Toyota Celica Buying Guide
The Toyota Celica is one of the few JDM sports cars that started out as a sports car, transitioned into a sedan then back to a fully pledges sports car before being discontinued in 2006. However, despite being cheaper than most JDM sports cars, it did not have a large following in most markets, especially In its early years of production.
Most would say that the Celica is more of a Toyota Corolla since it shares parts with Corollas such as the Caldina. When it was first produced in 1970, it shared parts with the Toyota Corona and the Toyota Carina, as both were unveiled at around the same time.
There is one main reason why most JDM sports car enthusiasts don’t rate the Celica that much compared to other JDM sports cars, its front-wheel-drive. A true sports car should be front-engine, rear-wheel-drive, front-engine, or all-wheel-drive. Most Celicas are front-engine, rear-wheel-drive.
Toyota made some A20 and A30 Celicas with an RWD chassis mostly because they intended to compete with the Mustang Pony in the US market. But the Celica never stood a chance against a V8-powered mustang. Most people bought the Celica for its reliability and low buying and maintenance costs. You could still have fun with it being rear-wheel drive. Sadly, finding a first-gen Celica is close to impossible. It is mostly overpriced or will cost you a fortune to restore if you decide to restore it.
After the third generation, all other Celica generations were produced as front-wheel-drive except the AWD Celica GT-Four. The Celica GT-Four was mainly designed with a rallying perspective, and it’s considered the best-looking Celica ever made. Unless you prefer the T180 Celica, which has pop-up headlights like a Miata or AE86.
Overall, the Celica is not a bad car at all. It makes the perfect beginner car if you are just starting to learn about cars or you are looking to buy it as a gift for your Kid’s 16th birthday. Celicas don’t have large and powerful engines as all generations came with 4-cylinder engines. At the time of production, the most powerful engines you could get were the 2.0-litre turbo, 2.4-liter NA, and 1.8-liter turbo, which all made around 220 horsepower.
Pros and Cons
You can pick up a T230 Celica for just under $3,000, a bargain for a mid-90s JDM sports car. Prices vary depending on the year of manufacture and condition of the car. Getting an older Celica listed for around a thousand bucks is easy, especially if you walk around spotting neglected cars or when someone is selling a Celica they feel is crowding their garage.
Finding a grounded Celica is easy, especially at repossession yards or a car auction. If you are int flipping cars, starting with easy find low-end sports car such as the Celica is one of the ways you can climb your way up. Celicas always have a ready market, whether a teenager looking to buy his first JDM car or just a Celica enthusiast. We all have addictions, right?
Some early production models slowly become collectibles, just like other classic JDM sports cars. For example, the first-generation Celica GT prices are approximately $30,000.
Fun to drive
This is the nature of all small sports cars, and the Celica is no exception, regardless of 4-cylinder engine banter. VVT-i engines have a good throttle response, especially at high RPMs.
A Celica with an automatic transmission might not be fun to drive compared to a manual one, but it makes a good beginner car to learn with. To enhance your driving experience, you can straight pipe your Celica and install bucket seats for that extra sporty feel.
Higher spec Celicas such as the GT-S and the GT-4 had a power output, and most come with a 6-speed manual transmission. These have a much better throttle response and ride quality than the standard spec models.
There were also models fitted with the 2.0-litre turbocharged 3S-GTE, the only turbocharged engine throughout the Celica’s production. You can add a bigger turbo and a light tune, thus increasing power output. More power, more fun.
Low maintenance and running costs
The Celica is perfect if you are looking for a sports car that will not dent you financially regarding maintenance and running costs. The main reason it is easy to maintain is because of the simple build. It may be a downside in performance and aesthetics, but it makes major parts accessible for servicing and installation. Besides, you are driving a Toyota. What can be really difficult about Toyota maintenance?
You’ll never have to worry about poor fuel consumption in a Toyota Celica. These cars will average around 27mpg, and some will easily average 30mpg. This makes it perfect for commuters, such as when going to school or work. If you are in the mood for a road trip, fill up your trunk and enjoy long stretches without worrying about fuel consumption.
All Celica generations have an average reliability rating of 4.0/5.0 with few unavoidable issues that handy garage skills can fix. You should consider an engine overhaul, suspension, and transmission rebuild if you are unsure about the car’s condition or if you notice early signs of component failure.
The engine options available in the Toyota Celica might not be the ones available in the indestructible Hilux. Still, they roll out from the same production plant. Even the 95-horsepower engine used in the A20 Celica will outlive most modern engines, but only if maintained well.
However, squeezing massive power outputs from these engines will only reduce the durability. Adding a turbocharger kit is more than enough. Still, before you do that, you should evaluate the engine’s condition before you end up with a warped manifold or, worse, a cracked block.
