1975 and 1976 were challenging years for the auto industry for another reason: the enactment of considerably tougher emissions standards in Japan and Australia as well as the U.S. and Canada. While the U.S. Clean Air Act, passed in 1970, had set the initial emissions control targets, Japan approached them on a considerably more aggressive timetable — Japan’s late-seventies standards were actually tougher than California’s.
Toyota faced a bigger problem in North America, where stricter emissions standards coincided with the introduction of the heavier 5 mph (8 km/h) bumpers. The solution was a new and larger engine for North American Celicas, Coronas, and Hilux pickups. Called 20R, it was a development of the R-system block with a 9mm (0.34-inch) longer stroke — bringing displacement to 2,189 cc (134 cu. in.) — and a new aluminum cylinder head with hemispherical combustion chambers and crossflow valves, operated by rockers from the single overhead camshaft.
Inevitably, there was also a plethora of additional emissions control equipment, which now included not only air injection, but also exhaust gas recirculation (EGR) and, on California cars, a catalytic converter. A heavy-duty radiator and fan helped to keep the emissions hardware short of meltdown on hot summer days. The bigger engine also brought with it a new chassis code: RA22.
The 20R had no more peak power than did the 18R-C; in fact, SAE net output actually dipped slightly from 97 to 96 hp (72 kW), or 90 hp (67 kW) in California. However, better breathing made the new engine more responsive and the fatter torque curve provided more power throughout the rev range. Peak torque climbed from 106 lb-ft (144 N-m) to 120 lb-ft (163 N-m; 122 lb-ft/165 N-m on 1976 California cars and 1977 49-state and Canadian Celicas). As a result, the latest North American Celica was somewhat quicker despite its extra weight and, on GTs, a taller final drive ratio. The downside was that the 20R engine was noisy and felt a tad agricultural when pressed.
In the home market, the Celica’s remaining premium-fuel engines were all dropped for 1975. In November of that year, Toyota made further powertrain changes to meet the next round of Japanese emissions standards, reducing the available JDM engine options to only three. All now had catalytic converters, air injection, and EGR, signified by a “U” suffix in their engine codes.
Base engine was now the 1,588 cc (97 cu. in.) 2T-U, rated at 90 PS (66 kW) JIS gross. (Its net output was probably about 75 hp (56 kW), similar to the 2T-C engine in contemporary North American Corollas.) The midlevel choice, and the only one now available with automatic, was the SOHC 18R-U, rated at 100 PS (74 kW). Top of the line was the DOHC 18RG-U, making 130 PS (96 kW). It was now the only twin-cam offering; the 1.6-liter 2T-G would not return to the lineup until the debut of the second-generation Celica. With the revised engines came new chassis codes: TA23/RA23 for hardtops, TA28/RA28 for Liftbacks.
In 1976, Australia enacted ADR 27A, which imposed NOx limits similar to the 1975 U.S. federal level. Emissions controls had trimmed the output of Australian Celicas’ single-carburetor 2T-C engine to 75 net hp (56 kW), about the same as in Japan or the U.S. A detoxed 18R-C engine, similar to the now-discontinued U.S. version, arrived around the time ADR 27A went into effect, making a lackluster 85 net hp (63 kW).
These emissions-related changes did not, as yet, affect customers in other markets. Starting in 1975, the twin-cam 2T-G engine became available in the U.K. and certain other European markets where it hadn’t previously been offered. Beginning in 1976, European markets also got the 18R and DOHC 18R-G engines, generally in addition to the existing single-carburetor 2T and dual-carburetor 2T-B, which were now rated at 75 PS (55 kW) and 86 PS (63 kW) respectively.
A FINAL TOUCHUP
In November 1975, the Celica and Carina received what would be their last round of cosmetic and structural changes in this generation. Both cars got a wheelbase stretch of about 3 inches (70mm) ahead of the firewall, to 98.2 inches (2,495mm), and their track width was increased both front and rear. Front track was now 52.6–53.1 inches (1,335–1,350mm) depending on wheels and tires, up from only 50.4 inches (1,280mm) on the original 1971 Celica and Carina.
