Celestial Pony: Toyota’s First-Generation Celica


Thanks largely to its extended model run, the first-generation Celica was the most successful of the nameplate’s seven generations, accounting for more than a quarter of all 1970–2007 Celica production. It was also the only version that was an unequivocal hit in Japan. After the A40 debuted, JDM sales pepped up briefly, returned to their previous level for 1979, and then dropped off markedly, leaving the Celica to become an increasing U.S.-focused product.

For those reasons, perhaps, the A20 Celica is well-remembered in Japan, where it’s nicknamed “Daruma,” after the popular wishing dolls. Elsewhere, the early Celica seems to have fallen into the same limbo of faint praise and half-ironic nostalgia as other once-popular mid-seventies sporty cars. It seldom achieves even the grudging respect and recognition now accorded the contemporary Datsun 240Z.

1974 Toyota Celica 1600GT hardtop (TA22L) side © 2015 Rui Coelho (with permission)

It’s not hard to understand why the Celica 1600GT didn’t make it to America — emissions controls would have made it no more powerful than the bigger 20R engine, with far less torque to cope with big bumpers and air conditioning. However, a federalized 18R-GU would probably have had around 15 hp (10 kW) more than the 20R and could have given the RA24/RA29 Celica GT more spring in its step. (Photo © 2015 Rui Coelho; used with permission)

At least as far as North America was concerned, it might have helped if Toyota had gone to the trouble of federalizing the twin-cam engines, if only for the sake of virtue signaling. From a sales standpoint, it obviously didn’t matter; the first three Celica generations sold very well in the U.S. with only mild-mannered engines. However, a hotter 18R-G model (with some attention to the front suspension geometry on short-wheelbase cars) might have gotten a little more respect and attention from the English-speaking enthusiast crowd, which otherwise tends to dismiss the Celica as “Secretarial Transport.”

Misogynistic derision notwithstanding, the first-generation Celica was an extremely successful car by most objective standards. It sold well; it had a worthy competition history; and if it wasn’t not the most original design, it was handsome, particularly with its tidier non-U.S. bumpers. Sadly, it seems that so far as the notoriously chauvinistic automotive world is concerned, the A20 Celica was born on the wrong continent, in the wrong decade, and from the wrong company for true classic status.



Special thanks go out to all the photographers who were kind enough to let me use their images for this story, and to Don Andreina, Rui Coelho, Scott McPherson, and George Neil for their help with research.