Celicas make good project cars
There’s no project too limited for JDM sports cars, from engine swaps and drift builds to building a minimalist daily driver Celica. Most Celica owners will do an engine swap with massive cosmetic mods since the only tunable engine capable of reasonable power output is the 3S-GTE.
It also doesn’t make sense to only use more than $10,000 to gain an extra 100 horsepower. The Celica will easily fit a 2JZ, 1JZ, or even a 3UZ. But you are not limited only to Toyota engines. K24, RB, and 13B swaps are some of the other options you can consider.
Cosmetic upgrade parts are easily available if you love the engine as is and you’d love to improve your Celica’s appearance. However, Celica owners have been known to go overboard with cosmetic upgrades such as installing Lamborghini-inspired scissor doors. Well, if you feel like doing it, go for it. It’s your car and no one else’s.
Apart from the excess RICE mods, Celicas do look good. Especially the T180 with the pop-up headlights and the T200 with dual headlights that look like bug eyes. You don’t really have to go overkill mode when modifying the appearance of your Celica. A good paint job, coil-over springs, and some wheels will suffice even on a T230.
Various aftermarket manufacturers make cosmetic upgrade parts such as side skirts, fenders, and bumpers. Most of which are affordable unless you want carbon fibre or custom-made panels. If you have the skills fabricating such parts from fibreglass or sheet metal shouldn’t be that hard.
Small cabin and trunk space
The Toyota Celica was designed as a 4-seater, but it’s more like a 2- seater with four seats. If you are above 6-foot in height, you might find it hard driving the Celica. The rear seat barely has enough legroom to fit a kid. The headroom is also reduced significantly due to the receding roofline.
Most Celica owners remove the rear seats and try to create more legroom in the front seats or keep the rear seats but use them as extra storage since the trunk space isn’t that good either. The centre console also takes up some cabin space as it is too broad, which will make the driver and the front seat passenger uncomfortable.
The Celica isn’t a car you’d use for mall runs after work to do some heavy grocery shopping or drive long-distance with friends. It’s a one-passenger sports car, maybe your partner whom you enjoy long drives. Try carrying an extra passenger in the rear seat, and they’ll jump ship before you hit the highway.
Interior storage is also not that good for storing anything either. The glovebox is too small, and the dash pockets barely fit a water bottle.
One of the main reasons it is recommended to swap out the Old suspension in a Celica or consider a Suspension rebuild is the ride feel. It is normal for OEM springs to wear out through use and abuse, but in Celicas, they wear out too rapidly for a car that barely weighs 2700 pounds. Suppose your Celica still has the OEM suspension. In that case, you’ll probably experience a bumpy and rough ride soon, regardless of whether they are in good condition.
The main weakness is in the front suspension. Like any other front-wheel-drive car, the front suspension will wear out quickly, especially if the car is in constant use. Some of the early signs you should notice are vibrations and squealing from the front wheels when cornering or braking.
Road noise is unavoidable in older JDM sports cars as they don’t come with assists that reduce or prevent it. Suppose you are the type of person who loves a silent drive without any noise. You can consider car insulation which reduces but does not completely solve the road noise problem.
Toyota makes reliable and durable cars, but the interior quality is always average and sometimes below average, depending on the vehicle. If the interior of your car is in good condition and components are made of quality material, you’ll feel better driving it than a car with a poor interior quality which, in this case, is the Celica.
The fabric seats wear out quicker than you expect fabric seats to wear out. But by the time the fabric is tearing, the seat padding will already be gone. Other issues include the dashboard cracking and rattling, steering and shift knob cover warping, and the floor insulation mats exposing the metal underneath.
Sometimes mechanical components fail, and you can’t roll up the windows or lock the doors, which puts your car and whatever is in it at risk.
Low ride height
The ground clearance on a Celica is better than a Toyota MR-2. Still, it’s also not ideal for driving on bumpy roads. If you look at a Celica from the side, you’ll notice that the rear end appears lifted. The front end is a couple of inches lower which raises the probability of the bumper scraping off curbs or hitting high bumps.
Celica parts are cheap, and you can fabricate them easily if you have the skills, but this does not mean that you go driving wherever you feel like, as you’ll incur more repair costs. If you have a rally-spec Celica GT-Four, you can try some dirt road driving. But you should check the track before you do that as you’ll be driving a 30-year-old car, and anything might fail or fall off anytime.
A little rust is not too bad of a red flag on older cars, but it occurs in places you’d never expect in a Celica. After checking the usual spots beneath the car and the engine bay for rust, ensure that you remove the floor’s padding. The floor sheet metal is more prone to rust than any other part in a Celica. You might be getting in your car, and your foot goes right through the floor.
Also, check all joints for rust. These include the doors, trunk, and hood hinges, and if the rubber surround seal is worn out, it should be replaced immediately before moisture and salts leak through the cracks.
