Imagine the Spin of the Willowherb Hawkmoth, Can You?

Toyota presented the Celica as their response to the Ford Mustang of 1964.

1970-1977 Toyota Celica (A20; A30) All images: The author.

The Celica  Mk1 lasted a surprisingly long time, staying in production until 1977. The Celica here, spotted in Oslo in 2021, doesn’t at all look as butch as a Mustang. This is the 2-door hardtop (there was a three-door liftback) which is more likely to be what competed most directly with the Mustang.

1965 Ford Mustang (source)

They are incredibly different. The Mustang has shades of the Lincoln Continental, with its horizontal lines and really flat rear deck. The Celica (five years later) is daringly subtle for the most part, shorter, with a rising waistline and coke-bottle hips over the rear wheel.

The only aspect of the car that makes me shift uncomfortably in my seat is the side view of the chrome bumpers. At the front the junction of the indicator and the chrome creates an arrow-head effect. It sensibly aligns to a crease on the body side. However, a curved junction would have appeared more harmonious. From the front view (and the same applies at the rear) the bumper is nicely done.

When I visually analyse it  I see a lot of elements well-integrated and it is satisfying to see the grille and lights framed so neatly. Further the wing runs down to the front face of the indicator and then on down and inboard. If the price for this orderliness is a small pointy bit visible from the side, I can live with it.

The Celica offers us another chance to consider Toyota’s sales channels mystery. Toyota Corolla Stores sold the Celica (it was one size up from the Corolla)*. In the course of its run, seven engines took up the not-so-arduous task of shifting the car’s bantam weight of 900-1100 kg (figures rounded for clarity and readability). Those engines ranged from a thrifty 1.4 litre to two 1.6 litre engines (one with twin cams), a 1.9, a 2.0 and a 2.2.

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The car didn’t take up much road-space either, being a little over 4.0 metres long. The mystery of how all this design fits so neatly into the tiny package is scale and proportions plus very different ideas about crash performance. The Mustang is half a metre longer, by the way.

Here is the 1971 Carina that was the saloon-equivalent of the Celica:

Image: bestcarmag

*In case you were not appraised of the matter, as of May 2020 all Toyota dealers can sell all the products. While I did not understand the previous sales channels system, I rather enjoyed its baroque strangeness. It gave model ranges a character lacking in other brands.

Author: richard herriott

I like anchovies. I dislike post-war town planning.

44 thoughts on “Imagine the Spin of the Willowherb Hawkmoth, Can You?”

  1. It was the hatchback/fastback that was pushed as the Mustang substitute especially as it’s styling directly cribbed off the Mustang fastback, particularly in the side and rear styling. The front styling from the ‘A’ pillar forward was identical to the coupe. But from this angle it definitely says ‘Mustang’.

  2. The same market was aimed at by Mitsubishi with it’s Galant based GTO. I have fond memories of one of these from the late 70s local to me that had been fitted with a 4.4 litre P76 V8 mated to the standard 5 speed manual. It was much faster than the 3 litre Capris of my friends and indeed the local V8s by Holden, Ford and Chrysler which were then current production.

    1. Let’s look at the rear end of recent day Mustang …..

  3. It started out much curvier, as the EX1 concept in 1969. In any event, I think both the coupé and liftback turned out well.

    1. This concept is incredible. If it didn’t have that chrome around the windows it could be from twenty years later.

  4. Good morning Richard. I have a new found respect for many of these 1970s Japanese designs. If you strip away the often slightly chintzy ornamentation, the underlying shapes are very nicely resolved.

    Someone in Toyota’s design department must have shared your reservations about the ‘arrowhead’ conjunction of the front bumper and indicator (although I rather like it). When the Celica liftback was introduced in 1973, the front end was modified subtly to this:

    Here’s a photo of the coupé with the updated front end:

    1. Very nice alloy wheels of the blue Celica Liftback. Like many other japanese cars of that era.

    2. And note the wheelbase stretch (93mm), ostensibly so they could fit the bigger 18R and 20R SOHC engines instead of the smaller T/2T. Original wheels with the bigger engine would have been 14 inchers rather than the earlier 13s.
      These have such a beautiful shape. There’s such a lightness and deftness to the handling of the contours. I prefer the original front end, the pointed bumper ends inspired by the 1970 US Ford Torino.

    3. The red coupé is almost like a small Challenger

      The blue Liftback alloys are from a Celica Supra. Oddly, they were seen in other car (well, a prototype)

  5. I love the ornate detailing of the Japanese cars of the period. They are almost rococo in the wonderful strangeness of them.

    1. On the inside as well – don’t forget the embossed patterns on the upholstery! 🙂

    2. Mazda RX-3

      Over here they were sold with mirr image windscreen stickers “Platz da, ein Mazda” – ‘out of my way, I’m a Mazda’ and on the rear screen “Es überholte Sie ein Mazda” – ‘you were overtaken by a Mazda’

    3. And why is the name ‘Audi’ reversed on that banner. Perhaps they were paying homage to the 2002 Turbo? 😁

    4. Mazda importers in Germany should have been a bunch of funny people. I don´t know if Mazda´s image was high enough to display those stickers…
      Dave, has been Mazda traditionally the best regarded Japanese brand in Germany? Certainly they have sold a lot of cars there.

