The cars we loved.
I’ve always loved cars. My first interests were the cars I saw everyday, the Mustangs, Camaro and Daytona’s of my pre teen years. Later as I neared the age where I might finally get my own car, reliability had become as important a factor as performance and design. That single requirement for a real world purchase counted out many European and American offerings I liked as a child. That’s when the imagination and solid engineering of Japanese cars that would get my attention. The Japanese were in full assault mode with noteworthy cars in nearly every segment by the time I graduated high school in 1984. Though it would be well into college, my first car would end up being one of the standard bearers in the subcompact market: the Honda Civic.
As nice as the Civic 1300 seemed as a first car, it was the more flashy ones that I day dreamed about. One of them was the Toyota Celica. The Celica was once called the Japanese Mustang. I always thought that was a bit insulting, but I would learn why that label stuck for so long in its early years (to the Celica’s credit).
By it’s third generation it had moved a bit further from the American pony car model. Code named A60, the platform was still rear wheel drive. The Celica had a rather large four cylinder engine. For the longest time its 2.4 liters of displacement made just under 100 hp. Called LASRE (Lightweight Advanced Super Response Engine), the 2.4 would stay with American Celicas throughout the third generation. Probably fitted to American bound cars due to torque expectations and emissions compliance. After all it was a holdover from the previous Celica.
The Celica Supra, a V6 DOHC powered version of the A60 with a stretched nose and different front end treatment was still offered, but was being marketed separately from the four cylinder Celica ST, GT and GT-S.
Unlike the 1981 Celica, the sharp wedge design was futuristic and new for 1982. Gone were the smooth rounded surfaces of the previous car. Exposed pop up headlights that gave the Celica the front the appearance of a distorted Escort were one of the many built in aerodynamic aids contributing to a drag coefficient as low as .34. In America the Celica line up was rather simple, all using the 2.4 liter SOHC four in either a coupe or liftback configuration.
Both configurations came in base ST or more posh sporty GT/GT-S trim. The rather homely looking ST coupe was a popular low cost secretary’s car that competed with everything from base Mustang and GM F-Body cars to other Japanese coupes like the Honda Prelude or Nissan 200SX.
The GT and later GT-S models were the most appealing to performance enthusiasts. They were the first ones to feature advanced technology (often shown as script across the doors or front fender). These more lavish Celicas competed with costly European imports like the Alfa Romeo GTV6 or BMW 318 (not to mention American V8 powered pony cars).
Inside the high tech futurism continued with a angular dash that looked like the helm of a space fighter. Tasteful multi textured/patterned cloth seats gave comfortable access to either a floor mounted five speed manual shifter or four speed automatic transmission.
Analog gauges were later joined by digital displays on top of the line GT-S models. Things like cassette decks with music search, electronic tuning and graphic equalizers were all part of a loaded Celica’s entertainment system and looked more impressive than my stereo at home. In Japan where more exotic and powerful DOHC engine configurations were offered, an early form of turn by turn navigation system called Navicom was offered.
Despite all of the futurist design cues, underneath the Celica’s rear wheel drive configuration was close in spirit to that of a typical American pony car. Even if by now the pony car comparison seemed less evident. The only difference was that most pony cars of the time might have had an MacPherson strut front system like the Celica, they would not have had a sophisticated four link rear suspension. GT-S models even had gas shocks all around.
There were various 14 styled steel and aluminum wheel designs. The GT-S could be fitted with an attractive four star alloy design on 225/60 14 tires that would be standard on the Celica Supra. In fact GT-S models would have the same flared wheel arches and other components from the Supra like the rear suspension.
This gave the Celica the handling prowess expected of a rear wheel drive car while it’s suspension offered a better ride and performance on poor roads. It was the best of both worlds, making the Celica a favorite with the automotive press. Drums in the back of lesser models was still common but top trims like the GT-S had disc brakes all around with the front ones being vented.
Power would go up by 10 hp with advancements like electronic fuel injection in in 1984 . The final American A60 Celica would have 116 hp. Even a loaded GT-S was well under 2600 lbs.
A convertible, prepared by American Specialty Cars (ASC) was available for one year only in 1984. That was also the year all Celicas got a mild make over, mostly in front with a new fully retractable headlight design and horizontal grille treatment that would hint to the up coming fourth gen car of 1986.
The Celica was already moving beyond its pony car aspirations. The Celica Supra was on the verge of becoming its own complete car, leaving the Celica base it had used since 1978. The next generation of Celica would continue a path toward refinement that would see it develop into a sophisticated GT car that had more in common with cars like the VW Corrado than the Mustang GT.