Japanese sports cars are witnessing a rebirth right now, with automakers pushing every cent they can into these attention-grabbing toys. Toyota is arguably the most ambitious, offering the Supra, GR Yaris, GR Corolla, and GR86. However, something is missing, the Celica.
The Celica is actually one of the most important Toyota models ever made, a racing legend, a rival to some of your favorite Detroit cars and one of the first popular JDM imports. Let me explain.
The formula pioneered by the Ford Mustang, a cool affordable car that could be mass-produced, meant that pony cars were sold by the millions in the late 1960s. Toyota wanted a slice of the action but knew it needed to make its cars bigger and more powerful, so the Celica was born. The car went on sale in 1971 (in the US), and although its 1.9-liter engine only made 90 horsepower, the Celica was lighter and much cheaper than a Mustang.
By 1976, the Celica was winning big in America. Named Motor Trend Import of the Year, this little Toyota now closely resembled a Mustang with its new fastback body, window louvers, and vertical taillights. As if taking on the Mustang wasn’t enough, it also spawned the 1979 Celica Supra. That’s right; without the Celica, there would be no Supra.
Because the Supra evolved into a powerful 2JZ dragster, people think the Celica is just an inferior, smaller Supra. However, it’s also one of the most successful racing cars of all time. The craziness started in 1982 when they offered the first turbo version and dipped their toe in the Group B waters. However, things really went into overdrive in the late 80s, when Toyota came out with the All-Trac system.
This permanent AWD system was offered on a variety of Toyotas from 1988 right up until 2000. However, its most famous use is in the Celica GT-Four Turbo. Toyota was beating the European manufacturers on their home turf, winning WRC stages with its cool 4×4 sports car, and I believe Celica models from that era are also some of the sexiest JDMs ever made.
Digital artist Adry53 Customs probably agrees because he’s just envisioned a new Celica GT-Four concept that perfectly brings this classic design into the modern age. Specifically, this unofficial concept takes inspiration from the ST185 generation, built until 1993. Sold as the Celica All-Trac Turbo in America and the Celica 4WD Turbo in Canada, it has a specific band of black connecting the headlights which looks like a monobrow.
Adding AWD to the Supra is a dream
Before adding the permanent AWD system, Celica had just transitioned to an FWD platform. So the GT-Four is more like an ancestor to the GR Corolla, a rival to the WRX STI if you will. But Adry53 chose to base his concept on the Supra.
The A90 is developed on a BMW chassis and comes with nearly identical powertrains to the BMW Z4 roadster. So the Celica’s AWD system would have to be taken from the M3/M4, meaning a longitudinal engine and prop shafts for the front wheels coming directly off the ZF 8-speed gearbox.
Such technology would be expensive to test. So the Celica concept could only be built as a limited-production exotic for collectors, just like BMW did with the 3.0 CSL, the $750,000 tribute to the iconic E9-based homologation car of the early 1970s.