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The Japanese Pony Car
Stylish, sporty, and reliable, first-generation Celicas offer a lot of
smiles per mile. They're practical, too--and with good gas mileage
(22-26mpg), they make a lot of sense as both an everyday driver and
Inside is extremely well executed, especially considering the price point these came in when new (initially about $2600--well equipped). The dash is particularly impressive (even with the plastic wood) and sports a tachometer and full gauges. 1973 saw the end of the clean, one piece taillights in favor of three lens units. A GT model joined the lineup for 1974, and got a tighter suspension, a 5-speed manual transmission and minor trim differences. The biggest change occurred in 1976, when it was stretched, widened and got a revised dash. A new liftback body was added to the line, and sales soared.
The Celica lives up to Toyota's reputation, and in fact, helped build it! It's well put together and has no significant mechanical issues. That doesn't mean they were trouble fee however, with a tendency to fry valves an early problem. According to Rick Dormoi at Toyhead Auto Restoration Services in Philadelphia(www.toyheadauto.com), the biggest issue is rust. Like all Japanese cars of the period, Celicas used thin, recycled steel, said Rick, and it deteriorated quickly when exposed to the elements. Get the most rust-free example you can find, as good body parts are becoming difficult to locate. In fact, finding any part at all can be a challenge. In fact, finding a complete, running, rust free example (or close) is easier, especially later examples.
On the mechanical side, a simple MacPherson strut/coil spring live rear axle suspension means few problems and low maintenance. The standard front disc/rear drum brakes are adequate. The engine bay received constant attention. A slight increase in displacement and a reworked head (to combat the aforementioned valve issue) was first, then a new, much improved 2.2L mill greeted buyers for 1975. The U.S. never got the performance versions of any of these engines that the home market enjoyed, but we've seen some extremely well executed upgrades here, along with the appropriate suspension and brake mods.
Talk about bang for the buck. For less than $5,000 (that was 2006, today you're looking at a bit more) you get a nice collector car that will give you years of cheap reliable service, only go up in value, and it looks great to boot. All Celicas were very well equipped from the factory, and the only option that might bump up value a bit is integrated factory (dealer) air, though right now the market is not showing any consistent premium for it. Manual transmission cars are an easier sell than automatics (added to the option list in 1973) and carry about a 20% value penalty compared to a manual.
What's best to buy? Despite not having some of the later refinements, (which can be rectified fairly easily), we like the 71-74 cars best (they bring the most dollars, too), then the 76 and 77 Liftbacks. the '74 GT with its 5-speed and upgrades is particularly attractive. The early cars are just plain neat, while the later cars lost some of their whimsical character. After the '74 model year they got big, ugly bumpers that are so typical of the period.
While not really quantifiable, the Celica epitomizes Japan's automotive transition from fringe player to rising star, lending it a bit of historical significance. With favorable demographics increasing the interest in these cars every year, look for at least a 20% gain over the next 24 months. The $10,000+ Celica is not far off.(Update 2015: since this article was first written in 2006, Celicas have continued to steadily appreciate. The $10,000 Celica is not uncommon now, and $15,000 is not unheard of.)
Current Values: 1971 Celica 1972 Celica 1973 Celica 1974 Celica 1975 Celica 1976 Celica 1977 Celica
The editors at Collector Car Market Review
This profile in the November 2006 issue of Collector Car Market Review. (C) Copyright 2006- VMR International, Inc. All Rights Reserved.