What A Feeling: 1979 Toyota Celica ST

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When you watch any of Toyota’s current advertisements, you’ll notice a common theme: heavy emphasis on the excitement of driving their cars, or the experiences the vehicles help create. Now, I am not one to ignore the reputation Toyota has built for itself in the world of dependability, but the excitement factor – or anything involving emotion – checked out of the building long ago. That’s why it’s fun to reminisce about the company’s early days with cars like this 1979 Celica ST which has supposedly only 32,000 miles. It can be found here on eBay, currently bid to $2,275 with no reserve.

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I’ll admit: these cars were and still are fairly basic modes of transportation. And I suppose it’s more the passage of time than anything else that’s made these vintage hatchbacks appear far more interesting than anything Toyota has churned out as of late. Sure, the Scion FR-S is one of the company’s more intriguing products today, but it used to be you had your pick of sporty choices from Toyota: the Celica, the Supra, the MR-2, the Corolla FX-16 – all of these cars are distant memories at this juncture, which doesn’t exactly make me stand up and applaud them for the lone driver’s car they’ve produced long after its forbearers departed the lineup.

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So while the ’79 Celica may not set your world on fire like a hairy-chested 911 Turbo or deliver an ethereal experience like a Honda S600, it still seems light-years away from a current-day Corolla in the engagement department. The tight proportions, frameless windows and rear-wheel drive are all features I’d welcome in any modern economy car, but good luck finding those qualities. I’m not crazy about this car’s fun-sapping automatic, but with only 32,000 original miles, I could deal with lazy shifting in exchange for driving a Japanese classic in nearly new condition that will run reliably for years to come – especially with the legendary 20R four-cylinder motor up front, one of the toughest engines Toyota has ever built.

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While beauty is certainly in the eye of the beholder, this 1979 Celica ST has survived the test of time well, still appearing showroom fresh. With older or elderly owners, vehicles like these see limited usage with low-mileage specimens the end result. Which presents us with the opportunity to compare this car against the likes of the refreshed Corolla: which would you choose? Both get decent fuel economy, which is a primary reason for buying a four-banger Toyota, but the ’79 comparatively oozes charm and style while its descendants leave me cold. Since many of these original Toyotas have fallen victim to tinworms that love to feast on old Japanese metal, it’s rare to find an example in such preserved condition. If faced with a commuter car purchase, would you consider this over a new car with a warranty? Let us know in the comments below.

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Comments

  1. Trickie Dickie Member

    O M G !! Someone finally WASHED a car. Thank you Thank you !!

    • Jamie Palmer Jamie Staff

      I don’t know…based on the surrounding pavement, they might just have taken pictures after a rain ;-)

      • trickie Dickie Member

        Don’t think there was rain. Farther back in the pics the pavement is dry. The car wash wet the pavement. i KNOW this is hard to believe, that a car was really washed!

  2. SoCal Car Guy

    Hey Jeff, It’s time to get your glasses checked — that’s not the hatchback body. On the other hand, it appears to be a damn nice car, for a transportation module (my personal opinion of any vintage car with a factory slushbox.

  3. Greg

    This would be a good choice if you’re somewhere where driving in winter conditions and salt aren’t an issue. It would be a joy to commute surrounded by all of that vinyl and faux wood trim.

  4. Chris in San Diego

    From email message I just went to ebay planning to bid… but the auto box took the excitement out of it for me… A buddy here is San Diego has one and it is a hoot to drive but with the auto box I am not interested.

  5. stanley stalvey

    In 1983 I was a Toyota Technician for about a year and worked on some of these cars. This one is very attractive, in fine condition and I like the chrome wheels. As a general rule, we had to test drive much of what we worked on. The thing I noticed most about these cars were that they are smooth as glass and very stable at high speeds. These are very, very tough cars because the engine bolts are long winded, fine threaded and unusually tighter than what I was used to before at the Ford dealer. I had to re-tool and learn new mechanical things that were not present on American cars. I would buy this car without any reservations because they are so well built and last forever when well taken care of..

  6. Iron Mistress

    That 20R engine is bullet proof.

  7. RickyM

    Looks a nice car – love this era of Japanese cars. My wife’s first car was a 1978 Datsun Sunny FII. Such a shame that this Toyota has those awful headlights like the ones that the Rover SD1 had. Much prefer these ones that we had on the UK cars (and the chrome bumpers too) :
    https://www.flickr.com/photos/7430965@N05/4462515879/

  8. John

    Why would the diff housing have a chalk marked annotation that says “89K” on it? Did it come from a wrecking yard from a car with that mileage? Seems almost TOO clean.

  9. Paul B

    This is a very sweet and solid cruiser for someone who’s fine with the automatic. That gearbox takes any excitement out of driving one of these, but you still have a smooth and ultra-reliable car that’s a rolling memory of the era when Toyota was building its reputation. I had ’76 and ’79 Corolla wagons, both second hand with manual transmissions, and they were indefatigable. I traded the ’79 for an ’85 Tercel wagon around 1987; otherwise I’d probably still have it today. Toyotas of those days were forever cars if you took care of them, including the upholstery, and avoided the tinworm.

