granted, the plan to put it on the 626 FWD platform (which was spun off into the Ford Probe) probably wouldn’t have sold any better. The Probe had a good first year, and was pretty much downhill from there.

  • avatar

    A nice restore and LS1 transplant can fix the problems most cars, and I suspect this one would benefit as well.

  • avatar

    In 1976 my Dad helped me buy my first car – I actually wanted a Celica but he would not buy a foreign car. So we bought a tan 1974 Ford Capri (made in Europe I think!) – was pretty sporty and even looked like a little like a Celica . . . but I recall many, many repairs. Have to think the Celica would have been cheaper to own.

  • avatar
    Steven Lang

    4 brothers in my family. Every one of them had a Celica. To say that I know a bit Celicas is like saying that… well… I know a bit about being frugal.

    The Mustang and Celica essentially stopped competing with each other by the time the 1986 Celicas were released. Ford pursued a horsepower/amortization strategy with a squared off exterior and parts bin interior. The Celica was two door economical transportation as an ST. A touring coupe in GT/GT-S form… and an all out AWD sports car with the All-trac.

    The interior was moderately upscale for the late 1980’s. The 1990 model is perhaps the most interior focused material of it’s time versus the competition. Everything in the 1990-1993 generation was two clicks above in quality and feel to the competition. What held it back was excessive weight (which came with using high quality components during that time) and an anemic engine.

    I would argue that the exterior shape and overall design of the Celica GT-S during that time would be considered modern today. One of the very few models of that time which have translated well through the years. With a few more contemporary features and modern materials (lighter metals, better plastics, more advanced assembly techniques) the 1990 Celica GT-S could easily pass off as a 2010 model.

    The Mustang took a quantum leap in 1994. The Celica became a competitive car in 2000. But the audience dissipated and although the Tc has been the best selling version of the Scions (it’s still a Celica… don’t kid yourselves) it simply doesn’t have the mystique and driving involvement that the Mustang offers.

    I love the Celicas. But the Mustang has definitely evolved into a better vehicle.

  • avatar

    lets see this licence plate here if we cant get a borg autopsy

    1974 was the year I was born

    c=3,k=11,p=16………..099, 9=i

    312 (chicago telephone area code), 16 ( was the year after I moved to chicago…. ) and 99 which in alpha numberic parlance translates to (ii), or to die, to lie……..I dont know, you got me…..0 ii, know when your going to die……creepy sh_t man, Im gonna go with the mustang instead of the celica here

  • avatar

    My dad bought a ’74 or ’75 for his sales job. Car was flawless for about 125K miles back when 125K miles was big miles. He replaced it with an ’83 or so with a sunroof. I was nearing driving age and I was looking hard at the cars my friends and family drove. My Mom’s parents drove the longest line of plainjane Detroit products you ever saw. My other grandparents drove Nissan/Datsuns (still kind of plain).

    Dad had to sell off his Celicas because his customers began to give him headaches about not driving a domestic car so he replaced the ’83 with an Olds something or another. FWD and the interior was terrible. Looked like the inside of a casket. We had a troublefree Citation along the way that was so cheap that GM molded in fake stitching into the dash. That car lasted as long as the Toyotas did! Sister bought a Dodge K-car style non-turbo convertible. Relatively troublefree but a real snooze to drive. i didn’t even want to be seen in it though I did and continue to love to be in a convertible. Sis followed that with a FWD Celica. I drove 60s Mustangs and a single ’81 Mustang.

    Man the imports I was exposed to were SO much more interesting and fun to drive than the domestics back then. Didn’t then and don’t now demand huge HP but something that is sporty to drive is a must.

    I certainly miss the lightweight cars from the early 80s.

  • avatar

    Sure, these cars were slow, but if you look at contemporary road tests, they were no slower than the emissions-strangled V8 domestics. A 12-second 0-60 was considered respectable if not particularly quick and that’s about what you’d get in a 350 Cutlass or Malibu. Or a Celica.

    Naturally, the V8’s had a huge edge in torque, but that was about it.

    The Mustang II was seen at introduction to be a return to the roots of the original car, as the ’71 to ’73 cars had become so bloated. It’s reviled today as a poster child of the Malaise Era, but it sold very well, almost tripling 1973 volumes in its first year (nearly 300,000 model-year sales) and hovered near 180,000-200,000 annually thereafter to a production total of about 1.1 million in four years. Four of the top-ten-selling model years for Mustangs were during this period.

    But the real proof of the pudding may be that the Fox-bodied replacement was not significantly larger and had a carryover drivetrain lineup of the 2.3-liter Pinto 4, 2.8-liter Cologne V6 (later replaced with the 200 Falcon straight-6) and 302 V8, with the turbo-4 thrown in. Ford found the right formula for the Mustang and stuck with it.

