We chart the seven-generation and 35-year history of Celica, Toyota’s remarkable go-anywhere, do-anything sports car.
Celica was designed to tap into the ’70s zeitgeist, when people were enjoying a new-found sense of freedom and leisure activities were on the increase. Within the motoring industry this lifestyle was being expressed through ‘pony car’ vehicles such as the Ford Mustang, Pontiac Firebird and Dodge Challenger – indulgent purchases perhaps but also ones with a go-anywhere, do-anything practicality that was impossible with true sports cars such as the Toyota 2000GT of 1965.
Launched in December 1970 as a two-plus-two coupé derivative of the new Carina (and from April 1973 as a Liftback model), Celica displayed styling clearly inspired by its American counterparts. Significantly, it was the first Japanese car to use robots in its assembly, so the quality of manufacture was more consistent than any of its contemporaries. It was also one of the first to comfortably accommodate people with six-foot frames and use a full-feature dashboard.
In Japan, Celica became available with a choice of four T-series engines ranging from 1.4 to 1.6-litre capacities. The most powerful of these was the 115bhp twin-cam 2T-G breathing through twin Solex carburettors. The first US-spec cars received a familiar 1.9-litre engine from the Corona, while European examples appearing from May 1971 were equipped with two middle ground 1.6-litre T-series engines. Later in the car’s life the worldwide engine range was bolstered with 2.0-litre and 2.2-litre R-series engines, the top 18R-G version offering up to 145bhp.
The millionth Celica rolled off the production line in June 1977 and sales showed no sign of slowing. Pundits therefore wondered why Toyota revealed its replacement just three months later, but the board’s decision to launch a new, second-generation Celica was clearly made to stay ahead of the curve.
The development team evidently focused on the lucrative American market, with the new mode displaying noticeable increases in length and width, higher equipment levels, and improved comfort. This time Celica was a full five-seater. Coupé and Liftback body styles were once again available and both managed the feat of being lighter than the previous generation, despite their larger dimensions. An expanded range of T and R-series engines were employed in the new car, all of which were tweaked to comply with new anti-pollution laws.
In the face of this movement, Toyota had no choice but to discontinue the Celica in the US in the summer of 2004. UK sales continued with reasonable vigour, especially with the attraction of a special edition GT variant with lowered suspension, a surprisingly wild aero package, and dedicated 17-inch alloy wheels. But the death knell tolled in January 2006 when tough new emissions regulations were announced; making Celica comply with the new levels would simply be uneconomical. . Production officially ceased in Japan in April 2006.
From its introduction in December 1970 to its final bow more than 35 years later, Celica production had reached the epic heights of 4,129,626 units.
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