Heaven Sent

Ponycar à la Toyota City. 

1970 Toyota Celica ST. (c) stubs-auto.fr

Toyota chose the 1970 Tokyo motor show to reveal their own style of pony car to the world. Clearly influenced by significant occurrences with such cars as the Mustang, Firebird and Camaro over in the United States, not to mention a gentlemanly nod to the European Capri, Toyota (with assistance from Yamaha) contributed their own version of mass produced self-indulgent motoring.

Using a Latin derivative, coelica to suggest something celestial or heavenly (in Spanish) and given code name TA22, the Celica’s modus operandi was to provide an affordable yet still fun alternative to their own more rarefied, overtly sporting (and far more expensive to produce) 2000GT. Showing that the other worldly concept cars can influence the more earthbound models, the daring 1969 EX-1 lent styling cues, finding route to the Celica.

With both front wheel drive and powertrain, this never to be produced concept was intended for high speed, long distance cruising. The Celica on the other hand being the complete opposite; rear wheel drive, a 1.6 litre four cylinder engine containing a single carburettor making a little over 100bhp, practical and whilst more prosaic in looks than the EX-1, extremely handsome in stature.

Launched as a two door, three-volume pillarless coupé, (the liftback Mustang-esque RA28 model materialising in 1973) the Celica borrowed a revised Carina floorpan, mechanicals and interior, saving the Aichi manufacturer much yen. Independent front and four link rear suspension allowed for encouraging handling, the brakes being disc upfront, drums behind.

Early road tests by journalists were most praiseworthy. Celica became Toyota’s first robotically assembled vehicle which increased standards the world had to follow. With their gaze fixed directly at stealing large amounts of America’s own pony cars (along with some European scalps), interiors were accessible for six foot frames up front; those rear seats once more for children or luggage/ detritus only. Another feel good factor in the Celica’s arsenal being its reliable as a Japanese quartz crystal watch reputation.

Four circular headlamps were housed in a black grille (a very rare honeycomb type, optional) in an elongated U-shaped chrome surround, those front indicators appear to have been an afterthought. Often referred to as the Slant Nose (as the 1974 facelift altered much), a short bonnet and removable (completely useless due to being fake) bonnet vents but the front end is strong.

The Celica’s flanks are the classic coke-bottle profile leading towards the rear end. The central chrome strip between the flush rear lights neatly conceals the petrol filler cap with tank on the carpeted boot floor, the rear chromed U-shaped bumper not incorporating the indicators, looking a more accomplished derivation to those fitted to the Crown saloon.

The car’s length was given at 4,170 mm, with a wheelbase of 2,407 mm. A width of 1,600 along with 1,300 mm height lent the Celica that muscle car stance with less actual metal. Incidentally, consider how humans have grown these past fifty years: a Smart car is around 55mm wider. Another consideration being that modern hurdle; weight. The lightest Celica came in a shade under 900 Kg’s, the weightier trim bulking that out three hundred more, making this half centurion slender, light on its feet.

Trim levels were thankfully few and easily understood. Japanese market based bolides could be had in poverty ET spec, aimed at those avoiding higher taxes with the rest of the world being offered progressively more luxurious LT, ST and GT. Optional extras included a wooden look console, chrome embellishments, stereo, tachometer and side stripes, broadly similar to rivals at that time.

Should someone in front offend you, you could press one of three horn buttons on that three spoke wheel that featured no stalks sprouting from behind. Operating lights and wipers meant for pull or rotary switches. Heating (and optional air conditioning ) was by slider bar. Twenty eight colours, many of which being metallic were also available. And this being a car from the heavens, apart from the standard hues, why not paint your Celica in Pluto Beige, Vesuvius Red, Orion Turquoise, Green Altair or personal favourite, Cobalt Firmament? All very fitting then, some now.

Five styles of hub-capped steel wheels clad in skinny 13 or 14 inches of rubber (with noticeably beefier sidewalls) certainly show the cars age; no self-respecting sports car of today wears anything less than 18 inch, frequently larger. Shifting gears was facilitated via a (Japanese only) manual four speed, five or a three speed automatic for everyone else.

To the driving: The headquarters of Toyota in Britain and Germany have pristine examples of their first born for lucky journalists to sample. And how they wax lyrical over those dimensions, the lithesome bolide warming hearts and minds, although of course this car is another galaxy away from perfect.

(c) wheelsage

Grumbles seem to revolve around high revving engine noise, the vague steering response (the recirculating ball system leading to understeer) are probably pertinent but bordering on harsh. Because there was so little else as charming, economical, competitively priced, easy going yet fun to drive to compare with the Celica in 1970 – and beyond. Which begs the question as to why Toyota only gave the car a year to prove itself before the inevitable facelifts and changes took hold?

