By on February 9, 2012

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!

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27 Comments on “Junkyard Find: 1981 Toyota Celica Liftback...”

  • avatar

    1981 Celica – Good times!!

  • avatar

    The first used car I ever bought was a 1981 Celica GT coupe, white with the exact same blue herringbone interior as your subject car. It wasn’t particularly fast, but there weren’t many fast 4-cylinder cars in that era before 16-valve engines became commonplace. I liked it because it never let me down and I thought it was fun to drive with a five-speed manual and it had a manual crank factory sunroof which was the envy of my friends. I bought it with 75k miles from a fastidious first owner and sold it about 100,000 miles later after finishing high school and driving it through college. The only problems I ever had were rust related (it was a Toyota in Detroit). The car had over 150k miles on it when and a friend and I hopped in and drove to Florida for spring break from Michigan without so much as worrying about carrying a tool kit. No problem at all.

    A few years ago a neighbor had a 1980 Toyota Celica Sunchaser (a rare convertible/targa version made by Griffith motors) for sale. It was in amazing shape but either my memory of the relative speed of the car was skewed by youthful exuberance or my expectations had simply shifted drastically over the years. It just seemed so dreadfully slow that I passed even though it was both cheap and in amazing condition.

    Anyway, I think cars like these Celicas really cemented Toyota’s reputation for reliability in those days.

    • 0 avatar

      Even the last generation Celica is pretty durable. I bought one new in 2000, and I’m still using it for commuting and hauling my dogs around–220,000 miles and counting. I’ve had to replace the struts, clutch, and a few other things. But it runs great and I can’t justify replacing it yet.

      It’s amazing to see the redline on the 1981 model was only 5000 rpms. I remember buying a Civic in 1984 that had a redline of 6500 or so, and we all thought that was pretty cool at the time.

    • 0 avatar

      It’s amazing how time shifts expectations. My dad, who’s now in his late 60s, bought a new ’92 Cutlass Supreme 3.1 based partly on the fact that he felt it was punchy at the time. Time marched on, of course, and after about 10 years that car was scrapped. He currently drives a 240 hp Concorde. When he went for a spin in my Miata this summer, he thought my car was almost comically slow. He didn’t want to believe that it has the same 140 hp rating as his 1,000 lbs heavier sedan had. Cars got faster, he got used to them, and expectations shifted. The same thing happened when I went from my 125 hp TL1000S to my heavier 110 hp Honda VFR. “Hmm, it’s a bit sluggish,” says the idiot about the bike that does 0-60 in 3.5 seconds.

      • 0 avatar
        Roberto Esponja

        Don’t know what year your dad’s Concorde is, but I owned a 1993 Dodge Intrepid with the base (3.3 liter) engine, and it’s horsepower rating was 160, IIRC. 140 hp seems low. Also, the Concorde’s torque rating is probably higher than the Miata’s, and that’s a big factor when standing acceleration comes into question. As an example, the Honda S2000 was initially controversial since it had high HP but low torque. A lot of people complained about them being sluggish around town…

      • 0 avatar


        I believe he meant the ’92 Oldsmobile Cutlass had 140 hp and his father has been spoiled by the 240 hp Chrysler.

  • avatar

    Why can we not get cars with nice cloth upholstery anymore? Now it is either something like wet suit material or nasty rat fur.

  • avatar

    While most of these types cars weren’t fast, they WERE often made for spirited driving none the less. Don’t know about this era Celicas but the same era Civics were indeed zippy – with all of 67HP, then again, they WERE only 1800Lb dripping wet.

    Man I had fun with that 83 Civic I had and I would venture to guess these were just as much fun too.

  • avatar

    I graduated high school in 1989. These things were EVERYWHERE in so cal.

  • avatar

    Wow, you just don’t see these here in NZ at all. I’m just not drawn to the liftback of this generation though, the coupe looks a lot cleaner to me.