Our sources on the origins and history of the first-generation Celica and its leading rivals included: “Aioi Peron Matsuri – Dragon Boat Racing Festival near Himeji,” Zooming Japan, 1 May 2015, zoomingjapan. com/travel/ aioi-peron-matsuri/, accessed 4 January 2017; “ASH8,” “MAZDA Rotary Production Number History,” RX8 Club, 25 March 2009, www.rx8club. com/ showthread.php?t=169856, accessed 5 February 2017; “Auto Test: Toyota Celica Liftback,” Autocar 18 September 1976: 76–80; “Auto Test: Toyota Celica 1600ST: No rival at the price,” Autocar 19 August 1971: 14–17; [“Black Celica LB 2000 GT”], Vintage Car Yoshino, Stock Car List, www.vintage-yoshino. com/ stock/ y1134/ y1134.htm, accessed 15 October 2016; “Camaros for Everything,” Road & Track Vol. 23, No. 8 (April 1972), reprinted in Camaro Muscle Portfolio 1967–1973, ed. R.M. Clarke (Cobham, England: Brooklands Books Ltd., ca 1992): 128–129; “Carina – Constellation Facts,” Online Star Register, 12 August 2016, osr. org/blog/ astronomy/carina/, accessed 7 January 2017; David Cass, “Everyday Classic ~ Mitsubishi Colt Galant GTO,” NZ Classic Car December 1997: 42–47; “Comparison Test Super Coupes ’74: Mazda RX-2, Open Manta Rallye, Toyota Celica GT, Capri 2800, Vega GT, Mustang II Mach I,” Car and Driver Vol. 19, No. 11 (May 1974): 58–69, 86; Mike Covello, ed., Standard Catalog of Imported Cars 1946–2002, Second Edition (Iola, WI: Krause Publications, 2001); Michael A. Cusumano, The Japanese Automobile Industry: Technology & Management at Toyota & Nissan (Cambridge, MA: The Harvard University Press, 1985); “Dragon Boat Race Festivals of Naha and Itoman, and elsewhere in Japan, their history and their cultural significance,” Japanese Mythology & Folklore, n.d., japanesemythology.wordpress. com/ notes-resources-on-dragon-boat- race-festivals-and-their-significance/, accessed 4 January 2017; Jim Dunne and Ray Hill, “Small sports cars: big on handling and economy,” Popular Science Vol. 209, No. 4 (October 1976): 32–38; Jim Dunne and Rich Ceppos, “Subcompact sports coupes — economy with verve,” Popular Science Vol. 211, No. 6 (December 1977): 26–34; John Fuchs, “Road Test: Camaro/Challenger/Firebird/Javelin: The Fearsome Foursome,” Motor Trend Vol. 26, No. 4 (April 1974), reprinted in AMX & Javelin Muscle Portfolio 1968–1974, ed. R.M. Clarke (Cobham, England: Brooklands Books Ltd., ca 1994): 115–117, 132; Galant GTO Network, 2002, www.galantgto.net, accessed 5 February 2017; “Giant Test: Celica GT, MGB GT, Lancia Beta Coupe,” CAR September 1975: 54–60; “Giant Test: Opel Manta 1.6S versus Toyota Celica 1.6ST,” CAR June 1972: 48–55; “Giant Test: Toyota Carina v. VW Passat v. Triumph 1500 TC,” CAR May 1974: 58–65; “Giant Test: VW Scirocco TS v. Capri 2000GT v. Toyota Celica ST,” CAR December 1974: 72–79; Glass’s Dealers Guide Pty Ltd., Glass’s Dealers Guide to Passenger Vehicle Values No. 299 (January 1982); “Group Test: Ford Capri 2000GT, Opel Manta 1.6S, Vauxhall Firenza 2000, Morris Marina 1.8TC Coupe, Toyota Celica,” Motor 23 October 1971: 74–79; Gure, “[Burn it! Competition Rivalry of the 20th Century Biography Series!!! … 1],” [Gure’s Unforgettable Cars], 21 April 2012, nsadj0623.blog.fc2. com/ blog-entry-96.html, last accessed 5 February 2017; and [Burn it! Competition Rivalry of the 20th Century Biography Series!!! … 7], 2 February 2013, nsadj0623.blog.fc2. com/ blog-category-15.html, accessed 6 September 2016; Bill Hartford, “Imports and Motorsports,” Popular Mechanics Vol. 139, No. 3 (March 1973): 34; Michio Hashimoto, “History of Air Pollution Control in Japan,” How to Conquer Air Pollution: A Japanese Experience (Studies in Environmental Science 38), ed. Hajime Nishimura (Amsterdam: Elsevier Science Publishers