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Toyota Celica
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 weekend cruiser.

Celicas hit these shores for the 1971 model year. Powered by a 1.9L SOHC 4-cylinder engine making 108hp backed by a  4-speed manual transmission, performance was just spirited enough to make it fun. Outside, the Celica presents generally pleasing lines, though at certain angles things look just a tad frumpy. There are a lot of badges, logos and stripes, but somehow they manage to come off as period cool. We love the little dragon (no its not a swan) on the grille!

The standard Celica dash was quite sophisticated for its price point and included  gauges and tachometer, quite a contrast to most domestics of the day.  This one has an automatic transmission..

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(, 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.

The Market

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.
 celica price trends
Celicas laid dormant for a long time before suddenly catching on.  Current values (2015) continued the trend, with values 50% above 2006.

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.)

1972 celica 76 celica celica liftback celica dragon
The '71-74 models are our favorite as they sport the lighter bumpers and original dash. 1975 brought a new front fascia with heavy bumpers. A liftback version was added to the '76 lineup.  It's often referred to as the Toyota Mustang, and you can clearly see why. The Celica Dragon.

Current Values:  1971 Celica   1972 Celica   1973 Celica   1974 Celica  1975 Celica  1976 Celica  1977 Celica 

Model Evolution Vitals
1971 - After being introduced at home, Toyota exports the Celica to the US. Press calls it a Japanese pony car, and it finds a ready market. US sales 17,750
1972 - No major changes. US sales 40,000
1973 - New, larger 2.0L engine. 3-speed automatic available. New taillight design. US sales 59,000
1974 - New GT model with 5-speed manual, tighter suspension, and trim differences. Motor Trend Import Car of the Year. US sales 59,000
1975 - 2.2L engine now standard. Wheel flares enlarged. Hood gets bulge for engine clearance. US sales 65,000
1976 - Motor Trend Import Car of the Year. (again). Liftback comes to U.S. Wheelbase, length and width increase. US sales 100,000
1977 Final year of original design. US sales 163,000
Vehicle Type: Front Eng, RWD, 2dr hardtop, hatchback Dimensions: (71-75)
Length 171.5" - Wheelbase 95.5" - Height 51.4"
Curb Weight 2300-2600 lbs
Original MSRP: $2598-$5200
Engines: (all SOHC, 4cyl)
1.9L/108hp (8R-C) 1971-72
2.0L/97hp (18R-C) 1973-74
2.2L/97hp (20R) 1975-77
Performance 1/4 mi: 17.8 sec @ 78mph
U.S. sales: 504,000 (approximate)
Look For: No rust, A/C, manual transmission
Restoration Costs: Above Average
Return on Restoration: 70%
Long Term Investment Rank: Good

Bone stock 1971 Celica ST (factory photo)

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.

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