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The Carchive: The 1976 Toyota Celica Coupe

Chris Haining October 26, 2018 Cars You Should Know, The Carchive 6 Comments

With the weekend firmly in sight, and Last Call about to provide us with that final breath of relief that we’ve all been waiting for, lets just sneak a moment to look at something comfortingly familiar in this fast-paced, ever changing world we live in.

Last week we saw how Vauxhall marketed its Carlton, Viceroy and Senator towards Britain’s upwardly mobile in 1982, (desperately) placing the emphasis on status and prestige. Today we’re heading six years further back, and looking at what was definitely the first Toyota that sold on anything other than reliable engineering. It was Toyota UK’s answer to the Ford Capri. A sexy car for sexy people. Or something. Welcome back to The Carchive.

(Click on the pictures for them to become more big and have larger writing that you can read more easily)

“In keeping with the Toyota practice of giving you more car for your money, we introduce the new Celica Coupe. Needless to say, it retains all the qualities that have made the Celica such a desirable car to own”

Now. Confession. This is an undated brochure. I know the pointier, flabbier, generally less attractive second-generation (as covered previously in The Carchive) Celica arrived in 1977, and I’m just guessing that this is a ’76 brochure. There are several references to the ‘new’ Celica coupe, though, which is a little confusing. Ah, whatever. It’s the first generation, A20/30 Celica, of that there can be no denial. There was a liftback version, too, but annoyingly I only have a brochure for the coupe.

And what a car it was. Toyota’s engineers had clearly stumbled onto the same formula that was causing cars to sell in huge numbers all over the globe, namely to take the humdrum underpinnings of a Ford Falcon, Ford Cortina or Toyota Corina but clothe it with a rather racier body. That made it a de facto rival for the Ford Capri in the UK. Over in the USA, where tastes were rather more ambitious, it couldn’t be overlooked that the Celica looked somewhat like certain pony and muscle cars of then-recent history. Mustang is bandied about, but I reckon the image above has more of a Barracuda feel to it. Even in its wheels.

Today, it looks better than ever.

“Climb into the driving seat and you’ll see we’ve moved the gearshift and hand brake one and a half inches back to put them literally at your finger tips. Notice that we haven’t wasted that little bit of extra room inside”

Oddly enough, the dashboard pictured above doesn’t look woefully old fashioned. The deeply inset dials possibly date it more than anything else, but have a strong Italian, perhaps Alfa Romeo feel. To my eyes, anyway. The auxiliary gauges are pleasingly mirror-imaged, paired in the centre stack, alongside a little analogue clock. With lashings of petrochemical artificial wood, the whole thing has quite an upscale feel.

This in a car which became a popular gift from preoccupied, fiscally comfortable parents to bratty, attention-starved teenagers in North America. Teenagers who would find the Celica’s lukewarm performance a little underwhelming, but would certainly appreciate its tidy manners on a twisty road.

“The Celica comes in two versions. A 1600ST and a 2000ST automatic. Both are pretty fast off the mark as their performance figures indicate. The 1600ST, for example, can do 0-59 in 8.8 seconds and has a top speed of up to 106mph”

This generation Celica, in the UK at least, wasn’t offered in anything you’d describe as a ‘high performance’ variant. Manual cars used the 1588cc ‘2T’ four-cylinder engine, and automatic machines used the 1968cc ’18R’ of the same layout. Both were rated at 86bhp, though, which meant performance that many a family car could draw close to, and V6 Ford Capris would leave far, far behind. This was a bit of an opportunity missed by Toyota’s UK performers, who presumably weren’t confident in there being sufficient market for sporty cars in an early 70s Britain that wasn’t exactly confident, financially.

Elsewhere in the world, though, more appealing engines like the legendary twin-cam 18R-G were on the table, and that engine did make it into liftback version of the Mk2 (A40/50) Celica. So, really, The Carchive has done things in entirely the wrong order. Maybe next week we’ll look at the 1999 T230 edition, just to make things even messier.

(All images are of original manufacturers publicity materials, photographed by me. Copyright remains property of Toyota. A company that I should point out makes a fine range of modern, reliable family hatchbacks, sedans and SUVs, many of which are electrically augmented. But none of which are quite like the Celica)

  • Zentropy

    These were such cool cars. I remember seeing a pristine ’77 GT fastback (dark green) for sale near my home town back when I was in college. I almost pulled the trigger on the purchase, and sorely regret that I didn’t.

  • Maggie Dee

    Great work Toyota. This is also the first model to run an in-car camera in a major race.

  • tonyola

    These were great cars back in the day, and I do prefer the styling over the puffier second generation. Toyota also did a fairly decent job of complying with the US 5-mph bumper standards – it does look different than the European model shown in the brochure but the car has not been ruined.

  • I had a girlfriend who owned a light blue Celica. I was amazed at how quiet the motor was and how smoothly it shifted.

  • Alff

    Toyota wouldn’t sell one today… too handsome.

  • To me this looks very much like a European interpretation of a muscle car theme. Add black and remove chrome for street cred, I guess? Also, 0-59(sic) in 8.8s, in 1976. Eat this, 924 and RX-7!