Why Toyota would go to this trouble with cars now very close to the end of their design lives is not altogether clear. The official explanation was that the longer wheelbase provided more room for emissions control equipment, but North American Celicas had been able to mount all that hardware within the original wheelbase, even with the longer 20R engine. Our suspicion is that the front-end changes were a means of streamlining production at the Tsutsumi Plant, which would shortly begin building Coronas and Carinas on a common assembly line. The longer wheelbase and wider front end put the dimensions of the Celica and Carina within fractions of an inch (5mm) of the T100 Corona, which probably made it easier for the three cars to share transfer equipment and production facilities.
Whatever the rationale, the changes had the ancillary benefit of transforming the Celica’s previously stodgy handling. The early A20 Celica’s principal dynamic flaw had been massive roll understeer. Early Celicas were almost as nose-heavy as a big-block American pony car, particularly with the heavier R-system engines and air conditioning. With such a narrow front track, tight turns would cause substantial body roll, which with the stock front suspension geometry promoted significant camber loss. The front anti-roll bar resisted the body lean at the cost of heavily loading the inside front tire, resulting in ponderous understeer.
The front-end changes mitigated this problem in two ways. First, widening the front track reduced the Celica’s tendency to deposit its weight on the inside front tire without also increasing understeer-promoting front roll stiffness. Second, extending the wheelbase shifted more of the Celica’s static weight toward the rear axle, so there was less weight on the front tires to begin with. Even with those changes, the Celica would still understeer at the limit, but long-wheelbase cars (especially the Liftback, which had more weight over the rear axle) could now sustain significantly higher cornering speeds than before. Newly available 5½Jx14 wheels and 185/70HR14 tires were a further boon to lateral acceleration.
Thus revised, the Celica Liftback was finally introduced to export markets for 1976, supplementing but not replacing the hardtop. Both JDM and export cars shared the longer wheelbase and wider track along with other minor revisions, including a tidied-up dashboard layout, a relocated OK Monitor system (now available on some export models under the name Electro Sensor Panel, or ESP), bigger front brakes, and a larger fuel tank. These updates were signified with new chassis codes: Outside North America, Celica hardtops were now coded TA23/RA23, Liftbacks TA28/RA28. Late North American hardtops had the chassis code RA24 while the new Liftback was RA29.
Japanese Celicas retained the same three-engine lineup as the previous year, but there were some gaps in engine availability during the 1976 calendar year as Toyota certified the various powertrain combinations for the tougher 51 Showa NOx standards. JDM Celicas meeting the 1976 standards had new chassis codes: TA35/RA35. This change wasn’t reflected in other markets.
Despite the inevitable complaints about its styling being derivative of the Mustang’s, the Celica Liftback got a surprisingly warm reception outside Japan, winning Motor Trend‘s 1976 Import Car of the Year Award.
Derivative or not, the Liftback body was sleek and sporty-looking even with the big North American bumpers. It was also a much-improved car in many respects. The Celica was still not as nimble as the new Volkswagen Scirocco, but the Toyota was a capable and reasonably economical highway cruiser that no longer lost its footing any time the road curved sharply. (A good rack-and-pinion steering setup would have iced the cake, but the Celica wouldn’t switch to rack-and-pinion steering until the third-generation A60.)
Straight-line performance was decent as well, at least with the bigger R-system engines. Even the lightest TA23/TA35 Celica 1600LT hardtop (the base 1600ET was dropped during 1976) was about 200 lb (90 kg) heavier than an early TA22, so cars with the latest single-carb 2T engine were rather sleepy, needing more than 15 seconds to reach 60 mph (97 km/h). Specifying the single-carburetor 18R, which was very mildly tuned even in European Celicas, trimmed 0-60 mph (0-97 km/h) times to the high 12-second range. We’ve yet to find independent test results for the late 2000GT or 2000GTV, but British ads claimed a top speed of 114 mph (184 km/h) and 0-60 mph (0-97 km/h) times in the high 9-second range, which for once sounds a bit too conservative. (Given the 2000GT’s weight and claimed output, we’d estimate 0-60 mph (0-97 km/h) in about 9 seconds flat and a top speed of 118 mph (190 km/h).)
