Donation Write-Off: 1978 Toyota Celica

Featuring a rust-free body with paint that looks like it could come back with a serious buffing, this 1978 Toyota Celica is a recent charitable donation that is bidding quite cheaply at just over $200. Located in Anaheim, California, this seller routinely features no reserve vehicles that are nearing the end of their lifeline but worthy of rescuing. Find this rust-free Celica here on eBay with bidding just over $200 and two days left on the auction. 

When purchasing a car from a seller like this, you’re accepting the no reserve pricing as the trade off for not knowing anything about the vehicle. While they typically road test vehicles when possible, they’re selling this Celica as a complete unknown. However, the seemingly damage- and rot-free body, combined with the 20R motor’s reputation for longevity, could make this a gamble worth taking. The wheels still have their period trim rings and shut lines look good going down the side; the imprint left by the license plate reveals this Celica sat for quite some time.

The interior is where the most work is required, aside from the mechanical restoration itself. Seats are torn, the dash is cracking in multiple places and the carpets are filthy. In places like California, Toyotas of this era still show up in the wrecking yards, so keeping an eye out for a decent interior (or even just the driver’s seat) could make a world of difference. If the same car has a good dash, grab that – and then simply yank the carpets out for shampooing to see where you stand. Consider a manual transmission conversion, too, if you’re extra ambitious.

The wild card with a long-lived motor like the 20R is the timing chain: these are interference engines, so a failed chain can make for an expensive rebuild – or an all-out engine swap. Early chains were not exactly lauded for durability due to guide wear, especially if oil changes and routine maintenance were neglected. Needless to say, this is a roll of the dice – but with strong evidence of a clean body, these engines are so plentiful that even in a worst-case scenario, the outcome doesn’t look too frightening.

Fast Finds


  1. sparkster

    I had one these with a sunroof and a five speed. To this day it was one of the most reliable cars I had ever owned. I own a Lexus LS430 now and it’s a good car, but this Celica with a 20r was the toughest. Double row timing chain with clean oil never gave me any problems. Too bad this is an automatic with no sunroof

  2. Scott L.

    I had this vehicle as well in my past. Added a weber carburetor and a header ordered from japan and with its five speed would bark 5th gear. It out ran most V 6 vehicles with a top speed of about 140mph. Yeah I was an idiot in my youth to see how fast it would go and was clocked by a state trooper. Hence the reason I sold it.

  3. stillrunners lawrence Member

    Really thinking this a good car to snatch up….even in Cali….strong back then 1978…still with a freshin’ up….still a hard charger !

  4. Milt

    A cheap blank canvas at that price.

  5. navadisha

    My exact winter beater for several years. Loved that car, learned to syncro shift with it and drift……

  6. rustylink

    what a deal – even if it means finding another 20R. I really like these vintage of Ceilca – clean lines – fairly roomy –

  7. Rustytech Member

    IMO the best way to handle this car is fix what’s needed and enjoy.

  8. Chebby

    I’m surprised these donation yards don’t hire a high-school kid to make the cars more presentable: air up the tires, buff out the paint, tinker with them to see if they run, etc, so they bring more money in at auction. That would be a cool job for a kid who likes cars.

  9. KevinW

    I bought one of these with a hatch back from a friend who was trying to fix it up for his teen- aged daughter. When she managed to knock a caliper off the front, he took it back, and I bought it at his yard sale. That was a great, sporty car! So reliable. Smog pump was locked up, so I removed that, put on a header and free flowing exhaust. Ran surprisingly fast! Wish I had it back.

    • Marshall

      KevinW… When you removed the smog pump and got the free flowing exhaust, how much faster did it allow you to go? And by the same token, did it also cause you to flunk the emissions test? The reason I’m asking is I owned a 1977 Celica (the more racy version that looked like a fastback Mustang) that flunked an emissions test because it was missing some anti-pollution equipment. And they will not write you a waiver until the original factory anti-emissions equipment is reinstalled first.

  10. Wayne

    My ex-wife had a black one. 5 speed and sunroof. I installed Cressida alloys (15″) Yokohama performance tires, Bilstein Shocks and euro-spec Supra sway bars. (I was formally a Toyota parts manager and was able to order anything that Toyota made in Japan. THOSE WERE THE DAYS!)
    That thing really handled!! It still had the stock engine and exhaust. So it was pretty pathetic on the power side. I once made the drive from Susanville Ca. to Alturas Ca. in 59 minutes. (it is 114 miles) It did not matter if it was 4th or 5th gear. 117mph was all I could get out of her. (I was in Oregon just over the line from Alturas about 3 minutes when I was stopped by the Oregon HP)

  11. sparkster

    Wayne those Oregon highway patrols always hide right inside the border. Catch all those damn California speeders with Celica’s. My 78′ was a blast, not fast just a blast

  12. sparkster

    Chebby , high school kids don’t work any more. Especially in California if you have to get your hands dirty


    Lots like a great father and son project on the cheap. Rust and rot free are the keys.

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