The Toyota Celica, Pt. 2 – Leaving A Lasting Legacy

October 24th, 2017 by

Our continued look back at the Toyota Celica could mean a rough ride this week, as over the course of the next few paragraphs we’ll see a fairly mild mannered but forward-thinking sports sedan put on its superhero cape, and transform itself into a tarmac-chewing behemoth that brings real race-bred technology to the road. Of course we will be taking in some of the most successful rally cars ever built along the way and the indelible mark they left on the sport – so strap yourselves in tight folks, because it all starts right now!

The fourth-generation Celica of 1985-89 was a major departure from the cars that had preceded it. It was the first to exist alongside a separate Supra model (slotting in just beneath the new sports car in Toyota’s pecking order of performance), the first Celica not to be built on Toyota’s ‘A’ platform and therefore the first Celica not to be rear-wheel-drive – instead using the same front-wheel-drive layout of more conventional four-door sedans like the Toyota Corona and Carina, with which it also shared the ‘T’ platform. Again, coupe and liftback were the body styles to choose from with three trim levels for North America – ST, GT and GT-S. A convertible version using the GT trim level would also join the lineup in 1987. The ST and GT cars have a 2-liter engine making 97hp – this was replaced after a year by another 2-liter powerplant – this time with 16 valves and double overhead cam – making it good for 115hp. GT-S Features a 135hp normally-aspirated version of the turbocharged ‘3S-GTE’ motor that would be used in ‘the ultimate Celica’ – The Turbo All-Trac version first introduced in Japan in 1986 as the ‘GT-Four’, and arriving in America for the 1988 model year. The Turbo All-Trac develops 190hp – 55 more than the GT-S – and understandably has a chunkier, meaner look than the front-wheel drive models, but that’s not all – bigger air intakes were also needed, and cars built for export from Japan also had working ground-effect bodywork. All-Trac owners did have to make a couple of compromises related to the car’s transmission – the 4-speed automatic that could be fitted to other Celica models wasn’t an option here so you had to take the 5-speed manual, and an interior cup holder had to be sacrificed in order to make room for a driveshaft (seen only on the Turbo All-Trac as it was the only car that delivered drive to the rear wheels) – but we’re sure those were concessions gladly made to have the near-racecar levels of performance the Turbo All-Trac offered in its day. And speaking of the racecar, the Celica rally car – identified from other generations by the ‘ST165’ designation (the chassis code it shares with that generation’s Turbo All-Trac road car) was prepared by Toyota Team Europe and claimed 13 WRC victories – mostly in the hands of Spaniard Carlos Sainz. It was superseded as the works team’s rally car before the 1992 season, but the old girl still had one win left in her at the 1992 championship’s Swedish round, with Mats Jonsson at the wheel for Toyota Team Sweden.

By that time the fifth-generation Celica had been on sale for two years, boasting a new approach as it made an effort to again ‘make the most of what it had’ just as the original Celica had done. One way in which Toyota tried to do this was their use of ‘super-round styling’, which was said to increase overall strength in the body panels without adding weight – in the years to come rounded bodies would become a trend in automotive design and a style adopted by many other manufacturers, but the Celica really helped lead the way here. With the weight saved by the new bodywork and other improvements, it took less power to achieve the same performance, so while the sportier GT and GT-S models moved on to a 2.2-liter engine for more torque, the base ST trim could get by with a 1.6-liter, achieving a similar power level as its predecessor’s 1.8-liter engine as well as better fuel economy. This generation’s All-Trac version is the only car in the range not to get a new engine, and is therefore powered by the same turbocharged 2-liter ‘3S-GTE’ engine as seen in the previous generation. However by this time, years of refinement and motorsport telemetry let Toyota eek out another 10 horsepower, bringing the total to an even 200. To go along with the power you also got some extra toys, as ABS, a leather interior, sunroof and 10-speaker sound system were all options on the All-Trac that were later made standard in this generation’s final model year of 1993. Sadly, the fifth-generation ‘ST185’ rally car’s homologation model never made it to these shores, but the competition car spawned from it – decked out in the iconic red, white and green Castrol livery it shared with the sister Supra in the Japanese GT Championship – won 16 WRC events and led Carlos Sainz, Juha Kankkunen and Didier Auriol to consecutive WRC drivers titles in 1992, 1993 and 1994 respectively. It also brought home the constructors titles in 1993 and 1994, marking two consecutive ‘doubles’ for Toyota Team Europe and their drivers.