  10. fred

    I had owned well over 100 cars at the age of 25 (early in the ’80s), this was one of them. Or rather the hatchback version. This era was the beginning of real quality in Toyota cars, as could be seen in the escalating quality control ratings in Consumer Reports and others. A fine driving car, even with automatic.

  11. Reliable for sure

    Way back in the day, I too worked for Toyota. I also owned one of these in the hatchback, sunroof, manual trans, Supra rims, and A/C version. I LOVED that car!!! Absolutely indestructible!! Unfortunately mine came with “cancer” already having begun but that didn’t slow it down, if anything it made it even more of a “beater car” but an impossibly dependable one! Ended up giving it to my Brother who needed wheels at the time. Believe it or not, he loaned it to a girlfriend and ended up giving it to her to get rid of her!! If I had my way, he would be stuck with the girl and I would have my car back!!!

  12. Desi

    I hate when people call a car a “survivor” when it has been repainted – it’s obvious around the VIN plaque. Who knows what lurks under the paint. Just based on the condition of the seats, I would suggest it’s 132K miles at least. I had a 197K miles Toyota with much better condition interior than this. I agree with what was mentioned earlier about the rear end, I would assume it was replaced and came from a junk yard. These drivetrains are bullet proof, so for a rear end to be replaced with “only 32K miles”, something is fishy.

  13. jim s

    i see overspray on VIN plate and no signs of A/C, i think. still a very nice car at a great price, if you can live with the automatic. great find.

    • Alan (Michigan)

      Also overspray on the door slider/stay seen on the left of the steering wheel photo.
      Probably entirely resprayed, but it looks to have been a quality job.
      Hard to doubt the mileage claim, though. Way to difficult and costly to source wear items which still look great, such as the headlight doors.
      Too bad about the damage to the right door, and btw likely the driver’s door was more severly pranged and redone. Looks that way in the photos, anyway.

      But really too bad it is not a manual transmission, then it would be fun, instead of just retro cool.

  14. Tom

    have to pass on this one. Needs more horn button!

  15. John Newell

    As nice as some of those cars looked and as novel as they were, there is a reason why they are no longer with us in northern climes – rust. These cars disintegrated and pretty quickly too. No structural integrity to make it even a consideration when it comes to restoration. They were disposable cars.

  16. Don

    I don’t know if this is one of the original Celicas but if it is, and if some of us readers are old enough, the first of the Celicas was designed by David Stollery. David Stollery? Yes! He was the young man who played Marty Markum in the Mickey Mouse Club serial “Spin and Marty.”
    FYI.

  17. Dave

    back in the very early 80’s a girl I dated had the celica gt with a 5 spd manual. I used to love bombing around in that car !! it was fun to drive, was peppy and handled way better than the ’72 dodge I was driving at the time. to bad they all rotted away. I don’t know where Toyota got their steel from back then but man they sure turned into rust buckets quick, especially in Ontario where they use salt on the roads all winter !!

  18. Scott Allison

    I had an 81 Celica GT. 5-Speed A/C Power Steering/Brakes and Cruise Control. Loved driving it across country! The only problem I had with it, was the master cylinder for the clutch started leaking. I got the 4-wheel bug, and traded it in on a Ford 4×4 Bronco II. I miss that little car. It was fun driving in San Francisco. Took it up to Seattle WA in the winter. It handled great in the snow.

  19. DT

    One of the best pieces of transportation on the planet

  20. Al

    Hey,
    I purchased the car and it’s just like you see it in pictures Awsome for the money! Saw it here went and got it.
    Thanks

    Al

    • Jesse Mortensen Jesse Staff

      Please keep us updated Al! Thanks for the letting us know.

      • Alan (Michigan)

        I thouhgt it might look like I was sitting here monitoring BF posts if I replied right away, but decided to go ahead…

        And of course Jesse beat me to it… LOL

        Good job, Al. Will you be driving it a lot, or keeping it a low-miles occasional ride?

  21. Al

    All,
    Not sure I took it out for a spin and all I could do is smile…I’m having it detailed and also have the couple dings fixed! It’s not the 1969 Camaro I want or the 1970 Chevelle lol. But it’s pretty cool to have such a well preserved jap car.

  22. Steve R

    The ’79 ST (same blue with blue vinyl interior!) was my first car (with the 5-speed). I drove it hard for nearly 9 years and it had about 190,000 miles when I sold it for scrap. When I saw this it was instant memories.

  23. John Newell

    The other thing of note about this car is the stock gear shifter. It’s a Ford shifter. Just like you’d find in a 69 Mustang or nearly any other floor shifted automatic Ford.

    Toyota seats kill my back. No temptation for me.

  24. stacy

    I Have a 1979 Toyota Celica and OnLy 6k orginal miles Blue 2door
    in my garage i need info on it please help me out !!!!

    Like 1

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