But that is the Toyota way. From the heavens did the Celica descend but once upon earth, sales figures mean far more than mere deities. Continuing over seven generations and several million sales, this child of 1970 looks (to these eyes) the best. Fifty years have passed since this wee coupé was introduced, yet the love is as strong as the day it was launched.

Author: Andrew Miles

Beyond hope there lie dreams; after those, custard creams?

9 thoughts on “Heaven Sent”

  1. The original notchback Celica looked like the average early-Seventies baroque kitsch from Nippon and their OHV engines with 79 or 86 PS were asthmatic and anything but sporty, making them more like smaller engined Mantas or Capris.
    This all changed when the GT arrived. The Mustang-like fastback looked much more attractive and its 108 PS DOHC engine gave you Alfa mechanicals for half the price and with Japanese reliablity.

  2. Does the means of controlling the direction of the wheels have much influence on the car´s steering neutrality? I thought things such as chassis balance (engine placement), tyres, suspension geometry and drive layout all mattered more. I ask because in this article the recirculating ball steering is blamed for understeer. I might be wrong (I am an idiot when it comes to engineering) but I would have thought the understeer was due to the tyres and chassis set-up and not the steering system. Does anyone have a clarification?

    Toyota is simply profligate – they bang out these fun and charming and interesting designs and let them go without remorse. On the first Celica they worked wonders with the bumper and grille arrangement. It is such a pity these cars did not endure just a bit more as they are always entertaining to behold. Chances are there are more Ferrari 412s left than Mk1 Celicas.

    1. I think you’re broadly right Richard. Weight distribution, roll stiffness distribution, tyre cornering stiffness (including pressure or size differentials), geometry (including roll camber gain), bump / roll steer, compliance steer and aerodynamics are the contributors to understeer. Steering gear compliance and upstream column stiffness also play a part and may in this case be implicated by steering system design choice.

    2. Ah, Mr Herriott, you find me wanting of an answer, but thank you, Sean. As a non-engineer myself, I had only the research I found to steer my words. As my learning curve arcs like a torque curve of something wearing a bulls badge, I shall in future attempt to dig deeper to ascertain the why’s and wherefores of such attributes.
      I can, hand on heart say these eyes of mine have only seen a Mk1 Celica on screen.; itself a shame for I do believe this car to be one little stunner

  3. Good morning Andrew. Thanks for reminding us of another all but forgotten car. The exterior of the Mk1 Celica in both coupé and liftback forms was really rather attractive if you can look past the period chintzy ornamentation. I’m not sure I would agree that it was the most attractive iteration of the Celica. I would probably award that prize to the Panhard-esque fourth generation model:

    Unfortunately, the fifth generation model adopted the 90’s fashion for organic shapes, not altogether successfully and looked a bit blobby and formless to my eyes:

  4. Thank you Andrew,
    I really like that first generation Celica, it’s a very pleasant design that still looks good. The EX-1 concept car of 1969 did preview in heavily exaggerated form the Celica’s looks, but at least for the front end styling the Celica’s designers evidently also took a good look at the 1966 Ghia 450SS. So did Ford USA’s stylists for the front of the 1970 Torino.

    The 1969 EX-1: https://i.imgur.com/jC1AkDS.jpg

    Comparison Celica/Ghia450SS/Torino: https://i.imgur.com/BstlfCK.jpg

  5. My favorite Celica iteration is probably the boxy 80s MkII Coupe (aka ‘not the Supra’). It has a real US ‘Buick GNX’ vibe to it, in a more manageable size. Aggressive and probably way off-base for the European market at the time, but with the benefit of time behind it – a very cool slab of car indeed.

  6. One of the treasures in my possession (which includes the baptismal crown of Prince Gustav IIV of Meiningen, an onyx griffin from St Petersburg cathedral and Tycho Brahe´s platinum orrery) is a comparision of the Mk 4 Celica and Lancia Delta Integrale. Toyota had a 4WD turbo version of the Celica. Although it didn´t win the test it wasn´t shamed and really achieved a good result given the titanic levels of competence reached by the Delta. I´d probably choose the Toyota over the Lancia if I really wanted that kind of car – it´s better built, quieter and more reliable (if handing and ultimate grip didn´t matter, my choice would swap and I´d naturally have top-spec Delta instead).
    While I won´t argue too much with Daniel over the relative merits of Mk4 and Mk5, I can say that the Mk5 that lives in my ´hood is rather smart, tidy and neat too. The design is very disciplined indeed, with the usual Toyata “demerit” of a disappointing interior (just the IP). Looked at in the round, most of the Celica clan are worthy designs and distill the styles of the times rather well.

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