By on February 8, 2012

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.

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56 Comments on “Junkyard Find: 1980 Toyota Celica Coupe...”

  • avatar

    That dragon would be a great find and would fit a number of applications including computer case mod.

  • avatar

    It irks me that two of the most useful gauges (oil-voltage)… useful in the sense that the information they give you can mean the difference between quick preventive maintenance and being stranded out in the middle of nowhere… are absent on most cars today… even though OBDII tack-ons like the Scangauge show us that they’re monitoring them digitally, anyway.

    I agree, that dragon would look wonderful on a PC case. Dibs. I’m selling it first.

    • 0 avatar

      And the latest decontenting victim is the temperature gauge.

      I’m with you.

      They call them idiot lights for a reason. If the volts, oil, or temp light comes on – it’s already too late.

      • 0 avatar

        The temperature gauge was necessary for that generation of Toyota. Thermostats were a weak point. The 22R in my pickup seemed to need a new one every couple of years, hard to diagnose without a gauge.

    • 0 avatar

      I’m sad about coolant temperature gauges, too. Not that they’re terribly accurate or descriptive, but I’ve caught a blown headgasket, a skipped cambelt and various other mechanical maladies thanks to watching tiny “blips” (literally a hair’s movement of the needle) on the temperature gauge that wouldn’t come anywhere close to the threshold temperature for the red temperature light.

      • 0 avatar

        Agree on the temp gauge. It’s how I realized the failure of my defroster to defrost in my Subaru wasn’t due to a cooling system issue (the needle has never moved, once the car has warmed up, in eight years) but the result of a refrigerant leak. The engine’s still fine, I’m just a little warm until I can get the A/C hoses replaced.

        I was surprised when I had a rental Jetta recently and saw no temp gauge–you’d think VW would include one.

      • 0 avatar

        Just rented a 2011 Mazda 3, also no temp gauge, just a blue light shaped like a thermometer for cold engine-just like a 65-68 Ford Galaxie.

      • 0 avatar

        Temperature gauge? Ask and you shall receive. If you have a smartphone or recent Garmin bluetooth-enabled GPS unit, for about $100, you can get Garmin’s Ecoroute HD, a dongle which hooks into your car’s OBD-II computer to send data via bluetooth to your GPS or phone to emulate a whole set of gauges including a voltmeter, engine load and temperature gauge. It’s primary purpose is to track MPG and teach you how to get maximum mpg out of your car, and it does that quite nicely. Since it reads engine codes,it might just save you the cost of the gadget in avoiding trips to the shop for code diagnosis. Every auto wonk should have either one of these or something similar.

    • 0 avatar

      I’ve been under the impression that most cars made in the last 20+ years have oil and voltage gauges largely as vestiges. They do work but they tend not to show minor changes. The voltage gauge I do notice taking a hit when I do certain obvious things but the temp gauge NEVER moves, I could be in the searing desert or a frozen tundra and unless the engine blows up I am not going to see it move.

    • 0 avatar

      I’m hoping that in upcoming cars, we’ll see more IPs that are reconfigurable. I’d like to be able to display all of the information available and since there’s not an actual gauge on the dash, this should be the way to do it…

      • 0 avatar

        The updated display on the cluster of the 2011+ F150 has both a coolant temp gauge, and two transmission temp gauges, for some reason. One is a standard needle and the other is a digital reading of the actual temp. Maybe that’s just part of the tow package, though.

        Of course, it also has a screen that shows you how steep of a grade you’re climbing and how far your wheels are turned, but that’s not all that useful in everyday driving.

        All this but still no boost gauge for the Ecoboost.

    • 0 avatar

      There is hope yet. My 2011 300C has a submenu in the digital speedometer screen (itself trapped between two oversized and overly useless analog tach/speedometer gages) which gives honest to God temperatures. Oil Temp, coolent temp, transmission temp, tire pressure, plus a range guide of low/high values. I just wish they’d do away with oversized analog agges. Give me digital numeric data any day.

    • 0 avatar

      While a standard temperature gauge is largely useless for telling you exactly what the temperature is, every twitch of the needle tells a story. The reason they don’t move at all after warm-up on most cars is because the thermostat and fans conspire to keep the temperature relatively steady after the car warms up. Once the coolant starts boiling, the temperature reading at the probe becomes erratic, and you can sometimes catch an overheat long before it’s an actual overheat just by catching the dial twitching out of the corner of your eye.