This is a common issue in old cars. One of the first works you should consider is rewiring the entire electrical system in your Celica. This prevents major electrical component failure such as starter motor failure or minor issues such as windshield wiper failure and stereo failure.
If some of these electrical components were never replaced through the car’s ownership, you should consider replacing them. Start with components you cannot do without, such as the headlights and blinkers, then comfort parts such as the AC system and the stereo.
Suppose the car still has the factory braking system. You should probably consider changing it, especially if the car has high mileage or shows signs of constant use. Most Celicas have a calliper and rotor setup on the front tires and a drum brake on the rear tires, which quickly wears out. The drum brake mainly fails due to self-adjuster failure or the brake lining wears out.
Old drum brakes tend to have internal corrosion, leading to the adjuster failing. You should consider a new drum brake setup or change to a calliper and rotor setup, which reduces the risk of brake failure and improves handling.
You’ll easily pick up a Toyota Celica for under $4,000, with prices increasing or decreasing depending on the car’s condition. Luckily there’s nothing special about Celicas that will cause a rapid increase in the price unless it’s a GT-Four or an early production Celica GT.
For high spec and rare models such as the GT-Four or the S204 (convertible), you’ll pay more for them than a standard model as they are priced approximately at $17,000.
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- Toyota MR-2 (Read our Toyota MR-2 Buying Guide)
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- Nissan Fairlady Z/300ZX (Read our Nissan Fairlady Z Buying Guide)
Models and specifications
1970-1997 Toyota Celica (A20, A30)
The first-gen Celica shares the Same platform as the Toyota Carina. These cars were unveiled at the 1970 Tokyo Motor Show in Japan. At this time, Nissan was also beginning production of the 240Z. The Celica also featured carbureted engines just like the Datsun 240Z.
The first-gen Celica was available in both liftback and coupe configurations. Liftback models have a straight sloping roof instead of the curved sloping roof in the coupe models.
Toyota fitted a 1.4-litre, 1.6-liter, 1.9-liter, 2.0-liter, and 2.2-liter engine on the Celica. Higher trims such as the GT and GT-V come with either a 1.6-litre twin-cam or a 2-litre twin-cam, which had a higher power output at production.
Power is sent to the rear wheels via a 4/5-speed manual or a 3-speed automatic transmission. However, all models with the twin-cam engine are only available with a 5-speed manual transmission. Base trim models have 1.4-liter engines, and most of them come with a 3-speed automatic transmission.
Luxury wasn’t that important at the time of production. Still, Toyota tried to make the interior of higher trim models better. You’ll get better fabric seats on a Celica GT.
1977-1981 Toyota Celica (A40, A50)
Like the first-gen Celica, the second-gen Celica is also available in coupe and liftback body configurations. A sedan body configuration called the Celica Camry was also made. Still, Toyota discontinued it from the Celica lineup long with the Celica Supra. The Celica Supra and the Celica Camry were manufactured as independent models, and both are still in production to date.
There was also a Sunchaser model made, which had a soft-top convertible roof, but few units were produced. Engine options include a 1.6-litre, 1.8-liter, 2.0-liter, 2.2-liter, and 2.4-liter engine. Base models mainly came with the 1.6-litre or 1.8-litre engine driving the rear wheels via a 3-speed or 4-speed automatic.
Higher spec models came with the larger engines also driving the rear wheels but most had the 5-speed manual transmission. The Celica Supra also called the Celica XX or the Celica 2000G, was made as a liftback. It has a 2.6-litre inline-6 which produced around 115 horsepower at production.
1981-1985 Toyota Celica (A60)
The coupe body style was discontinued. The 3rd-gen Celica was only sold as a liftback or a notchback coupe that resembles a pick-up truck with a covered bed. It was more like a sedan to most people, and it had lesser sales than the liftback model. There was also the Convertible model, and it was mainly sold in the US badged as a Celica GT-S.
You can get the A60 Celica with the following engine options; a 1.6-litre, 1.8-litre, 2.0-liter, and 2.4-liter engine mated to a 4-speed automatic transmission. Like its predecessors, the 3rd-gen Celica is also RWD. Base trim models have the 1.6-litre and the 1.8-litre engines, while higher-spec models have the 1.8-litre twin-cam engine, 2.0-litre engine, and the 2.4-litre engine.
In 1982 Toyota unveiled the Celica Twin-cam Turbo only for the Japanese market. Very few were sold to the public, as most were made for rallying. The 1.8-liter turbocharged twin-cam engine (3T-GTE) produced around 180 horsepower in the production model. The rally-spec is made at around 320-horsepower at production and is considered the most powerful Celica ever made.
1985-1989 Toyota Celica (T160)
In 1985 Toyota discontinued the RWD chassis, and all Celicas produced since then have an FWD chassis. The coupe body configuration returned alongside the liftback configuration. However, it still looked like a sedan, and most customers went for the liftback or the soft-top convertible.