    • 0 avatar

      Kia Ora Whanau Styles79, I noticed the same thing when I was a kid. Ironically the first gen of Celicas (pronounced sill-EEK-ah in Australia for some reason only drop bears understand) had the hatch being the good looking one of the two. The coupe was a hideous frankenstein looking beastie. When Toyota smoothed the lines out into the jelly-bean shape in what should be considered fore-thought to the ’86 Taurus, the coupe suddenly became the looker. Interestingly, I believe this is the first years of the Supra and that model had a Swan instead of the old Toyota writing.

  • avatar

    i see these side to side and i always wonder if you can build one working car from the two…

    a shame these things aren’t loved

  • avatar

    What? The yard had a rust free,driving sportyish Toyota for sale for a measly $100, and no one wanted it? What’s wrong with you Californians?

    • 0 avatar
      Roberto Esponja

      Thanks for sparing me the typing, I was going to write the same exact thing.

    • 0 avatar

      My junkyard experience tells me it was probably more like $799 (I’ve seen running Aveos and X350 XJR’s for similar price out front in the “builder” lot). But still…Californy? This would sell for at least twice that around Chicago. At what point do these people send a car to the junkyard? When they get bored? We have to deal with real problems around here with an older car. Like, you know, lack of a floor…

      • 0 avatar

        An awful lot of niceish old cars get junked in CA because it will cost more to get them to pass the smog check than the car is worth. IIRC, it is the seller’s responsibility to get the car smogged before a sale, even for private parties, but I am sure one of the natives will correct me if I am wrong.

        A friend bought a very nice BMW 2002 this way while in CA for a business trip – coworker was going to scrap it because it would not pass smog and needed some other work. He bought it cheap and shipped it back to Maine, where we have no emissions testing, just safety.

      • 0 avatar

        CA has its own version of “cash for clunkers” ongoing. My brother sold a running Ford Windstar to the state for more than its street value as a used car. Some of these cars going to the crusher here came from that program.

    • 0 avatar

      Just begs for a GM LS swap doesn’t it? RWD hooning heaven.

  • avatar

    I repaired several of those R-series engines–always a top timing chain guide.
    Funny thing about those pics…I liked the airfreshener hanging from the visor. Just how bad does your car have to stink that you have to advertise it?
    One day at the shop, a car came in with a “Shell No-Pest Strip” hanging from the mirror. Most of the times these cars come in smelling like someone crapped a pine cone or vomited a strawberry milkshake inside. You need an iron lung, radiation suit and a Devo helmet just to get under the dash.

  • avatar

    My cousin had one of these when she went off to college in 1986–I think it was the round-headlight model (so, ’78, ’79?). From what I remember it got her through all four years without any drama. (Which is exactly what you want if you’re a coed three hours from home.)

  • avatar

    What a shame as they’re definitely worth saving but soon they’ll be drawn into the crushers loving embrace.
    Don’t know what you got till it’s gone.

  • avatar
    Brent Johnson

    I used to work for Dave Stollery, the designer of this Celica. He was hired away from General Motors in the early ’70’s to open Calty, the Toyota design studio in California, and the Celica was their first project. He left Toyota in the ’80’s and started his own industrial design firm. If you have been to the beach in CA most likely you have seen his fiberglass lifeguard tower (I should know, I put together about a hundred of them). Also, if you do a
    Google image search of “Arex roadster”, you will see the concept roadster he designed 25 years ago and still looks amazing today.

  • avatar

    Looks like someone took a few parts from the engine bay.

    Stinks to see another Celica go, but a car that “runs and drives” can still have an assortment of fun things to deal with, like bad brakes.

  • avatar

    You sure that’s not a Celica Supra?

    • 0 avatar

      No it’s not the Supra trim. Supras were inline sixes. 22R is the engine code for the I4 from the regular Celica. Also, the tail lights for the Supra trim were different.

      • 0 avatar

        How in hell did I forget about the engine. My neighbor had one. The motor died at about 38k miles. Toyota wouldn’t help him out so he had to pay for a new motor. His first and last Toyota.

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