B.V., 1989): 1–90; Nate Hassler, “1973 Toyota Celica – Orange Crush,” Super Street, 26 September 2012, www.superstreetonline. com/ features/ modp-1210-1973-toyota-celica/, accessed 12 September 2016; Dawn M. Hoch, Ed., Chilton’s Toyota Celica/Supra 1971–85 Repair Manual (Radnor, PA: Chilton Book Co., 1997); Honda Motor Co., Ltd., [“Launched: World-class super sedan Honda 1300”], [Japanese press release], 15 April 1969; JapanClassic (www.japanclassic.ru); “Japan: Toyota Corona Road Test,” Car and Driver Vol. 16, No. 5 (November 1970): 32–35; Insurance Industry for Highway Safety, “Auto Makers Say Back Off on Bumpers,” Status Report Vol. 6, No. 2 (1 Feb. 1971): 1–2; “DOT Plans Change in Bumper Rule,” Status Report Vol. 6, No. 12 (21 June 1971): 1–2; “DOT’s Double Standard for Bumpers,” Status Report Vol. 6, No. 8 (26 April 1971): 1–5; “Federal Bumper Standard Revised,” Status Report Vol. 6, No. 19 (18 October 1971): 8; “NHSB Proposes Low Quality Bumper Standard,” Status Report Vol. 5, No. 21 (1 Dec. 1970): 1–3; Japan Motor Industrial Federation, Inc., Guide to Motor Industry of Japan 1967 Edition (Tokyo, Japan: Japan Motor Industrial Federation, Inc., 1967); Japan Motors Trade Association, Automobiles 1959 (Tokyo, Japan: Motors Trade Association of Japan, 1959); Hans C. Joksch and Joseph C. Reidy, Jr., The Center for the Environment and Man, Inc., for U.S. DOT, National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, “Review of Four Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards: FMVSS 214, 215, 301, 208: Final Report” [Contract No. DOT-HS-6-01518], May 1977; Michael Jordan, “Road Test: Toyota Celica GT Liftback,” Car and Driver Vol. 23, No. 7 (January 1978): 51–58; Jim Kaler, “Aspidiske (Iota Carinae),” STARS, n.d., stars.astro.illinois. edu/sow/aspidiske.html, accessed 10 February 2017; “Carina,” STARS, n.d., stars.astro.illinois. edu/sow/car-p.html, accessed 10 February 2017; “Miaplacidus (Beta Carinae),” STARS, n.d., stars.astro.illinois. edu/sow/miaplacidus.html, accessed 10 February 2017; “Vela, Puppis (East),” and Northern Carina,” STARS, n.d., stars.astro.illinois. edu/sow/vel-p.html, accessed 10 February 2017; Chuck Koch, “RT/Test Report: Protected Performer,” Road Test June 1973: 66–70; Jeff Koch, “1971-1975 Toyota Celica,” Hemmings Sports & Exotic Car No. 55 (March 2010); “1971-77 Toyota Celica,” Hemmings Motor News January 2008; and “Oh, What a Feeling – 1977 Toyota Celica GT,” Hemmings Sports & Exotic Car No. 59 (July 2010); Michael Lamm, “PM Owners Report: Toyota Celica: ST is for Super and Terrific, but dealers—!” Popular Mechanics Vol. 139, No. 1 (January 1973): 86–89; and “Driving Toyota’s new Celica,” Popular Mechanics Vol. 149, No. 3 (March 1978): 98–99; L’Editrice Dell’Automobile LEA, World Cars 1971 (Bronxville, NY: Herald Books, 1971), World Cars 1972 (Bronxville, NY: Herald Books, 1972); World Cars 1973 (Bronxville, NY: Herald Books, 1973), World Cars 1974 (Pelham, NY: Herald Books, 1974); World Cars 1975 (Pelham, NY: Herald Books, 1975), World Cars 1977 (Pelham, NY: Herald Books, 1977), World Cars 1978 (Pelham, NY: Herald Books, 1978), and World Cars 1979 (Pelham, NY: Herald Books, 1979); Brian Long, Celica & Supra: The book of Toyota’s sports coupes (Dorchester, England: Veloce Publishing, 2007); Datsun Fairlady Roadster to 280ZX: The Z-car story (Dorchester, England: Veloce Publishing, 2006); and RX-7: Mazda’s Rotary Engine Sports Car (Revised 2nd Edition) (Dorchester, England: Veloce Publishing Ltd., 2004); Robert Maddox and John H. Haynes, Toyota Celica RWD Automotive Repair Manual (Newbury Park, CA: Haynes North America, 1992); David Malin, “Constellation of Carina,” 27 February 2015, www.davidmalin. com/fujii/ source/Car.html, accessed 7 January 2017; “Manual Transmission Rebuild Kits Toyota Car,” drivetrain.com, 2015, access 6 February 2017; Mazda Motor Corporation, “Great Cars of Mazda: Capella Series Part 1,” www.mazda. com, last accessed 5 February 2017; “Mazda Spirit: The Rotary Engine” (13 August 2007, www.mazda. com/ mazdaspirit/rotary/, last accessed 20 October 2011; “[Mazda Research Laboratory: Capella],” 15 January 2015, amakusashiro.web.fc2. com/car/index-car.html, accessed 5 February 2017; “Mazda RX-2,” Road & Track Vol. 22, No. 9 (May 1971): 78-81; Mitsubishi Motors Corporation, “Mitsubishi Auto Gallery,” n.d., www.mitsubishi-motors.com, accessed 4 February 2017; Galant Coupé FTO” [Japanese brochure, May 1973]; “Gallant Coupe: New FTO 1400/1600: Try & Try” [advertisement, c. 1973]; “Gallant GTO” [Japanese brochure, October 1975]; “Galant GTO MR” [Japanese brochure, Decembers 1970]; “Galant GTO — New!” [Japanese brochure, February 1975]; “Galant Hardtop: Top of the Hardtop” [Japanese advertising leaflet 1.1.150-05.5102, ca. 1970]; “Hip up coupé: Galant GTO” [Japanese advertising leaflet 1.1.150-05.5103, October 1970]; “History of Products,” 2003, www.mitsubishi-motors. com, accessed 4 February 2017; and Mitsubishi Auto Gallery, n.d., www.mitsubishi-motors.com, accessed 4 February 2017; “Motor Trend’s 1982 Import Car of the Year,” Motor Trend Vol. 34, No. 4 (April 1982): 27–39; Paul Niedermeyer, “Curbside Classic: 1974 Toyota Celica Coupe – Betting on the Wrong Pony,” Curbside Classic, 12 June 2013, www.curbsideclassic. com/ curbside-classics-asian/ curbside-classic-1974-toyota-celica-coupe/, accessed 23 August 2016; and “Curbside Classic: 1977 Datsun 200SX (Nissan Silvia S10) – The Many Faces of Silvia,” Curbside Classic, 21 May 2012, www.curbsideclassic. com/ curbside-classics-asian/ curbside-classic-1977-datun-200sx-nissan-silvia-s10- the-many-faces-of-silvia/, accessed 6 September 2016; “1971 Toyota Corona,” Road Test Toyota Special 1970: 38–43; “1976 Toyota Celica: Import Car of the Year,” Motor Trend Vol. 28, No. 4 (April 1976): 35-37, 40–42; Hajime Nishimura and Masayoshi Sadakata, “Emission Control Technology,” How to Conquer Air Pollution: A Japanese Experience: 115–155; Nissan Motor Co., Ltd., “Datsun 1600 Coupe” [brochure No. PE603–611210, ca. 1965]; Nissan Motor Corporation, “Nissan Heritage Collection No. 041: Silvia (1966: CSP311),” “Silvia/Gazelle,” and “Silvia debuts as a highway patrol car,” n.d., www.nissan-global. com, accessed 22 August 2016; Matsuo Odaka, National Traffic Safety and Environmental Laboratory, “Overview and Future Prospect of Emissions Regulations in Japan,” 4 February 2003, www.ntsel.go. jp/e/symposium/ 040203session4.pdf, accessed 6 September 2016; “[Old Car Catalog Museum, “[Mitsubishi Galant GTO & FTO, Galant, et al],” museum.qcar-catalog. com/mitsub-gal.html, accessed 5 February 2017; Chris Peat, “Mythology of the constellation Carina,” Heavens-Above, n.d., www.heavens-above. com, accessed 7 January 2017; Productioncars.com, Book of Automobile Production and Sales Figures, 1945-2005 (N.p.: 2006); Steven L. Renshaw, “Modern Japanese Names for Constellations,” Astronomy in Japan: Science, History, Culture, January 2015, www.renshaworks.com/ jastro/ constell.htm, accessed 3 January 2017; Retro JDM.com (www.retrojdm.com); Ian Ridpath, “Carina: The keel,” Ian Ridpath’s Star Tales, www.ianridpath. com/startales/ carina.htm, accessed 7 January 2017; “Road Test Looks at Japanese Auto Challenge: Toyota makes strong bid for American market,” Road Test July 1968: 6–9, 12–13, 21–23; Don Sherman, “Bosch L-Jetronic: Fuel Injection of the Future,” Car and Driver Vol. 22, No. 11 (May 1977): 44; “Colt GT: Dodge’s Little Japanese Horse,” Car