Rare SunChaser! 1980 Toyota Celica Convertible

Before I got the Toyota Celica bug years ago and bought an ’83 GT Liftback, I had my eye on a second-generation (’78-’81) coupe. I had run through a few domestic model cars and was done with what Detroit was passing off then as a quality build. I actually test drove a three-year-old ’80 coupe but the engine overheated with an ear-splitting stream of coolant spewing from somewhere in the back of the engine (not exactly a ringing endorsement for Toyota quality either). Needless to say, I said no thanks to the owner. Even though I have always had a thing for convertibles, one thing that I did not consider was a SunChaser, a convertible version of the Celica like this Roanoke, Virginia based ’80 example. Actually, I haven’t seen a SunChaser in years and had forgotten completely about them until this tip surfaced. This seldomly seen Toyota is available, here on craigslist for $7,500. Thanks to angliagt for this neat tip!

As the seller states, the SunChaser conversion was performed by an outside automobile fabricator known as the Griffin Griffith Company. Between 1979 and 1981, they modified about 2,000 Celica coupes, converting them into semi-convertibles. I say “semi” because the roof section, over the front passenger compartment, is a Targa style panel with a roll-over frame serving as a B pillar. Where things get interesting is the rear section, behind the B pillar, which is an actual folding, cloth top with an incorporated, plastic rear window. The seller informs us that his SunChaser is number 402 of the 2,000 built.

This SunChaser presents itself very well, the yellow finish is beautifully deep, and I imagine a repaint. There are no signs of dents, damage, or rust, a problem that dogged this generation Celica and others, especially when exposed long enough to the elements. The black plastic trim looks fair too; frequently the bumpers get extremely faded, cracked, and wrinkly with the passage of time. As for the rear portion of the convertible top, it looks new. A company known as Electron Top can supposedly provide new folding tops for SunChasers. The only thing out of place with the exterior of this Celica is the missing front side marker lights.

Under the hood, the seller states that the original 2.2 liter (95 HP) in-line, four-cylinder engine, has been overbored and treated to a Weber carburetor and an exhaust header. He further adds that this Toyota is, “A great running car and fun to drive car”. The noted problems include a power steering leak and non-working A/C. A five-speed manual transmission gets the power to the rear wheels.

The interior is in fantastic condition, it belies this Celica’s 40 year age. For the most part, there are no signs of wear, splits, tears, spots, dirt, fade, you name it – though the back seat is showing some discoloration. And that trend continues with the dash pad too, apparently, it has managed to avoid the ravages of the sun over the years. The original radio has been replaced with a non-OEM, CD equipped unit, occupying the space where an original tape deck would have resided.

There is no mileage listed for this SunChaser but with a recent engine rebuild, the mileage probably doesn’t matter. Also, the seller advises that he has another set of Toyota wheels and some other parts that he will include in the sale. This Celica seems like a pretty reasonable way to get into a not commonly seen convertible without breaking the bank. I see possibilities here, how about you?


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  1. A.G.

    The profile view just looks awkward.

    Like 5
  2. Carolina Celica

    Just a FYI, You can get the front corner marker lamp assemblies for under $35 delivered for the pair off eBay.

  3. KenB

    I believe that these were made by Griffith (not Griffin).

    Like 1
    • ChingaTrailer

      The same Griffith that built the TVR based 200 and 400 sports cars, at the time, the only available sports cars faster than Shelby’s Cobras.

      Like 1
    • Jim ODonnell Staff


      You are correct, fixed!



      Like 1
  4. wjtinfwb

    A friend had one bought new in the early 80s. The rear fabric top leaked like a sieve, car was constantly wet inside. Traded for a Rabbit convertible after 18 months.

  5. Timothy Youngberg

    any other color and I would be all over it. I had a 72 once, Regrettably sold in 1991 after I had cut the roof off of it with a Black & Decker jigsaw. Big mistake!

    Like 1
  6. Wayne

    This reminds me of a Lancia Zagato Couple! Only the Lancia is proportioned better.
    I had a black 1981 coupe with every option from the factory except the automatic transmission. (Thank god) I had a connection and installed the European Supra sway bars on both ends and installed a set of Bilstein shocks. I finished it off with a set of 15″ Cressida wheels (originals are 14″) And it handled like on rails. It was a very fun car to blast around the twisties with. But the car’s acceleration slow. I was able to make a fast run from Susanville CA to Alturas CA (on the Oregon border) It’s 114 miles and I made it in 58 minutes. (only because it is all flat level terrain)116mph was all it had, and it didn’t make any difference whether I was in 4th or 5th gear. (With in 10 minutes of crossing into Oregon I had a conversation with the Oregon’s finest, with lights flashing and everything!)
    If I could find another coupe and replace the engine with something with a lot more suds. (I measured it and a small block Ford would fit nicely)

  7. ramblergarage

    The same company made the AMC Concord and Eagle Sundancer with the same type of targa top.

  8. wifewontlikeit

    Looks like a repaint (thus the missing marker lights), but a fun driver for nice weather. That Celica with a 5 speed (I had a coupe) was a fun drive. These were not “performance cars” but neither was the factory 1966 Mustang convertible. Ban g for the buck fun and easy to repair.

    Like 1

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