      I read somewhere that BMW had to remove the “2002 Turbo” decals from the front spoiler because “they promoted agressive driving”

    5. After the presentation of the 2002 turbo the noritiously car adverse German press launched a shitstorm against BMW, led by the once highly regarded ‘Spiegel’. Even German parliament expressed its concern (German parliament issued regular warnings against dangerous automobiles like a 7o PS Golfs in the hands of normal human beings. A bit later they also pressed motorcycle importers into a ‘voluntary self limitation’ of 99 PS for motorcycles).
      In a knee jerk reaction BMW removed the stickers.

      Mazda surely wasn’t the highest regarded Japanese manufacturer in Germany, at that time that would have been Honda, the first to enter the market and the one with the most European looking cars and the best engines. Honda also had by far the highest sales numbers of Japanese manufacturers, surely helped by their reputation in the two wheeled market.
      Rotary engined Mazdas had a strong fan base and the RX-3 sold well regarding the small numbers overall of Japanese cars other than Honda.

  6. Markus Neubrand wrote…. “What a contrast to the car behind – the Prius 1 🙂”

    Very true in the “styling department” but today we are able to see which car had the greater influence in a direction the industry would take .
    This Prius was the catalyst that rewrote the rule book with today’s emphasis on pollution, conservation and the move to full electric by most every manufacturer.
    While hovering there in the back ground “who would have thought” the influence
    it would have on mans personal transport.

  7. The high end version of US market Celica then had digital display panel
    ahead of the shift stick, telling fuel consumption etc …

  8. As time has passed, my appreciation for the first Celica has only grown. It really is a very well done design regardless of its Mustang inspiration. As far as its front end is concerned,it looks like the 1966 Ghia 450SS and 1970 Ford Torino (itself clearly influenced by said Ghia) served as inspiration as well:

  9. Thanks Richard and thank you, commentariat for a very enjoyable set of photos! For all their baroqueness (or conversely, blandness), Japanese cars are almost always very carefully designed and the celica is no exception.

    To the maginificent collection of Japanese coupé models from the 1970s I’d like to add the Honda 1300 (front wheel drive!):

    Other than that it gave manufacturers an excuse to produce an impressive variety of similar-but-slightly-different models for their domestic market (with often better results than badge engineering from other conglomerates), I’ve never understood the Japanese dealer system.

    1. This Honda is mad. 1,300 cc air cooled engine with 113 PS@7,500 rpm(!), using four Keihin CV carburettors like a motorcycle.

  10. And,I guess, two continuously operating fans, one on front and one on the rear of the engine.
    Said arrangement could have provided the citroen gs with the ability to use more powerfull engines, some day.
    Some others also say that following Soichiro Honda’s stubborness on pursuing the air cooled Path, he was summoned and told (by the shareholders?) that either je would their engineers do their work, or he would have to leave chairmanship.
    I guess I rear this on DTW 😊

    About the 2002 turbo, I guess the main issue was having the badges writen on reverse (Mirror) like ambulances and other emergêncy vehicles.
    But BMW kept selling the cars with them stored in the boot, didn’t it?

    1. The Honda 1300’s two fans combined probably had more power than the engine of the chronically underpowered GS.
      Soichiro was told to let his developers do their work by his head of engineering, probably Nobihiko Kawamoto at that time.

      The BMW with sporting addenda in the boot was not the turbo but the E9 CLS which had the ‘batmobile’ spoiler provided loose in the boot because it was illegal on German roads.

    1. Do we have a ‘once only’ clause in our constitution? 🙂

    2. There is no such clause. No constitution either, for that matter…

    3. I still found it interesting. I thought the title of the piece was intriguing – what was that a reference to?

    4. Looking for inspiration I trawled among names of European butterflies. I can´t do Autocar headlines any more and I am not good a puns e.g. “Celica profile heralds new Toyota” or “Of Corsa it´s an improvement – new baby Opel launched in October” or “Three serious reasons to buy upcoming Beemer”. Autocar is more like “New Opel Showcases Revised Engine Tech” or “New Gen Honda Ditches HypoBlade Air Inlet System”.

  11. Dave,

    The gs was very powerfull: I bought mine relying on performance figures, it is faster than a 2cv, Mehari, the AMI (both old and more) and even some DS’s

    Am I wrong?

    1. I never considered my GS1220 to be underpowered compared to its contemporaries. Not the fastest off the line, but decent cruising speeds and the famous Wellington wind seemed to have little effect. Superb suspension of course, and brakes better than just about anything else on the road at the time.

  12. If the Honda 1300 had two fans, the gs could have had 2 engines, like the 2cv Sahara.
    Then we would talk about power😆

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