and Driver Vol. 21, No. 10 (April 1976): 46–49; and “Suspension Tuning: Toyota Celica,” Car and Driver Vol. 20, No. 5 (November 1974): 48–52, 89-90; Michiaki Shimizu, “[The Car That Came from the Future (Toyota Celica TA22 Type),” Toyota Auto Museum Magazine No. 84 (2011): 3–5; Brian Silvestro, “This 1976 Toyota Celica Is More Than Just an Old Japanese Car,” Road & Track August 2016, www.roadandtrack. com/car-culture/videos/a30213/this-1976-toyota-celica/, accessed 18 February 2017; Dave Skinner, “Curbside Classic: 1973 Toyota Carina – My CC Holy Grail,” Curbside Classic, 26 March 2013, www.curbsideclassic. com/ curbside-classics-asian/ curbside-classic-1973-toyota-carina- my-cc-holy-grail/, accessed 7 September 2016; Steve Smith, “1972 Mazda RX-2: With or Without Rotary Power, This Car is Ergonomic Perfection,” Motor Trend Vol. 24, No. 11 (November 1972); “Smog Law Shock! You Can Be Fined!” Motor Manual No. 403 (May 1976): 20–24; Takahiko Sugiura, “[Mitsubishi Colt Galant GTO-MR 1971 (46 Showa)],” Toyota Automobile Museum Magazine No. 58 (2003): 5–7; “Super Coupe Comparison Test,” Car and Driver Vol. 17, No. 6 (December 1971): 25–32, 68–70; Hans Tore Tangerud’s Autoblog website (www.lov2xlr8.no); “Test Extra: Toyota Celica GT,” Autocar 1 March 1975: 43–44; “The Last Roundup,” Motor Trend Vol. 23, No. 10 (October 1971), reprinted in Camaro Muscle Portfolio 1967–1973: 122–127; Jon F. Thompson, “’67 Toyota 2000GT versus ’97 Supra Turbo,” Car and Driver Vol. 42, No. 9 (March 1997), reprinted in Toyota Supra Performance Portfolio 1982-1998, ed. R.M. Clarke (Cobham, England: Brooklands Books, 2003): 119–122; “Three Sporting Coupes: Comparing the Opel Rallye 1900, Toyota Celica ST and Capri 2000,” Road & Track Vol. 23, No. 2 (October 1971): 32–37; “Toyota Australia History,” Unique Cars and Parts (Australia), n.d., www.uniquecarsandparts. com.au, accessed 17 February 2017; Toyota Automobile Museum, “Mitsubishi Colt Galant Model GTO-MR (1971, Japan),” List of Vehicles on Display, www.toyota. co.jp/Museum/, accessed 4 February 2017; “Toyota Carina,” Car and Driver Vol. 17, No. 12 (June 1972): 84–86, 102; “Toyota Celica,” Road & Track Vol. 23, No. 1 (September 1971): 95–98; “Toyota Celica Family Tree,” John Mellor’s GoAuto.com.au, n.d., www.goauto. com.au/mellor/mellor.nsf/carfamilytree? ReadForm&make=Toyota&model=Celica, accessed 17 February 2017; “Toyota Celica (Gen 1),” Unique Cars and Parts (Australia), n.d., www.uniquecarsandparts. com.au, accessed 17 February 2017; “Toyota Celica GT,” Road & Track Vol. 25, No. 7 (March 1974): 92–93; “Toyota Celica GT,” Road & Track Vol. 26, No. 12 (August 1975): 76–78; “Toyota Celica Liftback,” Road & Track Vol. 27, No. 9 (May 1976): 46–48; “Toyota Celica 2 Litre Update Liftback,” Unique Cars and Parts (Australia), n.d., www.uniquecarsandparts. com.au, accessed 17 February 2017; “Toyota Corolla SR-5,” Road & Track Vol. 24, No. 12 (August 1973): 87–89; “Toyota Corolla SR-5,” Road & Track Vol. 26, No. 8 (April 1975): 115–118; “Toyota Corolla 1600,” Road & Track Vol. 22, No. 9 (May 1971): 55–58; “Toyota Corolla SR-5,” Road & Track Vol. 24, No. 12 (August 1973): 87–89; “Toyota Corona SR,” Road & Track Vol. 25, No. 7 (November 1973): 57–60; Toyota Deutschland GmbH, “Kraftpaket mit Perfektausstattung (Toyota Celica 1600 Coupé GT)” [German advertisement, September 1973], and “5 Gänge gegen den üblichen Trott: TOYOTA Celica 1600GT” [German advertisement, 1977]; Toyota Motor Co., Ltd (U.K.), “Before you buy a sports coupé, you should know what you’re taking on” [advertisement], Autocar 28 May 1977: np; Toyota Motor Corporation, “Shiro Sasaki, Chief Engineer for the 2nd and 3rd generation Corolla,” 19 October 2016, newsroom.toyota. co.jp/en/ corolla50th/message/sasaki/, accessed 18 January 2017; “Special Message: Tatsuo Hasegawa, Chief Engineer for the 1st generation Corolla,” 31 October 2016, newsroom.toyota. co.jp/en/ corolla50th/message/hasegawa/, accessed 18 January 2017; Toyota: A History of the First 50 Years (Toyota City, Japan: Toyota Motor Corporation, 1988); A 75-Year History through Text, and “Overall Chronological Table,” 2012, www.toyota-global. com, accessed 6 September 2016; All About the Toyota Twin-cam, 2nd Ed. (November 1984); 75 Years of Toyota: Vehicle Lineage: “Carina Hardtop (1st),” Carina Sedan (1st),” “Carina Sedan (2nd),” “Celica Coupe (1st),” “Celica Coupe (2nd),” “Celica Liftback (1st),” “Celica Liftback (2nd),” “Corona Hardtop (6th),” “Crown Sedan (4th),” “1600GT (1st),” “Sprinter Coupé (2nd),” “Toyopet Corona Hardtop (4th),” “Toyopet Corona Sedan (4th),” “Toyopet Corona Hardtop (5th),” “Toyota Sports 800 Coupé (1st),” and “Toyota 2000GT Coupé (1st),” www.toyota-global. com, accessed 6 September 2016; “Vehicle Heritage: Corolla: The First Generation, Production Period 1966-1970,” “Vehicle Heritage: Corolla: The Second Generation, Production Period 1970-1974,” and “Vehicle Heritage: Corolla: The Third Generation, Production Period 1974-1979,” 2012, www.toyota-global. com, accessed 18 January to 8 February 2014; Toyota Motor Sales Co., Ltd., “Corolla (Toyota Corolla 1100)” [Japanese brochure], ca. November 1966; “Toyota 1600GT: Corona 1600S/Corona Hardtop 1600S” [Japanese brochure 20030-428], August 1967; “Corolla Sprinter” [Japanese brochure 30042-4306], June 1968; “Carina 1600 • 1400” [Japanese brochure 10100-4510], October 1970; “Celica” [Japanese brochure 30097-4511], November 1970; “Toyota Celica ST” [Canadian French-language brochure 77474-71], September 1971; “Corolla Levin 1600” [advertisement, ca. 1972]; “Celica” [Japanese brochure 141016-4803], March 1973; “LB2000GT, 1600GT & Celica 1600GT GTV” [Japanese brochure 141026-4804], April 1973; “New Corona” [brochure 121037-4808], August 1973; “Celica” [brochure 141058-4812] December 1973; “1600 ST, 1600 SR, 1600 GT, 1600 Super Deluxe, 1600 Deluxe, 1400 Deluxe, 2000 GT, 2000, 2000 EFI” [Japanese Toyota Carina brochure 131028-4812], December 1973; “Celica” [Japanese brochure 141048-4911], November 1974; “Celica” [Japanese brochure 141075-5003], March 1975; “The Specialty Celica” [Japanese brochure 141100-5203], March 1977; “New Specialty Car: Celica” [Japanese brochure 141113-5208], August 1977; “New Corona: Sedan [/] Hardtop” [Japanese brochure 121454-5309], August 1978; “News from Toyota: [Corona Hardtop Launched],” [Japanese press release], 25 July 1965; “News from Toyota: [Corona Passenger Car Line Adds New GT car: Toyota 1600GT],” [Japanese press release], 18 August 1967; “News from Toyota: [New Corona Series Launched”], [Japanese press release], 5 September 1964; “News from Toyota: [Toyota Sports 800 launched],” [Japanese press release], 17 March 1965; “News from Toyota: [New GT Car Launched: Toyota 2000GT],” [Japanese press release], 16 May 1967; “News from Toyota: [Toyota Launches New Corona; Corona Mark II Minor Change],” [Japanese press release], 2 February 1970; “News from Toyota: [Corolla Series and Sprinter Full Model Change],” [Japanese press release], 6 May 1970; “News from Toyota: [New Corona Hardtop Launched],” [Japanese press release], 18 August 1970; “News from Toyota: [Toyota Carina Launches 1 December],” [Japanese press release], 23 October 1970; “News from Toyota: [Toyota Celica to launch December 1],” [Japanese press release], 23 October 1970; “News from Toyota: [Toyota Sprinter Minor Change, Four-Door Sedan Added,”], [Japanese press release], 27 August 1971; “News from Toyota: [Toyota