Assessing the performance of the North American RA24/RA29 Celica is a bit more difficult. Celicas with the 20R engine were definitely quicker than cars with the earlier 18R-C, but several 1976 road tests of the new RA29 returned credibility-straining 0-60 mph (0-97 km/h) times of 10 seconds or less — more than a second quicker than any previous U.S. test. Given the Celica Liftback’s substantial curb weight and unchanged output, those results suggest a press car with more than its normal allotment of vitamins. Quarter-mile (400m) elapsed times were still in the low 18s, more plausible for the Celica’s weight and output, while top speed remained about 104 mph (167 km/h). Fuel economy was also little changed at around 23–24 mpg (10 L/100 km) overall, reaching perhaps 27 mpg (8.7 L/100 km) on the highway with the five-speed gearbox.
While these aren’t impressive numbers today, they were pretty good for the mid-seventies, particularly given the Celica’s price. Comparably priced V-8 rivals like the Ford Mustang II or H-body Chevrolet Monza were quicker, but not dramatically so, and neither could approach the Toyota’s fuel economy or assembly quality. The Ford Capri remained a strong rival, as did the Scirocco, but if you were shopping for a compact sports coupe in this era, the Celica was at least worth a close look.
In Europe, the Celica’s reputation got an additional boost thanks to its return to WRC competition. Toyota Team Europe’s new RA28 2000GT Liftbacks scored no overall victories in the 1976 or 1977 seasons, but earned two second-place and two third-place finishes, a respectable showing.
Consequently, what on the surface appeared to be a modest update of an aging platform proved to be a shot in the arm for global Celica sales. European sales rebounded after a lackluster showing in 1974–1975 while U.S. exports jumped more than 50% for 1976 and an additional 63% for 1977, accounting for a substantial percentage of all U.S. Toyota sales in those years.
In the home market, business remained steady — in Japan, the Liftback had been around for almost three years at that point and the only significant changes had been emissions-related — but that was no bad thing. Celica sales during the latter part of the run still averaged about 50,000 units a year, excellent for a JDM specialty model.
Combined with robust export business, worldwide Celica sales topped 220,000 units in 1976 and passed the quarter-million mark in calendar 1977, the final year of the first generation. The last A20/A35 Celicas were built that July, short after aggregate production topped 1 million units. The U.S.-designed second-generation Celica, coded A40, debuted in late August, along with the new A40 Carina.
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As ever, once a subject is covered by Aaron it becomes the primary go-to source. I’m surrounded by Celicas here in oz, and even then have never noticed the minute changes in these first gens that are explained so completely within this article. That spacer below the grille and turning lights on US examples is an absolute disgrace.
Thanks, Don. Yeah, the bumper filler is aesthetically egregious. I’m not all that fond of the second-generation Celica, but if had one advantage over the first-gen car, it was that the 5 mph bumpers were integrated into the design rather being hastily tacked on.
Once again – well worth the wait. I remember being in the Navy in the early ’70s and my fellow sailors were saving their meager pay to buy a Celica. I already had a “competitor”: A 1971 Mazda RX-2. The body was basically a Dodge Colt with different trimwork. It even said “Body by Mitsubishi” on the door sills. If I hadn’t had that Mazda , I would have definitely wanted a Celica. Thanks for the hard work – you and James May should be collaborators!
I don’t think the Mazda RX-2/Capella was related to the Colt Galant. They do look similar, especially in profile, but that’s not uncommon for mass-market sedans in the same category. (The Capella and Galant were direct competitors in Japan.) Their dimensions aren’t the same and the Capella was mechanically quite a bit different even if you exclude the rotary engine; the early Capella had a five-link rear suspension while the Galant had Hotchkiss drive, for instance.
Entirely different, unrelated cars. The Galant was made by Mitsubishi, the Capella by Toyo Kogyo.
The four-door Carinas shown don’t have American or Canadian license plates, but I think North America got the Carina only in two-door form.