      Happy to see temp gauges with these new digital dashboards. Love that Ford has it as a big, easy to read bar/dial on the Explorer. But personally, it should be the standard start-up display, not an option.

  • avatar

    Is that another one beside it in silver?

  • avatar


    Some things never change.

    • 0 avatar

      Actually, I think it’s a metallic gold, but close enough as it’s faded a fair amount over the years. Look at where the rear plates were, it’s much darker.

  • avatar
    Roberto Esponja

    I had the liftback version of this, same year. Great car…

  • avatar
    Steven Lang

    I wonder how many miles that thing had?

  • avatar

    Almost, on the logo – it’s not a dragon. It’s a swan.

  • avatar

    In late 1982 I almost bought one of these. It had low mileage and looked good. I took it for a test drive and pushed it a bit but not too hard. When I got back to the car lot & shut the motor off it was making this huge pissing noise; sounded like a cross between a fire hose going off under the hood and a B-29 in full take-off (not that I know what that sounds like but I’m sure it’s loud). I thought I had grenaded the engine and the salesman says, “Don’t worry, we’ll fix that”, I told him I’d take a pass and I got the hell out of there in a hurry.

    A couple of months later I bought a new ’83 GT liftback, one of my all time favorite cars. I think the platform was the same as the ’78-’81 but the sheet metal was completely different and it now had the indestructible 22 RE motor.

    I know in ’83 Toyota was still using the swan/dragon emblem; my car had three of them but quickly jettisoned them. One was located on the hood and one on either of the B pillars. I drove the car from D.C. to Colorado and back in 1984 and lost the hood swan/dragon somewhere between both points and then a rock on an unpaved road in New Mexico knocked the driver’s side B pillar cover off; there goes that swan/dragon. About a year later the passenger side B pillar swan/dragon just fell off too someplace in Maryland. So it had them but it didn’t really want them I guess. (I never knew if they were swans or dragons.)

  • avatar

    Thats a nice Delorean-ish nose there, shame this one hit the junkyard.

    Could the tranny have gone bad? Timing belt? (that generally kills interference engines).

    Someone could take this thing out and make a decent drifter.

  • avatar
    bumpy ii

    “let’s contemplate the idea of a sporty car with such a truck-ish powerplant.” 240SX?

    Lot of Japanese cars had (and have) their own unique logos. That practice largely died off on the export cars in the mid-80s.

    • 0 avatar

      When I had my 240sx I always wanted the 2 liter turbo, but the 2.4 was bulletproof, and had enough torque to slide rear end out easily.

      And then of course there is the king of sports cars with truck engines, the Corvette.

  • avatar

    I believe the dragon was dropped when the Celica and Supra lines were split in 1986 when the Celica became FWD.

  • avatar

    One of the few Toyotas I’d own.

  • avatar

    Nice find. One of my coworkers (Moody AFB) owns one of these, dunno if it is the same year or not. He replaced the entire dashboard with CF but other than that I’m not sure what else has been done to it.

  • avatar

    If we are all authorized an imagination, I think the swan is a viking ship.

    Whatever, I think a 4cyl truck engine with a manual rwd little car like this is great.
    Wish I had one.

    • 0 avatar

      Rumour is that back in October ’08 four Saab executives driving a clapped-out Celica ended up at Chrysler headquarters after a strong gust of wind blew them on to I-75 north. They had intended to go south for a meeting at GM. On arrival at Chrysler they were pleasantly surprised by their surroundings. The Saab executives proceeded to talk excitedly about the possibility of a non-binding agreement concerning a global strategic alliance. The Chrysler people feigned interest and advised that no decisions could be made until Bob Nardelli returned to the building … and that presently he was over at Home Depot buying lava rock and potted plants. As the Swedes were late for their meeting at GM they politely excused themselves and promised to return on their next trip to Detroit. However, for reasons unknown that Celica and those Saab executives never made it back to Chrysler. Three months later Fiat and Chrysler announced a non-binding agreement on a global strategic alliance … and we all know where that led.

      I doubt we’ll ever really know whether a wind-tossed Celica carried those Swedes to Auburn Hills three months before the arrival of the Italians. And if you ask Sergio Marchionne about this story I’m sure he’ll shake his head, smile and tell you calmly, “It’s a celestial dragon not a Viking drakkar.”

  • avatar

    Love this car. My favorite Celica, easily.