Carina hardtop launched; sedan adds 1600GT four-door],” [Japanese press release], 6 December 1972; [“News from Toyota: Toyota Celica Liftback Series”], [Japanese press release], 6 April 1973; [“News from Toyota: Toyota Corona Series Full Model Change”], [Japanese press release], 31 August 1973; “News from Toyota: [Toyota Corolla and Sprinter Series Complete Redesign],” [Japanese press release], 26 April 1974; “News from Toyota: [Toyota Corolla, Sprinter Minor Change],” [Japanese press release], 31 January 1977; “News from Toyota: [Toyota Carina and Celica Lines Full Model Change”], [Japanese press release] 22 August 1977; “News from Toyota: [Toyota Corona Series Full Model Change],” [Japanese press release], 4 September 1978; and “News from Toyota: [Toyota launches new compact passenger car model: Celica Camry],” [Japanese press release], 23 January 1980; Toyota Carina & Celica Repair Manual: Chassis (Tokyo, Japan: Toyota Motor Sales Co., Ltd., May 1971); Toyota Carina & Celica Repair Manual: Body (Tokyo, Japan: Toyota Motor Sales Co., Ltd., December 1975); Toyota Celica E Owner’s Manual< (Publication No. 9664E, Export, 1972); Toyota Celica Owner’s Manual (Publication No. 9705E, Export, September 1979; Toyota Celica 1977 Owner’s Manual (Publication No. 9717A, USA, March 1977); Toyota 18R Engine Repair Manual (Nishikasugai, Japan: March 1977); Toyota 20R Engine Repair Manual, 8th ed. (Nishikasugai, Japan: December 1977); and “[Toyota Corolla],” [Japanese Corolla Store brochure 036321-5105], May 1976; Toyota Motor Sales USA Inc., “Introducing the Toyota Celica ST. (Some economy car.),” [advertisement, 1971]; Introducing the ’74 Celica GT. Five-speed and all,” [advertisement, ca. September 1973]; “Introducing the 1975 Celica GT. 2.2 liter, 4-seater, 5-speeder,” [advertisement, ca. September 1974]; and “Toyota Celica” [brochure], October 1974; “Toyota SR-5 Pickup,” Road & Track Vol. 26, No. 9 (May 1975): 142–145; “Toyota SV-1,” Carstyling 2.0, n.d., www.carstyling. ru/en/car/ 1971_toyota_sv_1/, accessed 6 February 2017; “Toyota 2T engine,” n.d., Engine-Specs.net, www.engine-specs. net/toyota/2t.html, accessed 23 May 2020; “2TG, 2T-GEU and 3TG Engine Parts,” ToyheadAuto.com, n.d., toyheadauto. com/PerformancePages/2TG_Parts.html, accessed 23 May 2020; U.S. Department of Transportation, National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, “Safety Studies & Reports: Bumper Q&A’s,” n.d., www.nhtsa. gov/cars/ problems/ studies/ Bumper/, accessed 21 September 2016; “Variations on a Theme (Full Test: 1976 Toyota Celica),” Motor Manual No. 403 (May 1976): 62–66; Gary S. Vasilash, “Inside CALTY,” n.d., Automotive Design and Production, www.autofieldguide. com, accessed 19 June 2009; VYT01240, “Celica’s History,” [First-Generation Celica World], www.geocities. co.jp/ MotorCity/1367/his.htm, accessed 8 February 2017; Ted West, “Toyota Celica Liftback,” Car and Driver Vol. 21, No. 11 (May 1976): 37–40; Hillel Wright, “Get set for boating in Naha and Itoman,” Japan Times, 21 April 2013, www.japantimes. co.jp/life/ 2013/04/21/ travel/ get-set-for-boating-in-naha-and-itoman-2/, accessed 4 January 2017; Wally Wyss, “Return of the Native,” Motor Trend Vol. 23, No. 8 (August 1971): 50–52; Jack K. Yamaguchi, “Agony of Prosperity,” World Cars 1973: 65–69; “Hard Fall and Gradual Rise,” World Cars 1975: 46–51; “The Motor Industry of Japan,” World Cars 1971: 39–46; and “The Year of Uncertainty?” World Cars 1979: 61–66; and Akira Yokoyama, Project X — The Challengers: 240Z (The Fated -Z- Plan – Fairlady Z / 240Z – The Legend of the Most Successful Sports Car in the World), trans. Sachiko Sato (Tokyo, Japan: Ohzora Publishing Co., 2003/Gardena, CA: Digital Manga Publishing, 2006).

