All Original First-Gen: 1981 Toyota Celica Supra

By Nathan Avots-Smith

Here’s another one of those cars that were once so common—at least in southern California, where I grew up—that it was easy to overlook their significance, but have now all but disappeared. This 1981 Toyota Celica Supra represents the final, most refined model year of the first generation of Toyota’s now-legendary grand tourer, and it’s an all-original, running and driving example that should make a fairly easy project and get you plenty of Supra cachet for far less than the likely $50,000+ pricetag of the soon-to-arrive revived model (which I’m pretty sure won’t come with rear window louvers). In fact, the price of entry for this one is just $2,750, and you can find it on craigslist in my hometown of Vista, California (archived ad). Let’s check it out!

It’s easy to forget, since the 1990s models have become so iconic, but until 1986 the Supra was in fact the Celica Supra, sharing much of its design with Toyota’s popular compact sports coupe. The big difference was at the front, where the nose was lengthened to accommodate an inline six-cylinder engine in place of the cooking Celica’s four. The ’81 features a one-year-only 2,759-cc, 12 valve SOHC engine, good for 116 horsepower and 145 lb.-ft. of torque. This 65,000-mile Supra has been sitting for some time, but has been gone through and received the necessary maintenance to be drivable, and even passed the tough California smog test without issue.

Here’s the bad news, although with a possible silver lining: this one’s a slushbox. There’s a slip in the transmission, too, which sounds to me like the perfect excuse for yoinking the whole thing out and swapping in a five-speed. I mean, I’m usually a sucker for originality, but when an opportunity presents itself, sometimes you gotta take it. Otherwise, the interior looks amazingly clean: a crack-free dash, no apparent tears in the cloth seats, and it looks like it has one of those cool graphic equalizers for the original stereo. There’s a sunroof, too, for the full luxury experience.

With its original paint intact, and an all-around super clean overall appearance, plus reliable Toyota mechanicals—once you get the transmission issue sorted out—this Supra strikes me as an amazing bargain collectible, and a great example of one of those cars that you just don’t see much anymore. With a new model coming, Supra fever might be about to break out—grab this one while you can!

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  1. Jeremy Holmes

    I love these cars. The bad trans is disappointing because I can’t drive it home and would likely need to spend 800 shipping it to TN. I seriously might try to buy this one.

    • BMW4RunninTundra Member

      Jeremy, if you are serious, take Nathan’s lead and find a trans shop, where the car is currently located. Have them find you a five speed and put it in. THEN fly out and have an absolute blast driving that six cylinder back through some of the most beautiful areas of the country. It would be a trip to remember!!!! I had a Celica (not Supra) and LOVED it!!!! I beat the crap out of that car, then gave it to my brother, who proceeded to beat the rest of the crap out of it. Finally the tin worm had its way and pieces, important ones, started to fall off………………….
      Also had a Supra (not Celica Supra, a Supra Supra) but that’s a story for another day!

  2. Paul

    I have owned Gen II, III, and IV Supras and they were all great cars! Still have the IV and expect it to rise in value soon.

  3. KevinW

    I agree with Nathan, pull the auto and replace with a five speed. I’ve always liked these, I owned a ’79 I bought for a project. This is a very clean one, I wouldn’t mind owning.

    • Bryan

      Had a 1979 Celica as well, not a Supra. It was a GT, 5 speed, Bondo buggy. Got me all thru college. It even had the crank sunroof! Used to love doing donuts in it in the winter. Finally drove it to the junkyard as the head gasket blew. Rust in peace.

  4. grant

    “Cooking four?”

  5. Bmac Bmac Member

    I’m confused, I thought my 77 liftback celica was the gen 1 & this was the 2. Or are you referring to the Supra model. Someone with more knowledge then me could clarify it I would appreciate it. I do know one thing, these are pretty much bulletproof & a third pedal is mandatory.

    • Nathan Avots-Smith Staff

      You are right that this is a first-gen Supra, based on the second-gen Celica!

  6. Gay Seattle Car Nut

    Sweet looking Toyota Celica Supra. This is the best looking Supra I’ve ever seen. There never seems to be enough pics posted on Craigslist to show everything of the car.

  7. Howard A Member

    “A Toyota Super? No, a SuprA,,a Nissan Maximum?, No, a Nissan MaximA” and so on,,,,Jerry Seinfeld.


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