    Japanese cars and the tinworm were intimate partners well into the 1990’s. Not just Toyota, but other makes as well. Better rustproofing is the main reason domestic cars ran badly longer, as the bodies on Japanese iron often gave out before the mechanicals did.

  • avatar

    Time has proven the 71-73 Mustang the better car. Look at the current values for 71-73 Mustangs, they are at levels the Celica won’t ever match. Why not compare the Celica to a 72 351c HO, basically a continuation of the Boss 351? I doubt that 90hp would stack up favorably.
    A better comparision would have been the Celica to the 72 Maverick in size and performance, it was a car positioned to compete with the imports. It did 579k in sales in its first year alone.
    Really its great that the Celica gets compared to the car it tries to imitate so often (I actually think its a copy of the 68-69 Torino fastbacks right down to the gills on the sail panel ) but its just a silly proposition. The 71 Mustang was widened to take the 429 engine between its shock towers, and the 351c was available up to 73 in various forms. Thats where these cars live. Taking a base model of the car and declaring it underperforming seems absurd.

  • avatar

    My girlfriend had an almost identical Celica, except it was blue. She got the car when she turned sixteen as a surprise birthday present after her parents had told her for a year they wouldn’t be able to help her out with buying a car after they had told her they would. They told her to keep the money she had saved up for gas etc. It was a good car, but the move to Vegas came way too late for it’s survival, as it had spent one winter in Buffalo, NY, and it was already cancer ridden. By ’77, the wheel wells were gone, and by ’80 or ’81, it took it’s final ride to the scrapyard when the windshield started leaking during a trip to Los Angeles. I think she got another Celica, but she didn’t like it much and it was soon gone, and she was in the hell of the little rear engine Fiat she bought. I can’t remember the model, but it had electrical problems from day one, and transmission issues that began one day after the warranty ran out. It made my horrible ’77 Power Wagon look good. She had a series of “chickmobiles” until 1990 or so, when she went and bought a BMW.

  • avatar
    Andy D

    Last weekend , I drove my brother’s stripper Tacoma. It is a 2wd, 4banger/ 5 spd. I was very impressed with its easy shifting and smooth clutch release. While not a rocket, it has enough giddiup to get out of its own way.

  • avatar

    I’m glad that someone pointed out the reason ford made the 71 mustang wide, to fit the 385 series engine between the shock towers.
    If they had done it a few years earlier before the decline of the musclecar they would probably have sold a lot of them with the 429 over a period of several years.
    A 302 powered mustang with whitewalls and wheel covers was not the performance model, it was for secretaries and people that wanted daily transportation with more flair than an LTD.
    A mach 1 with one of the cleveland engines or the 429 CJ was a true musclecar, a completely different category than a celica.
    Many more 71-73 mustangs, or any year mustang, for that matter have survived than any celica, and the cleveland and 429CJ powered cars are now collector cars, maybe not the most collectible musclecars but the prices are getting pretty steep nonetheless. You could probably buy 10 celicas (if you can find one) for the price of one 429CJ.

    • 0 avatar

      Quite a few of these survive in their home country, where most I presume were bought. I highly doubt you would see a 71-73 Mustang in Japan.

      Obviously more Mustangs probably survived in North America, they also sold far more of them. Combined with the first and second gen Celica’s corrosion problems.

  • avatar

    I wish I read this post earlier as I can speak from experience having bought a 1973 Celica ST 13 years ago from the original owner(from a little old lady no less).
    At first it had this ugly duckling charm to it but it’s really grown on me with it’s distinctly Japanese design being quite nice to look at.
    It got quite a few looks in 1997, but today it’s a traffic stopper. People stop me in parking lots, regular offers to purchase left under the wiper and thumbs up almost everywhere I go.
    Cars like this in the Great White North are very rare as most of them were stricken by rust by the late 80’s.
    And for this vintage it’s well equipped -tachometer, oil pressure, amp & water temp gauge – and it’s been very reliable.
    It’s not perfect, it needed larger tires (on Supra rims)and upgraded suspension to improve the handling ,the 18RC engine is mated to a long throw 4 speed manual so no scorching burnouts and pretty busy on the highway (3500-4000 RPM), the valves need adjusting ,there’s too much play in the steering, and parts are scarce.
    I’ve considered dropping in a Twin Cam 18RG-R with a 5 speed but holding back as I’m trying to keep it as original as possible.
    I wasn’t hunting for this car, the opportunity just presented itself, but I’m glad I bought it because like someone said earlier, it brings a smile to my face.
    But do I think it’s going to fetch more then a fully equipped Mustang of the same vintage? In a word, no.