I believe that’s right, although it’s hard to say for sure since the Carina was such a short-lived footnote in North America. In Japan, there were two- and four-door sedans from the start, followed in 1971 by a two-door hardtop. My assumption is that British and European markets generally got only the four-door sedan and we got only the two-door, probably in a vain attempt to differentiate the Carina from the Corona.
Europe had 2 and 4 doors Carina sedans. I can’t remember seeing a coupe though.
I’m not sure the hardtop was exported, at least not during the ’70s. Given Toyota’s fairly limited European market penetration, the Carina hardtop would have competed with the Celica in a way that wouldn’t have made much commercial sense. It was pretty clearly intended for the home market, since the rival Colt Galant had a hardtop and Toyota stores didn’t have anything else very sporty to sell. And of course Toyopet dealers had a Corona hardtop, which I imagine was the real point.
I would be very interested to hear from someone who lived in Japan and was of car-buying age and means in the ’70s or ’80s as to how the different sales channels — and their thinly disguised variants, in particular, like the Corolla and Sprinter — were perceived by buyers. I understand the business rationale, but consumer perception is harder to judge, coming as I do from a very different national perspective.
Another outstanding job. I was transported back to my teen years (I got my driver’s license in 1975) and remembered being alternately in love with the Celica and the Scirocco, which I was pleased to see make a cameo appearance on your excellent piece.
Excellent article. Just a quick reply in regards to the 18R-E EFI engine. Cars so fitted were actually not a separate trim grade. In the case of the Hardtop models, this engine was available in either LT or ST trim lines. In Liftback models, this was only possible in ST trim (LT trim was not introduced for the liftback until 1976, by which time the 18R-E had been dropped from the engine lineup).
Could I ask for your source(s) on that? I have been wrestling with this particular point because the only 1974 or 1975 JDM brochure I was able to find is specific to the GT and doesn’t list the EFI at all. I did, however, find a brochure for the updated Carina hardtop introduced January 1974, which lists the 2000EFI as a separate mode, and the price list in World Cars 1975 (presumably taken from Toyota sources, since their JDM price lists usually match up exactly with Toyota’s Tokyo figures) indicates the same for the Celica. Brian Long notes the introduction of the 18R-E engine, but not anything about associated trim levels.
What you’re describing certainly sounds plausible, since that’s essentially what Toyota with the second-generation 1800ST, which came in both carbureted and injected (ST-EFI) forms. If you have a 1974 or 1975 JDM brochure that spells this out, I’ll certainly bow to that; this came down to a gap in the information I was able to find.
Looking at this again led me to make one other significant correction in the text: When the 2000GT first appeared in April 1973, it appears that it was exclusive to the Liftback through the end of the year. A 2000GT hardtop became available later, but on double-checking the initial press release and the brochures, it looks like it didn’t come along until the facelifted hardtop in January 1974. (The carbureted 18R was available in hardtops from April 1973, so I’m assuming Toyota was looking to emphasize the Liftback’s performance bona fides by letting it have the bigger twin-cam to itself for a while.) I’ve amended the text to so indicate.
No problem at all; I have both the 1974 and 1975 full Celica line JDM brochures I could send photos of to back up that fact. I also can confirm you are correct regarding the 2000GT to be Liftback only originally for 1973.
Ahh, okay, thanks! I’m not being argumentative, mind, just envious — I tried to find full-line 1974 or 1975 brochures without any success. Are the EFI versions described as 2000ST-EFI, the way Toyota did with the A40 cars? Also, do the brochures list a different chassis code for EFI cars? (RA26, perhaps, since that’s the only number skipped out of the A20–A29 sequence?)
To be honest, the hardest JDM Celica brochures to find for my collection were the full model line 1974 and 1975 years, so no doubt I feel your frustration (and the 1975 catalog has AMAZING photos to boot). No distinction is made in either brochure for the EFI models other than being listed as an option for the above subseries mentioned on their corresponding page within an engine/transmission graph. Further details of the engine are listed under the powertrain pages. The 18R-G models listed have the chassis code RA21-ME for the Hardtops and RA25-ME for the Liftback.
