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Japanese Mustang: 1977 Toyota Celica GT

The affectionate term “Japanese Mustang” is historically reserved for the first-generation Toyota Celica. This was a nod to the standard muscle cars of the era but in particular the Ford Mustang. The Celica certainly had the right proportions to be an imported version of the classic pony car, particularly if you compare it to the smaller Mustang II. The seller claims he sought this car out from the dry southwest as it is an exact copy of his first car, so dispute residing in Rhode Island, it is dry and rust-free underneath. The Celica is available here on eBay with bids to $15,100 and no reserve.

The early Celicas have been taking off as late, with some pretty impressive auction prices for survivor cars. There are plenty of good reasons why, with the predominant one being the lack of supply. You can still find rusty examples crumbling away in salvage yards, but rust-free cars that haven’t been modified or otherwise damaged are few and far between. The seller was wise to snag this one out of the American southwest, as the interior is in beautiful condition and the yellow respray on the outside presents quite well. The cabin was re-upholstered sometime in the last decade and it’s still holding up well. Of course, the Celica has the preferred manual gearbox.

Similar to the Mustang II, the one potential shortcoming of the Celica is the lack of a burly powerplant or at least one that is slightly exotic to match the dashing good looks of the Celica’s shell. No, the 20R was a very conservative choice when Toyota bolted it in, clearly choosing to place an emphasis on reliability and fuel economy versus trying to become America’s next favorite sports car overnight. The good news is that maintained examples all these years later are still generally robust cars with an engine that will handily outlast everything else around it, so what you lose in driving excitement you gain in being able to own a vintage car that will likely start up every time.

The seller claims the Celica runs beautifully and can be driven away as-is, but also clarifies later in the listing that the tires are old and should be replaced before a long-distance drive is attempted. The bodywork is my favorite detail as almost every single Celica of this era that I’ve seen in the northeast has extensive rust throughout. It’s clear that previous owners took great care of this rare early edition of Toyota’s classic sports car, and the seller notes it comes with extensive records from new (always a good sign). The wheels are from a Supra, but I’d go back to the original wheels in a heartbeat if it were mine. When’s the last time you saw an early Celica this nice?

Comments

  1. alphasud Member

    What a blast from the past. A early Celica this nice it’s no wonder why bidding is north of 15K. This was a good car for Toyota and I used to see them everywhere when I was a kid. I used to tinker with electronics when I was a kid and someone has given me a under dash 8track tape deck from a Toyota Celica. The face resembled the car face in design. As a kid I thought that was cool.

    Like 11
  2. Sebastian X1/9

    The 20R is also an easy engine to rebuild with slightly higher specs and double carburetors, and you’d have a super reliable and hot car. That engine bay could look a little… cleaner.

    Like 6
    • FireAxeGXP

      Thanks Seb! Reminds me I need to clean my Holden’s engine bay this weekend lol.

      Like 1
  3. Big C

    The Japanese “Mustang?” LOL!

  4. P Wentzell

    I had a 1972 Celica (18RC). A man I knew who flipped cars had one like this (same color, liftback) for $300.00, this was late 1990’s. I raced home to grab the cash, when I got back, it was gone.

    Like 4
  5. DON

    Those 20r engines were indestructible , but in the rust belt areas the bodies suffered the same fate as most imports with severe tin worm infestation. Hopefully the new owner will take it far away from its home on the East Coast and bring it back to a dry area

    Like 6
  6. Car Nut Tacoma Washington

    While I find the Mustang II the best looking of the two cars, I’d choose the Celica, because it’s more reliable.

    Like 3
  7. Pleease

    Bought a 1974 Celica ST – dark green/white interior – in 1978 and had it until the mid ’80s …. and I still miss it! Had the 18R engine – the one before the 20R – but it felt pretty peppy and was super reliable….and very fun to drive.

    When the battery was failing I could push it by myself on flat ground fast enough to hop in and pop the clutch in 2nd to fire it up. Of course that was 21 year old me, lol.

    Like 8
    • Car Nut Tacoma Washington

      For some reason, the Celica ST wasn’t as popular as the Celica GT, at least I haven’t seen many, at least when compared to the GT.

  8. Randall Kilmer

    Drove my 76 motor trend car of the year lift back for 240,000 miles with the original clutch when my son rebuild the engine. I changed oil every 3 to 4000 miles and that old engine was in such great shape he put stock pistons and rings in it. Never had one issue in its whole life. Great cars.

  9. David Nelson

    Always loved the looks of these and this one presents beautifully!

    Like 6
    • Rick

      Toyota did an especially good job of making the four lug wheels look like they’re not four lug wheels.

      Like 2
  10. Slideways

    That would make an awesome drift car with a 2JZ swap!

    I know, I know… but a guy can dream, can’t he?

  11. douglas hunt

    I had a 71 ST, I bought in 79, it was my first car and I loved it.

    Like 2
  12. Cal Amari

    I had a ’76 Celica GT, but in burnt orange colour. At that time, TOYOTA didn’t export these vehicles to the U.S. with ‘factory air’. However, they made available a complete kit to install it yourself OR have the dealer install it. I chose the former. The instructions were surprisingly easy to follow, remembering back then that “Japlish” was a common problem with many items imported from Japan.
    I lived in the northeast at that time, but the vehicle was garage-kept when not in use. However, after 4 years of ownership, the turned-up rear section body seams that doubled a mounting surface for the massive trunk lid rubber gasket, almost completely rotted out. It was so bad that it was almost completely ineffective. Knowing that I was about to trade it for a DATSUN 200SX, I very judiciously applied some RTV to the rubber gasket to keep it fast, in case the DATSUN dealer opened the rear lid. He would not see the loose gasket.
    These comments sing the praises of the 20R engine. While I freely admit that it ran well, it was NOWHERE near as fuel efficient as the ’72 DATSUN 510 wagon this the Celica replaced. So, I wouldn’t give this engine too many stars for good fuel efficiency. And, I can tell you that when the A/C was on, during the muggy summer months, the performance was significantly lacking. P.S. Mine was also a 4-speed manual transmission model. Wouldn’t have had it any other way.

  13. JBD

    These are mini ‘69 Mach 1 fastback. It also has ‘82-86 Supra 4 lug wheels.

    Like 4
  14. duke

    the rims on this year car are NOT correct- those rims belong on a later year celica GTS or a Supra
    the stock rims were more mundane but still acceptable

    Like 3
    • Rick

      But those rims look great.

      Like 7
  15. EJ Kossl

    Had a 76 drove it for 6years put a ton of miles on it. The only thing that failed was the alternator had a guy rebuild it with better bearings and never had an issue after. The car rusted all most completely away pulled the engine and transmission and put it in a 83 corolla and that started the fun. It now has a 22r 60over severely ported polished head dual Weber 45s a huge cam and man is it fun.

  16. joenywf64

    Why aren’t there Dynacorn bodies for these & similarly popular past import 2 door cars?
    Note that there are no Dynacorns for past 4 door cars – thank goodness!

  17. Dallas

    The only thing I’d change on this car is to remove the run strip. It looks awful and really spoils the side profile of the body. Aftermarket anyway (according to Toyota USA press photos anyway) so no loss to originality. But a lot of Celicas appear to have had them!

  18. fish56

    I bought one of these brand new back in 1977. Mine has the manual trans, rear window louver, and 8 track. Living in Chicago, the Celica was a blast driving it on the Lake Shore Drive “S-Curve”.

  19. douglas hunt

    when I had my 71 in high school [1979], there was an aftermarket catalog of goodies I used to drool over, DOBI I think it was ? they had some really cool parts for these cars

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