  • avatar

    You are forgetting about the Honda Prelude. It was a hot FWD car from a company that seemed to do everything right at that time. Honda spooked the market for pony cars with the Prelude’s success. Honda’s commitment to FWD impacted both Toyota and Ford into going FWD too. Ford just got lucky, while Toyota didn’t.

    You are forgetting how the Celica became the Girl’s car when Toyota brought out the Supra. Toyota split it’s pony cars and gave the Celica the FWD and the Supra, the RWD. Toyota blew it. They made the RWD Supra too expensive with awesome performance. They made RWD the performance preference instead of just engines, as they did, just like Ford with the Mustang.

    Ford almost blew it the same way. They were saved by Mustang loyalists and management that listened to the loyalists and their own guts. Has everyone forgotten the Probe? It was supposed to be the next Mustang. That was such a done deal that when the RWD Mustang was saved, the millions poured into the new Mustang had to leave Flint Rock as the new FWD pony car – the Probe.

    The Probe was good enough to last two cycles, just like the FWD Celica. Both the Probe and the Celica got undercut as the authentic pony cars of Ford and Toyota by Mustang and Supra, which were RWD.

    Had Toyota did what Ford accidentially did, the FWD Celica would have come out as the Supra, and the RWD Supra would have continued as the Celica. Both companies would have stuck with their proven pony car brands and kept them alive long enough to have seen that the FWD pony car was a fad, not a trend strong enough to survive.

    So, what saved the Mustang, but killed the Celica was that the Celica followed the Prelude and Ford right off the cliff when Ford released the Probe, but hedged their bets and kept the Mustang. The Fox Mustangs lasted far longer that even Ford imagined they could, but by hedging their bets they saved this vital brand. The Probe became the girl’s pony car, and the Mustang became the guy’s. Ford sold the great Probe GT as a guy’s car, but let’s face it, if you want a Ford pony car, you want a Mustang. The Probe didn’t have the creds to survive against it.

    The Celica was FWD, while it’s stud mate, the Supra, was RWD. The Celica became a girl’s car, and the Supra became the guy’s car. Guys didn’t want the pretty FWD Celica when obviously when the RWD Supra had the balls. Toyota made the Supra too expensive however. This meant that if you wanted a RWD guy’s car, you choices became the Supra or the Mustang. Mustang was cheaper, has a great image, looked great, and was still a guy’s car. The Celica went over the cliff, thanks to a fad Honda created, the FWD pony car.

  • avatar

    Hey Paul, if you ever see a For Sale sign on this car, could you let me know? I’m just up the road in Corvallis.

    My first car was a ’74 Celica I drove through high school and college in the mid 80s. It was a fun little car, and I can vouch for the slick shifter and overall willing personality. I also loved the dash with the full set of gauges, even if the fake wood was embarassingly bad. And compared to most Japanese cars of the day, the Celica was good looking.

    My Celica seemed to have a nervous breakdown as 100,000 miles approached (unlike my ’01 Seville, which crossed that threshold yesterday without complaint, and the car still looks and drives like new). It managed to last me another 30,000 miles and for what I got on trade, I probably should have kept it and gradually fixed it up. I’d like to have another one now for a fun toy car.

  • avatar

    These were cool, but the rust protection was atrocious.  I’m not sure why Japanese car’s of the 70’s rusted so badly. Seemed to have been rectified by 1980 though, you still see those cars driving around. I still see 1982-1985 Celica’s regularly, but the previous generations are considerably more rare.

  • avatar

    I just have to butt in here!!  Our 1973 Celica ST is STILL sitting down in the garage in pristine shape and let me tell you, all the negative posts above will never, ever wipe out the memory of me driving that car 100 MILES per hour down the Trans Canada highway, blowing though a speed trap at the Saskatchewan-Alberta border because my husband, in a slightly strangled voice, had told me to make sure I had at least two other people in front of me who were going faster!  No power?  I beg to differ and beautiful to handle as well.  So what if it doesn’t ever become a collectible, it doesn’t matter.  I have never again driven such a fun car! And P.S. – we take it into parades and collectible or not, it sure is a hit with everyone there!

  • avatar

    I see the original blue-on-gold Oregon plates are still there. CKP-099: first issued March 1974, initial validation lasted through March 1976.

    Shortly after they changed from gold on blue plates to blue on gold, they also changed initial expiration from being one year from issue date of the plate to two years; as a result, few Oregon drivers had a 1975 sticker on their plates, opting instead for a 1976 expiration date.

    For example, a 1978 Oldsmobile Delta 88 Royale Diesel 2-door coupe with a license plate of GNC-748 was initially issued in July 1978 and the first expiration date was July 1980.

    • 0 avatar

      One thing I like about OR and CA, and used to about WA – it’s possible to find quite old cars with their original plates from new. And if those old plates are in nice shape, it can tell you something about the care the car has had. Just an added factor in scoping out an older car.

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