Convertible Conversion: 1981 Toyota Celica

1981 Toyota Celica Convertible

Back in the late seventies everyone thought the convertible was going to be outlawed. Porsche came up with their Targa, but most manufacturers stopped building drop tops all together. Coachbuilders saw an opportunity and filled the void by chopping the roofs off of the most popular automobiles. The Toyota Celica was one of those cars and this particular one is an amazing example of a tradition we will likely never see again. Find it here on craigslist where it’s listed for $4,500. Once you see the car’s condition, I think you’ll agree that it looks like a bargain!

Toyota 22R

This convertible is powered by the last of Toyota’s great R engines – R22 to be exact. For the last year of second generation Celica production, Toyota fitted the same engine used in their pickups. So, not only do you get to experience the wind in the air, but you will also have the good feeling of knowing that you’ll make it home. It may not be the most powerful four-cylinder built, but it could be one of the most reliable.

Wild Wheels

Checkout those rims! I don’t think they are stock, but I could be wrong. Any JDM guys recognize them? Even if they aren’t factory original, I think they look pretty cool here. Just like American cars, there were many supplies for aftermarket accessories to dress up your Japanese built beauty.

Five Speed

The inside of this Celica looks like a nice place to be! Luckily, that shifter is attached to a five-speed manual so that should help in the fun department. Looks pretty sporty in there doesn’t it? That’s because this was Toyota’s sports car offering. This is my kind of sports car too! It’s reliable, rear wheel drive, and, thanks to Grandeur Motor Corporation, a convertible.

Grandeur Motor Conversion

There were a few other companies that performed this conversion – with Griffith’s Sunchaser being the most notable. This one is much more rare though with somewhere between 200 and 500 built. I like it better than the targa bar equipped Sunchaser too. This one should have a lot of open air drives left in it too because it’s claimed to have only covered 43k miles since new! It was parked for about 20 years, but the seller did the work needed to make it roadworthy again. So, are you ready to enjoy this droptop from the land of the rising sun?

 

Here’s more detailed information directly from Arthur B (the seller):

This is car is a conversation starter every place I go! It was parked in a garage in 1989 and I rescued it in 2013. Since then the mechanicals have been gone through and the car cleaned up and driven every summer. It has 43,500 miles, believed to be original based on the time it was in storage, title mileage from previous owner, and overall condition of the car. It has a 22R 4 cylinder motor with a 5 speed. The paint is original and shines nicely, but it is in driver condition. It looks good from 10 feet, but has some parking lot dings and scratches when viewed up close. I have tried to give as much information as possible below.

History
The convertible conversion was done by Granduer Coach builder in Florida before it was sent to the dealer where it was sold as new. From what I have researched and gleaned from people familiar with these cars is that there were only 200-500 Celica convertibles made from this coach builder. So I guess that makes this a very rare car, especially when the 5 speed manual transmission is factored in with the red paint.

This car was in storage for about 24 years with the license plate on the car having 1989 tags when I acquired the car in 2013 with 39,000 miles. The odometer is reading just over 43,500 miles which is believed to be original based on previous owner title information, the time in storage, and the previous owner it storing at their summer home as well as the overall condition of the car. I have chosen to leave the 1984 Chicago Parking Sticker in the window and the dealer plaque on the back as conversation pieces.

Exterior
The paint is mostly original, however part of the front spoiler and part of the lower passenger side rear fender have been resprayed. The rocker panels were replaced due to poor workmanship from the convertible conversion company which cut the rockers to insert steel support bars to the unibody. The rockers were not properly resealed and some rust developed in this area which has been professionally repaired and sealed with the material used for pick up bed liners.

The convertible top appears to be original and in very good condition with no rips or tears. There is some fade on the underside of the convertible top from the top being down. The rear window is clear and in very good condition. The boot cover (covers the top when it is down) is missing. The driver’s side window weather stripping has a small amount of damage, almost looks like a mouse chewed on it, but it is still functional and has no dry rot. The windshield has a slight scratch from the wiper on the passenger side. The chrome accent trim is in very good shape.

The corner of the rear bumper has a small crack in the rubber. The driver’s side taillight has a very light crack or scratch that is very difficult to see unless the light is right. The passenger door has a very slight crease dent that goes along the pin stripe that is only visible at the right angle. I didn’t even see it until I was hand polishing it several weeks after I acquired the car. There are small dings and door dents on the car, most people don’t see them from a few feet away. They are small enough that it is difficult to see in pictures and from 10 feet away you have to look to see them. There are some scratches and chips in the paint.

Mechanical
It has the durable 22R motor with a 5 speed manual transmission. The top end of the motor was gone through by a NAPA and ASE certified mechanic in 2013 at 39,000 miles due to a broken valve spring. It was given a valve job, new head gasket, main crank seal, oil pan gasket, brake master cylinder, front calipers, clutch/pressure plate, and rebuilt carburetor. It also received new spark plugs, plug wires, belts, battery and fuel pump and fuel filter. Receipts will be provided with sale. I have taken it out on a few day trips and it has gotten between 27 and 30 mpg.

