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The Carchive: The 1977 Toyota Celica

Chris Haining April 10, 2018 Cars You Should Know, The Carchive 8 Comments

The surfaces of the day have been dusted and the floor of time has been vacuumed – but what’s lurking under the ornamental rug of history? Lets lift up a corner and peek into the dusty darkness to see what horrors crawl out. Welcome back to The Carchive.

Oh, the Toyota Celica. Beloved of spoilt high-school teenagers and adventurous yet economy-minded drivers of a certain age, Toyota’s family coupe now lives firmly in the past, having being permanently sidelined in 2006. Today, though, we’re taking a trip back to 1977 to take a look at the Celica’s second generation.

(Images get bigger and clearer when you click ’em up a bit)

“Beautifully styled, marvellously appointed, thoughtfully designed. That’s the best way to describe the new Toyota Celica Liftback”

Or;

“The Toyota Celica Coupe is a sports coupe that’s way out on its own. What else offers you such sleek, smooth styling, such comfort, such marvellous design?”

What indeed. Like its predecessor, the Celica was available in two formats, two-door coupe and three-door liftback. Rather unlike the somewhat pony-car influenced first-generation, though, 1977’s A40 and A50 models took on a rather more mature persona – particularly the liftback which eschewed the previous Mustang-esque shape in favour of a slightly bulbous fastback rear end. The coupe was rather more elegant, though, and it’s not at all unfair to suggest that the Celica’s designers were inspired by the Chevrolet Monza and its Oldsmobile and Pontiac brethren, in both coupe and hatchback forms. The second-generation Celica was penned in California, after all.

A curious fact, though, is that the two variants were aimed at slightly different markets, in the UK at least. Perhaps this is why each bodystyle had its own separate brochure.

“Under the bonnet you’ll find a smooth two-litre engine in all three Celica models in the Liftback range”.

Or;

“Power coupled with reliability. That’s the key to the Celica coupe’s tried and tested 1,588cc engine.”

Oh.

This is the weirdest thing about the UK Celica lineup of this age. A look at the JDM Celica brochure shows five separate engine choices – a 1.6 or 1.8-litre OHV, 2.0-litre OHC, 1.6-litre twin-cam with fuel injection or carburetted 2.0-litre twin-cam. Each of these engines could be ordered in either bodystyle. In North America, there was a 2.2-litre engine instead.

Not so in the UK, where for whatever reason, the two-door coupe – arguably the sportiest looker – had the smallest, least powerful and least sophisticated engine. The liftback, by contrast, could have a single or twin-cam two-litre. Unusually, ‘performance’ (inverted commas definitely apply) figures are published in the brochure, and the twin-cam GT liftback is the ‘fastest’, reaching 62mph from rest in 12 seconds on the way to a 120mph top speed. The single-cam manages it in 15 seconds and tops out at 110mph, while our lowly OHV-engined coupe struggles to 106mph having achieved 62 in the same 15 seconds.

Fascinating stuff. Interestingly, ‘maximum cruising speeds’ are also published – 85mph for the coupe, 87 for the SOHC and 94 for the DOHC. Fancy an automatic? Of course you don’t, but if you absolutely refuse a three-pedal setup you’ll have to suffer a 17.4 second 0-62mph time.

“The new Celica Liftback is a fully-fledged four-seater, and not just a two-plus two. With the extra headroom, increased legroom and the additional shoulder room the new styling’s given us we’re able to create more space for everyone”

Or;

“It’s a true four-seater – not just a two-plus two. That’s because the new shape outside gave us more space inside. And that means extra headroom, increased legroom, more shoulder room”

Everybody’s happy. Where the liftback really won was in versatility – that liftback combined with folding rear seatbacks that opened up a long if rather shallow loadspace, and one encumbered by a very high loading sill. More practical than the Coupe, though, which had a comparably narrow aperture and wasn’t nearly as qualified a load lugger.

Of course, that wouldn’t matter if the Coupe was presented as the sporty model in the range, as it was elsewhere in the world, but no. Instead, the UK got it as the entry-level. The cheap model. It seems a slightly strange decision to have made.

Today, I honestly can’t remember the last time I saw one of these. My most vivid recollection was of a bright metallic blue liftback driven, at the time, by our school secretary – a lovely lady but one who wasn’t the least bit interested in high-performance motoring. But, with their Toyota Carina-inspired engineering, the Celica was a perfect fit with that kind of customer. It was, in its own way, a little bit ‘personal luxury’, a little sexier than a normal sedan and doubtless a lot more dependable than its Ford Capri and Opel Manta rivals… if no more resistant to rust.

The Supra is poised to make a comeback (with a little help from BMW) but the Celica? I suspect we’ll be waiting a while.

(All images are of original manufacturer’s publicity material, photographed by me. Sir-leeka or Sellicker? I go with the former, Rachel in Friends reckons the latter. Just another of the cultural differences that make the world such a fascinatingly diverse place)

  • kogashiwa

    The Toyobaru should have been called a Celica. It has far more in common with the first four generations of Celica than with a Corolla hatchback.

    Also, it’s really remarkable how much worse this generation looks than the one just previous:

    https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/595f4b013500d22652be0efedaa3921baa37d07b22e53175b161b96f54281eae.jpg

    These last two RWD generations were the Celica’s years in the wilderness; I don’t think they sorted out the styling until the first FWD model in 1987.

    • Agreed, and it’s fortunate that – as that image suggests – the few that survive in the UK are very well looked after. I did quite like the post ’81 generation, though, particularly in notchback form.

  • kombi man

    I owned a silver version of the liftback and drove it across the continent several times full of all my worldly possessions and it never missed a beat! Great car, not a sport car but a great grand tourer that returned good economy, had fantastic air con and (literally) flew under the radar when being held at the more spirited end of the speed limits.

    I swapped it for a 72 VW bus to continue adventures but I could sleep in the bus 🙂 Happy care free days

  • tonyola

    I’ve never cared a whole lot for this generation of Celica. The notchback looks OK if a little bland, but the hatchback looks puffy. The 1980 front facelift with the rectangular headlights was something of an improvement. https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/307281674fe3a585d81af740aa0a66504fd80da26c42ed6ce5f91299fba99e61.jpg

  • Van_Sarockin

    Those lead images make it look uncannily like a Rover 3800.

    That Celica was a decent, durable compact, and nice progress from its predecessor. But also not particularly interesting.

  • Zentropy

    This was a dull generation of Celica– I much prefer the first and third gen cars.

  • Citric

    Fun fact: Designed by Marty from Spin and Marty, David Stollery.

  • I would have called the fastback hatch the sportier version so it getting the bigger engine makes sense to me.

    I looked at one of these my senior year of high school. I ended up with a Chevy Monza instead I should have bought the Celica.

    I like the small bumpers European but never liked the round headlights.