Thanks! I would be very interested in seeing those, or at least just the specs/options charts. In the meantime, I’ve amended the text. Regarding the chassis codes, the “M” signifies the five-speed, which as far as I can tell was mandatory with the 18R-E, and the “E” presumably signifies “EFI.” (A “Z” in that position indicated a dual-carburetor engine, a “Q” indicated DOHC, so a 2000GT Liftback was RA25-MQ.)
Regarding the EFI, one possibility that occurs to me is that both of these accounts may be correct. The 18R-E became available in January 1974 and the earlier of your brochures is from November of that year, so it’s conceivable that Toyota initially introduced the EFI as a distinct grade, as they had with the Carina, and then decided some months after launch to extend it to the LT hardtop as well, at which point listing it as an option for LT and ST grades would have made more sense.
My impression is that the EFI engine wasn’t terribly popular among Japanese Celica buyers. The price lists I have indicate that it was almost as expensive as a 1600GT, but it didn’t have the racy image of the twin-cam/dual-carb cars. If you just wanted a cruiser with more torque than the 1.6-liter cars, the carbureted 18R was cheaper and less complicated — and was available with automatic, which the EFI wasn’t. So, Toyota might have tried to introduce a cheaper version after launch in an effort to pep up sales.
That’s completely speculative, but it seems plausible. (If we had a January 1974 full-line brochure, we’d have a better idea, but you know the old saying about how you could always have won the war with that one weapon you didn’t have…!)
Send me an email address and I can shoot photos of the catalogs via i-phone for you no problem tonight. Ive got the 1971, 1973, 1974, 1975, 1976 and 1977 full lineup catalogs (plus nearly every single one after that except 1980 thru the run of the series, if you are interested in something specific.
Yesterday, March 7, 2017, was the 79th birthday of retired professional race car driver, Janet Guthrie. Back in the 1970s (more than 40 years ago) she drove a first generation Celica in SCCA races and spoke very highly of the car saying that it was the equal of the much more expensive Alfa Romeo Giulia GTV in terms of handling and performance.
The first-generation Celica could be made to handle (and the long-wheelbase cars weren’t bad for the era) with some work, assuming race rules would permit it. People interested in a more in-depth examination of what does and doesn’t work with the short-wheelbase cars, so far as handling goes, should look for an article by Don Sherman in the November 1974 issue of Car and Driver, which tested a variety of common strategies for improving the Celica’s handling to see which did and did not work. (Spoiler alert: many did not.)
Interesting, I always thought Celica taillight design cues aped those of early Mustangs, but looking at that 2000 GT rear shots, it would seem that today’s Mustangs borrow from the 2000 GT’s.
Somehow if you stare at them bumper and below look like old mustang, and above look like new mustang.
True. The three-light taillight design for 1976 really pushed the Mustang resemblance, though — I have to wonder why they did that.
Another great article! Thanks for transporting me back to 1975 and my first ever new car. I remember it as a sporty and stylish car for the time, and a big step up from what I has been driving. Probably my biggest automotive mistake was trading it in on a Triumph Spitfire that was as big a headache as the Celica was reliable.
Thanks, Frank! I appreciate the kind words.
After scanning My JDM catalog collection again today, I’d like to point out the color keyed elastometer bumpers were actually an option on all Japanese trim lines up to at least February 1972 (per catalog 30105-4702). The option appears to have been changed to ST/GT hardops only by March 1973 (catalog 141016-4803), and was gone completely by November 1974 (catalog 141048-4911).
Interesting — at launch, both the earliest JDM brochure and the initial press release indicate that the elastomer bumper option was available only on the ST and GT. The ’72 models added certain option/model/powertrain combinations that hadn’t been available at launch, so it appears they expanded availability and then rolled it back in 1973. The elastomer covers were gone by January 1974, so far as I can tell, and I’ve found no indication that they were offered on the Liftback at all. All this suggests to me that take-up for the option was not very good and that Toyota finally decided it wasn’t worth the hassles.