You get the T160 Celica with either a 1.6-litre, 1.8-litre, or 2.0-litre engine coupled to a 4-speed automatic or 5-speed manual transmission. The AWD Celica GT-Four was unveiled in the USA in 1988 and was called the Turbo All-Trac in other markets except for Japan. It has the 3S-GTE, which made around 240 horsepower at production.
Unlike the Celica Twin-cam Turbo, Toyota made more units of the GT-Four. It was more available to the public but at almost double the price of a base-spec model with the 1.6-litre engine.
1989-1993 Toyota Celica (T180)
The 1989 Celica emerged with an all-new “rounder” body which improved aerodynamics. When it was first unveiled, there was a concern that it would be heavier than its predecessors, compromising handling. Still, there was no significant difference in weight between the T180 and the T160 Celica.
Engine options were similar to those offered in the T160 Celica. Still, the 1.8-litre and 2.4-litre engines were discontinued, and a new 2.2-litre engine was introduced. Base models mostly come with the 1.6-litre and 2.0-litre engines driving the front wheels via a 4-speed or 5-speed automatic transmission. Higher-spec models have a 2.2-litre engine with the same transmission options.
The notchback coupe started being accepted slowly, but adding a rear spoiler in the liftback made customers lean towards the liftback. However, if you want to install a large wing, you’ll have to remove the entire rear roof in the liftback as the factory spoiler is moulded onto it.
1993-1999 Toyota Celica (T200)
The sixth-gen Celica is considered the best-looking Celica. In fact, when you look at it from the side, it almost resembles its bigger brother, the Supra. It was available in coupe, convertible soft top, and liftback body configurations like previous generations. Still, there’s not much difference between the two if you look closer. Most people wouldn’t tell the difference between a liftback and coupe model if not for the big spoiler on the liftback model.
A new 1.8-litre engine, also used in the Toyota Corolla, was used alongside the 2.0-litre and 2.2-litre engines. The Celica GT-Four with a turbocharged 2.0-litre engine (3S-GTE) was revealed in 1994. Power output was around 250 horsepower for non-Japanese models. In comparison, Japanese models were limited to 240 horsepower at production.
The 3S-GTE was so good that Toyota used it in other cars like the Caldina GT-T. It was more like a Family rally wagon. It’s also the only turbocharged production engine used throughout Celica’s production years. If you find a Celica GT-Four in good condition, you can make decent power if the engine is in good condition.
1999-2006 Toyota Celica (T230)
This is the last-generation Celica produced between 1999 and 2006. It was more like the Celica’s last dying kicks as nothing too special revolves around it.
The 1.8-litre engine in the T230 Celica was offered in two versions, 1ZZ-FE and 2ZZ-FE, driving the front wheels via a 4-speed automatic or a 5/6-speed manual transmission. The 2ZZ makes more power (180 horsepower) than the 1ZZ (140-horsepower) mainly because of its larger bore and shorter stroke.
No turbocharged, RWD, or AWD versions of the T230 Celica were made. However, this was the first Celica to feature a premium JBL stereo, leather seats, cold cargo storage, power windows and door, and a 6-disc CD changer.
Safety was significantly improved in the T230 Celica as ABD, passenger airbags, and side-impact airbags were standard.
No specific production figures are provided for the Celica per generation. Still, when production ended in 2006, 4,129,626 units were produced.
The Toyota Celica is a sports car, but it isn’t that fast as it has less power output than most of its competitors. It’s also heavier as it weighs around 2700 pounds. But you can still gap some modern cars with one.
Yes. The engine bay is large enough to fit a V6 or even a V8 if you put some work into it. Since bigger engines have more power outputs, you have to consider upgrading suspension and drivetrain components, wheels and the braking system.
Depends on the spec and the condition it is in. A banged-up base trim Celica will cost you under $1,000, and you might even get it for free from an old man who had it stored away in his barn and has no use for it. On the other hand, a high-spec model such as a GT-Four or a 1973 Celica GT will cost you anything from $17,000.
Yes. Very Reliable indeed. If you are looking for a sports car with low maintenance costs, the Celica is the car for you. Parts are easy to find, and you can salvage hunt from Corollas in a scrapyard since the Celica is just a corolla with a sportier body.
A Celia will last for as long as you want it to as durability depends on maintenance. Not that it will fail on you if you skip one oil change, but Toyota vehicles are known to last longer with little maintenance.
No. A Toyota Celica will not appreciate or hold its value unless it’s a limited edition such as the GT-Four or an early production model. It’s one of the cars you buy to drive and have fun with while learning some basic mechanical works.
How to import a Toyota Celica
Read our Ultimate Guide on How to Import a Car from Japan
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