The sixth-generation Celica was introduced in 1993 with a streamlined model lineup for the US – the three traditional body styles remained (notchback coupe or liftback on launch, later joined by a soft-top to complete the trio) and there were just 2 trim levels to choose from – ST and GT. This was really a question of which engine you wanted as both cars were otherwise similarly equipped – and there you could choose between the ST’s all-new 105hp 1.8-liter also seen in the Corolla, or the trusty 135hp 2.2-liter lump used in the previous generation’s GT and GT-S. A ‘sports package’ was also available for the GT that improved performance even further, and while they weren’t a separate trim level as defined in the brochure, American cars fitted with this package are seen by some as being an ‘unofficial’ GT-S – and indeed, in Canada such cars were given a GT-S badge. That would be the best sixth-generation Celica that the North American market would see however, as the Turbo All-Trac would not be making the trip across the Pacific – which is such a shame as on paper, it was a formidable machine. As it would be the basis for the ‘ST205’ rally car that would challenge for a third consecutive ‘double’ in 1995, development was heavily influenced by Toyota Team Europe – it has an Aluminum hood to reduce weight and on top of that the huge rear wing actually works – removing it is said to add around 12mph to the car’s top speed, thereby proving that it generates real downforce. The 2500 Group A homologation cars even included all the mechanical components needed for the anti-lag system and water spray bar used on the rally car, just to make those parts legal in competition. They aren’t really practical on the road or for regular owners, and while it is possible to turn the systems on given the right parts and an amount of after-market tinkering, it isn’t advisable. As such these systems are little more than dead weight on the road cars they’re fitted to, but even so – the fact that Toyota were willing to add that weight, not to mention components that could break the road car if they were to be activated, shows just how important TTE’s wishes were to Toyota and how much say the race team had in the car’s design. In the end though it was all for naught as the ST205 ended the Celica’s rally exploits under a dark cloud – the season was fraught with problems and the car earned only one WRC win (the 1995 Tour de Corse, in France), but worse was to come at that year’s Spanish round, where they were found to be using illegal turbo restrictors and disqualified from not only that event, but the one remaining round in Britain too. TTE’s drivers were stripped of all championship points, as were the team, with TTE also being given a one-year ban from the sport. When Toyota returned in 1997 new regulations would be in force, and while the ST205 Celica soldiered on for a time in the hands of midfield privateer teams, the works effort used the Corolla liftback as the basis for their new WRC car. Things were thankfully different in Japan though, where the sixth- and seventh-generation Celicas went circuit racing, being used in the GT300 class of the Japanese GT Championship by Racing Project Bandoh in the late 90’s and well into the 2000’s.

The final, seventh generation Celica road car arrived in 1999 with a new, more angular look and a new suite of engines in the ‘ZZ’ series. Once again two trim levels were offered in the U.S., the GT and the GT-S, with the main difference between the two being the motor. Both trim levels were powered by 1.8-liter inline-4’s but as was the pattern with later American Celicas, the base GT’s engine was more geared towards economy while the one in the GT-S is focused more on outright performance. Like many of its predecessors this Celica also went on a diet (since weight hurts all aspects of performance), but after nearly three decades of gradual improvement and optimization on that front Toyota were forced to take more radical measures to shave off a final few pounds – measures like placing the power window and locking controls in the center console so that only one set of circuitry, wiring and buttons was required for both windows, and the plastic sunroof seen on early models – though likely due to cost this reverted to glass later in production. There was no All-Trac / GT-Four model at all in this generation due to the rally team having switched to the Corolla as we’ve already discussed, but that didn’t mean that Toyota weren’t willing to cater to Celica drivers who wanted more performance. On the contrary, TRD USA in particular were more than willing to help on that front, offering Toyota made-and-endorsed parts and procedures for the suspension, exhaust system, brakes and transmission that would improve the car’s capabilities in a variety of ways. TRD body kits were also available and as was done by Toyota on other models, the GT’s ‘1ZZ-FE’ engine could be turbocharged too – though on a Celica you’d need to make changes to the bodywork as well, as such modifications won’t fit under the stock hood. The final 2006 model was only sold in Japan, with exports having stopped in July of the previous year, and although no-one could know that we were just seven years away from the cars demise when the seventh generation was introduced in 1999, the last Celica did indeed roll off the line on April 21, 2006. We would love to see the Celica make a return someday, but by the same token we are just as happy with our memories of seven amazing, avant-garde vehicles, and so content to see the Celica occasionally speed sideways through our thoughts – just as it would the dirt of its own car heaven.

Posted in History