I own a 1974 Celica RA25 2 litre EFI liftback can anyone tell me if this motor will run on unleaded fuel I have been told many JDM cars did in the 1970’s
That’s a good question. Toyota advertised the injected 18R-E as a regular-fuel engine (although at 9.1:1, its compression ratio was a little higher than most of Toyota’s ’70s regular-fuel engines), so I wouldn’t assume unleaded fuel would be a concern so far as octane rating goes. However, I’m not a mechanic, so I’d advise that you seek out a 1974 or 1975 JDM owner’s manual (or shop manual) for the Celica, Carina, or Corona, which all offered the 18R-E in identical specification, to see if there are any specific caveats about unleaded or low-lead fuel.
Hats off to an excellent new article by Aaron. It’s always worth the wait. I wish more writers would take the same care as Aaron towards any subject they cover, and be as tolerant and kind to everyone who comments. Please, keep up the great work.
I own a 1st gen. orange 1977 Toyota Celica GT Hardtop Coupe. I was researching pricing to sell it, because I just bought a new car that is more practical for my lifestyle (unfortunately). I’ve owned my Celica for 18 years now and have driven it hundreds of thousands of miles. It was my first and only car until now. It’s been my constant companion for half of my life. Reliable, solid, and soooo much fun to drive!
I first took it to college and it got me from my hometown of Seattle 225 miles south to Oregon and back regularly. It’s been my daily commuter car to work. I’ve even taken it car camping. My favorite thing is when I find the rare open road in Seattle on a balmy summer night at just the right time, and the perfect feeling of bliss I get as I accelerate, drop it into fourth, and the wind blows through my hair as I listen to the crackly old school radio blasting. Driving it is like entering a portal to the past when things were simpler, and it’s like a time capsule of my youth.
I still love my Celica so much and selling it is particularly difficult for me. I know, people say it’s just a car but I have so many amazing memories of my youth wrapped up in this piece of metal and glass and vinyl.
So when I came across this site I got all nostalgic and started reading through this article. As I scrolled by the first picture of the orange 1977 Celica I thought to myself, “Wow, what a nice looking Celica. I wonder where it’s located (since there aren’t many of them left in good condition). It looks really similar to mine.” Then imagine my surprise and delight as I scrolled past the other two photos of the same car, recognized my bumper sticker (I know, bad idea, but I was 18) and the surroundings as my neighborhood! It looks like my Celica because it is! Thanks for making me smile. I think I’ll cry when I sell it (hopefully to someone who will restore it and love it as much as I do!)
I bought a new 1974 Celica GT 5-speed in San Diego. It was yellow with white stripes and tan interior. The fit and finish on that car was excellent. It was a great car for long distance trips and got about 28 mpg cruising at 70 mph. Only drawback was it could have used another 30 hp and in the hottest places we drove it A/C would have been nice. We liked to camp so we sold it and got a 1977 Corolla 5-speed station wagon, another great Toyota. The new 2020 hybrid Corolla is available in other countries as a station wagon (they call it a Touring Sports), but Toyota wants North Americans in an SUV, so they won’t sell it here. As your article mentions in detail, other parts of the world get more variety in their Toyotas. When we bought our Made in Japan Celica who would have guessed that in 2018-19 most models for USA would be built in North America.
I enjoy your articles.
The trade-off with first-generation Celicas is that the engines that had 20 more horsepower had no more torque (and sometimes less), so for real-world driving it was a bit of a wash. The second-generation car addressed that with the Celica XX/Celica Supra, with a six-cylinder engine, but that cut pretty heavily into the fuel economy that made the four-cylinder Celica so appealing to a lot of ’70s buyers.
I’m not at all a fan of the trend to mostly SUV lineups for North America — I think the manufacturers that go that way are going to regret it sooner or later, and some may not survive the mistake — but I suppose it is fair to say that American buyers have been rejecting non-SUV wagons for at least 25 years now. If memory serves, the last Corolla wagon Toyota sold here was in the E100 generation in the mid-nineties, and it was not a hot ticket even then.
Dear author , who was the designer of the celica ta22 series .
You know, I was unable to find out in any of the English-language material. (A couple of the Japanese references may have said, but I’m not good at reading Japanese names in kanji.)