Interior
The condition of the original seats and carpet show very little wear. The side of the top of the rear seats have a slight cut where the convertible top framing has been in contact with it. The dashboard has no cracks and is in excellent condition. Every light works right down to the light in the glove box. The air conditioning even works and blows cold air. The radio is a bit quirky, it works fine until it gets warm and then it cuts in and out on the FM band, AM band is fine. The gas gauge works, but sometimes is a bit slow coming up on the top half after a refill. The trunk is carpeted, but has a small amount of mouse damage to the carpet on one corner. The struts for the trunk lid are not very strong, so I just use a stick to hold it up.

Wheels and Tires
The wheels are original from the conversion shop and came with wire insets. Two of the wire insets are a bit rusty but will come with the car and the other two were missing when I got it. I painted the centers of the wheels with Plastidip paint (you can peel it off if you don’t like it) to give it a cleaner look and hide the slight pitting of the chrome. The unpainted chrome does have some pitting. It just received new tires at 42,000 miles.

Underside
The underside for the body and floorpan are solid. Suspension pieces and the rear axle show scaley rust that is typical to untreated metal, especially after 34 years. It is not pristine, but the surface rust on these components do not compromise the function and safety of the underside components. The exhaust system is original and in good working order.

Reason for Selling
I bought the car to rescue it from storage with the hope to refurbish it and a make a buck. Due to the extent of mechanical work it received, I learned a valuable lesson and will be taking a loss on what I have invested. I also have another project that I need to focus on and two “fun” vehicles just don’t fit the budget. A trip to the gas station usually gets many comments and often people taking pictures. It is a fun car, not fast, but it is fun. It is not likely to take home trophies at car shows, but it does generate lots of conversations.

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Comments

  1. grant

    Wow. Haven’t seen one of these in years. The standard Celica is pretty well represented around my area, convertibles have always been few and far between and now days they’re basically unicorns. Refreshing to see a seemingly honest seller selling a seemingly honest car. Notice how he didn’t try and pass it off as a B list celebrity car? No idea how much these are worth but 4k ish doesn’t seem too outlandish. Nice find.

  2. Mike H. Mike H.

    Not that I will usually nitpick, but R22 is the refrigerant they used to use in home A/C systems; this is a 22-R 2.4L.

    Also, those wheels are “Faux Spoke” wheels. There was a basket of spokes which would rest on the center cone, and the center cap had a bolt which passed through it to hold the centercap and spoke basket to the cone. These were quite popular when I was in high school in the 1980’s.

    • Arthur

      I am the owner of this vehicle. You are correct about the wheels, it was equipped with the basket spokes, of which I have two of them. Seeing it did not have four of the basket spokes I took them off and painted the wheels with Plastidip so it can be removed if wanted.

      • Gary Cook

        Author, I too have this car (1980) ST with the same convertible roof. The convertible mechinism is in need of repair. Can you refer me to someone who would do a new convertible roof for this car? Mine is all original from the factory, miñus the Granduar roof with 50k.

  3. Dolphin Member

    Outlawing the convertible was one of the oddest ideas I can remember from that time. Cars started out without solid roofs. Why not just mandate roll bars, which could be in the form of a Targa top?

  4. cj32769

    22R and 22RE one fuel injected one is carbureted both have the same and probably only flaw. The timing chain wears and eats the chain rails into bits,once the bits are gone it eats the timing cover all the way until it hits the passages for the water pump that feed the block. You start losing coolant then the oil looks like a milkshake. Most people assume blown head gasket then when that doesn’t work they give up the main difference is no smoke from the tailpipe. I think this car has many, many miles in it and if I was in a position to aquire it I would be all over it too.

  5. Mike

    I always thought the the version of the Celica convertible manufactured by Grandeur Motor Corporation for sale above was a MUCH nicer, better looking and more functional convertible conversion than the Celica Sunchaser manufactured by Griffith shown above in my post. There are far more Sunchaser’s out there to be purchased than there are “Granduer Celica Convertibles” like the one for sale above!

  6. Arthur

    SOLD! Ironically, it sold somewhat locally the day after I posted to Barnfinds. I was driving it in a town 2 hours away and a guy follows me and tells me he is going to buy my car before he even got out of his truck.

    • Jesse Mortensen Jesse Staff

      Thanks for the update Arthur! Did the guy find out about the car through the site?

  7. Sara Demeulenaere

    I have a 1981 Toyota Celica Convertible converted by american Custom Coachworks of Beverly Hills, CA.
    This vehicle has only 78000 miles on it. Needs a new top as the old one has noticeably shrunk. It also needs new tires. Color is grey blue with a navy blue top.
    The car also has a trunk mounted luggage rack.
    Serious inquiries ONLY!

    • carol

      I have the exact same , white, 112,000 miles, excellent condition, what are they worth, all original

  8. Scott Colton

    I just picked up something similar to this but its a gt 5 spd i have no idea what its worth.. but i ha e to do some restoring on it.. i bought it for $300.00 from a buddy i work with

  9. Cliff Lapetoda

    Hi,

    I also have a 1981 Toyota Celica Coachman convertible. Curious what they’re selling for.

  10. carol

    for sale 1981 Toyota Celica Coachman convertible, 112,000 miles, white with blue interior and trunk luggage rack, all original, excellent condition, not driven for two years, sits in the garage, $5,000

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