The online dictionary Jisho (jisho.org) was a big help in deciphering Japanese-language information.

Some historical exchange rate data for the dollar and the yen came from Lawrence H. Officer, “Exchange Rates Between the United States Dollar and Forty-one Currencies,” MeasuringWorth, www.measuringworth.org/exchangeglobal/, used with permission. Exchange rate values cited in the text represent the approximate dollar equivalent of prices in non-U.S. currencies, not contemporary U.S. suggested retail prices, which are cited separately. Please note that all equivalencies cited herein are approximate and are provided solely for the reader’s general reference — this is an automotive history, not a treatise on currency trading or the value of money, and nothing in this article should be taken as financial advice of any kind!


Add a Comment
  1. 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.

    Superb Aaron!

    1. 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.

  2. Aaron;

    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!

    1. Thanks!

      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.

      1. Entirely different, unrelated cars. The Galant was made by Mitsubishi, the Capella by Toyo Kogyo.

  3. 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.

    1. 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.

      1. Europe had 2 and 4 doors Carina sedans. I can’t remember seeing a coupe though.

        1. 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.

  4. 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.

  5. 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).

    1. 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.

      1. 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.

        1. 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?)

          1. 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.

          2. 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.)

          3. 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…!)

          4. 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.

  6. 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.

    1. 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.)

  7. 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.

    1. True. The three-light taillight design for 1976 really pushed the Mustang resemblance, though — I have to wonder why they did that.

  8. 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.

    1. Thanks, Frank! I appreciate the kind words.

  9. 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).

    1. 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.

  10. 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

    1. 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.

  11. 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.

  12. 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!)

  13. 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.

    1. 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.

  14. Dear author , who was the designer of the celica ta22 series .

    1. 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.)

  15. In Canada I owned a red 1972 18RC RA21 Celica. You needed both numbers to get parts because of the difference in Japan and North America when it came to model year designation. Mine was the earlier 1972 model so it didn’t have the rubber bumper pads and the fuel filler location moved. I put on wider tires with white spoke wheels, put on headers (a header) painted it chocolate brown with white accents and a mat black hood. I also removed the front grill and replaced all the light with the new (then) rectangular Vega style light and the added fog/driving light between them so that the whole grill area was lights. I wanted to add a turbo but that was $1100 without fittings and for a 17 year old then that was a bit much. I bought it before they were known and went to buy one for my girlfriend 4 years after I bought mine and they wanted twice what I had paid for the same car 4 years later. My eldest son just announced that he may paint his Subaru BRZ, (which also counts as a Toyota GT-86 according to him) the same colours. Now that I have time and a bit more money I wish that I still had it.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Comments may be moderated. Submitting a comment signifies your acceptance of our Comment Policy — please read it first! You must be at least 18 to comment. PLEASE DON'T SUBMIT COPYRIGHTED CONTENT YOU AREN'T AUTHORIZED TO USE!