50 Years of the Toyota Celica

Although no longer part of the Toyota line-up today, the Celica nameplate is celebrating its 50th anniversary. Who knows... maybe it'll be resurrected one day, just like the Supra was recently?

With a rich motorsport history, the Toyota Celica - the name is derived from the Spanish word "celestial" or "heavenly" - was synonymous with a successful combination of hot-blooded sportiness and legendary reliability. Launched for the first time in 1970, the sport Toyota soon after started tackling rally stages across the world.

In total, there have been seven generations of Celica, and it was once the best-selling Asian sports coupe, with over 4.1 million units sold. It's worth noting that today's Supra very much carries the "genes" of the original Celica, as the nameplate was born in 1978 as the "Celica Supra". 

The Celica (TA22) was not only an excitingly styled hardtop coupe, its introduction also saw the birth of innovative new technology. Toyota Tsutsumi plant - where the Celica and the technically-realted Carina were built - boasted robot support for the first time. 

Initially launched with robust and high-revving four-cylinder engines, the Celica, which weighed just under 1,000 kilograms, was a fast sprinter. The GT model, which was launched in 1973 boasted a 79kW 1.6-litre engine. 

The facelifted Celica (TA23) presented in 1976 was even more dynamic. In addition to the hardtop coupé, there was now also a Celica liftback, optionally with a 2.0-liter top engine and boasting the legendary model name 2000GT as a reference to the very first Japanese super sports car from 1965.

The second Celica generation (TA40), introduced for model year 1978, celebrated the art of lightweight construction. Despite significantly larger body dimensions, the targeted search for every superfluous gram pushed the empty weight of this Celica down to less than 1,000 kilograms. 

In addition to the coupé and liftback models, there were convertibles for the first time. As a sporty six-cylinder flagship, the first Celica Supra, which delivered powerful output from a displacement of up to 2.8 liters, surprised in Japan and North America. Racing and rally operations proved the motorsport potential of the Celica. Achim Warmbold won the German Rally Championship in 1980 in a Celica GT.

From 1981, the third Celica (A60) gave a glimpse into the future of engine technology. This was due to Japan's first large-series 16-valve engine, which developed a powerful 91 kW at 6 600 rpm. Those who felt the need for even more power could then order the top-of-the-range Celica Supra 2.8i, with a 125 kW 2.8-liter six-cylinder. With up to 272 kW of power, the Celica Twin Cam Turbo earned the reputation of “King of Africa” because the reliable rally racers won six out of eight African rallies in four years.

The fourth Celica (T160) presented in 1985 surprised with optional four-wheel drive and as the Celica GT-Four the sports coupé raked in WRC victories and catapulted Carlos Sainz to the throne of the 1990 World Rally Champion. It was the first driver title for a Japanese manufacturer. 

The fifth Celica (T180) appeared in 1989 and sported aerodynamically sculpted lines and even more performance. In some markets, the Celica Turbo GT-Four offered up to 165 kW in all-wheel drive models, making it the world's most powerful standard 2.0-liter four-cylinder at the time. 

In its sixth generation, launched in 1993, the Celica (T200) had already outlived almost all sports coupe competitors of yore. The new car featured more power and less weight in muscular coupé contours. Its styling was controversial - it did without the folding headlamps and instead sported four "bug eyes". Consequently, opinion was divided on the sixth-generation car. But it wasn't all bad...

Despite additional safety technologies such as side impact protection and airbags, the Celica was 50 kilograms lighter than its predecessor. This was made possible by the use of high-strength steels. The result: A new base-level engine with 85 kW provided mildly thrilling performance at the entry level of the line-up, but at the other end the 178 kW Celica GT-Four stood for furious performance. And then there was the 515 kW Celica, with which Rod Millen set a new record time at "Race to the Clouds" on Pikes Peak in July 1994.

It was the dramatic design that made the seventh and final Celica (T230) one of the stars of the Frankfurt Motor Show in 1999. The “one-motion silhouette”, the angular and wedge-shaped line rising up to the C-pillar, made the Celica look ready to jump and fast even when it was standing still. 

As a stylish, fast and inexpensive sports coupe, the Celica still enjoys cult status to this day.

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