  • avatar

    I’m pretty sure the dragon/swan was also on the first Supra

  • avatar
    healthy skeptic

    My first car was an ’82 Celica, a hand-me-down from my parents. By the time I finally let it go (and it was dying of multiple causes by then) it had 15 years and 150,000 miles on it. Not bad at all for a Malaise-era vehicle.

  • avatar

    Oh boy! I can finally tell a “this was my first car” story. Got an ’81 Celica ST coupe when I was in high school in ’85. It was beige (much lighter than this one). Even though the ST was the base model, it had a mind-boggling array of equipment — a hand-cranked sunroof, rear window louvers, the array of gauges pictured above (with luxurious fake woodgrain), and one of the first four-speed automatics I can remember. (It had a pull switch on the dash to lock out fourth gear — it eventually broke.)

    What a great car. I miss it. (I eventually traded it for a newer CRX when my parents got nervous about me driving a car with 143,000 miles on it through the mountains to visit them. The CRX was also awesome, and had a proper five-speed.)

  • avatar

    I owned an ’80 Celica notch-back.I couldn’t kill it, although a cabbie re-designed the rear quarters when he ran into it. In the end. it was a lot of rust, some metal,a power-train that refused to die, and a generous amount of respect from me for the little car that never let me down.

  • avatar
    bill mcgee

    In 1980 a friend rented a new 80 Celica liftback and I drove it from Houston to Dallas and back. Of course it had an automatic being a rental, but I remember it being particularly impressive as far as being well put together in a time where its sporty coupe competitors – particular domestic ones – were a total POS. I remember it was a blue/light blue interior and looked like it was way classier than another friend’s Dodge Daytona. I always thought as far as exterior these were the best looking celicas-particularly the liftbacks.

  • avatar

    I would bet money the reason its not on the road is emissions. The factory carb has great driveability but are very difficult to fix, especially when each year/model is different. I’ve spent alot of time working on a FED version, and can only imagine how bad the CA versions are. I would bet the owner got a huge bill to be able to pass smog and decided to scrap it.

    • 0 avatar

      You could get a smog legal Weber carb. It would be the easiest way to get rid of all the old emissions junk. These cars are a nightmare with all the emissions tubes and systems.

  • avatar

    I owned an ’81 hatchback during high school and college. Abused that car like any 18 – 23 yr. old. Other then changing the oil religiously every 3,000 miles, I got 197,000 miles out of the car. Car went coast to coast 7 times without a problem. Interior quality was superb as was the quality of the paint. Cosmetically, the car looked showroom fresh after 6 years. Got a nice job out of school and sold the car for $1,000.00. Since then, I’ve owned a Toyota Cressida, Avalon, 4Runner and now 2011 Lexus GS350. These cars are like the energizer bunny.

  • avatar

    My first car was a ’78 (round headlight) hatchback, had it in high school in the mid-80’s. Poo brown like this one. I kicked the crap out of it – used to catch air over the elevated train tracks near my house. Sheepskin seatcovers, raised white-letter tires…the ladies loved it. Sort of.

    Kept it through college until the tranny locked up one day and I sold it to a guy for $200. Got almost 200K out of it though, and I literally do not recall ever doing anything to it other than brakes and oil. It probably had the same coolant, brake and tranny fluid from the factory.

  • avatar

    Isn’t that a Celica Liftback right next to it?

  • avatar

    The dragon-swan-viking ship was still around in 85 on my Celica Supra.

  • avatar

    I had a ’78 and then an ’80 just like this one, only both were white. The ’78 really felt much lighter, and driving the ’80 made me miss how the prior car drove. The only explanation I can make is that the ’80 had a bunch of features the ’78 did not, including air conditioning. Both were 5-speed cars. I miss the ’78 to this day – you could tach it until the valves floated, and hang the tail out on dirt road corners.

  • avatar

    I’ve owned a 73 TA21 Celica for the past 15 years and it’s true the 18R engine is tough but agricultural, far better off in a Hilux or Land Cruiser IMHO.
    Thought about stuffing a 18RG into it but the cost is far too high for me to take that leap.
    These cars are exceedingly rare in my neck of the woods (Western Canada) which explains the increasing double takes as the years go by.

  • avatar

    Should’ve kept the Celica RWD and live axle. Simple, inexpensive, fun. Then the bottom fell out of the FWD sports coupe market. The Supra was another mistake. Got pretty fast with the turbo and all but the price was out of this world. Keep it simple, fast, fun but mostly cheap/affordable.

  • avatar

    Looking at the C pillar, I believe the one on the left is a Supra. 1981 maybe.

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