During some 35 years of success, seven generations of the Toyota Celica have never deviated far from the principles which governed the genesis of the first series. The Celica A20/35 was profiled as a four-seat, pillarless, hardtop coupe that filled the gap between Toyota’s 2000GT supercar and the family-oriented Carina saloon. In October 1970 at the Tokyo Motor Show, the Celica promised to be a ‘personal car’ reflecting the owner’s stylish accomplishment and enjoyment of driving; by December five versions were in domestic production.
The broad demographic of affordability was sliced into subdivisions by the ruthless logic of ergonomics and engineering. You got what you could pay for — but the Celica concept allowed you lots of room to decide how you wanted to characterize yourself. There were two distinctive models in the first series, the slant nose and ‘facelift’ straight nose of 1973-4. Each might come with any of four engines and three kinds of trim. Export choices re-arranged the combination possibilities.
In 1973 Japan got the three-door, straight-nose Liftback (often known as the ‘Mustang’ shape), in which, despite the absence of a ‘B’ pillar, the rear windows are not made to roll down — even in the US export model (1976) supposed to carry the full trimmings. Throughout the Celica’s first series, every bulge in the hood, new light configuration, change in the ratio between rubber and chrome in the bumpers, wheel style, or addition (or subtraction) of vents — or any combination thereof including versions of versions of engines —meant a new code and new badging.
But you could barely tell the difference, because Toyota’s ethic was to give even its economy models the gauges, radio and touches like cigar lighter which were then legitimate luxuries. The Celica was a bitter lesson for US and European manufacturers. It sold 1.5 million.
COUNTRY OF ORIGIN: Japan
FIRST MANUFACTURED: 1970 (until 1977)
ENGINE: 1,588 cc – 2,189 cc Straight Four
PERFORMANCE: Top speed of 102 – 112 mph (164 – 180 km/h)
YOU SHOULD KNOW: The Toyota Celica GT was the only first generation model to be instantly recognizable. It had its own grille, underbody spoilers, tinted windows, distinctive hood flutes, power windows, air conditioning, and oil pressure and ammeter gauges (instead of economy models’ mere warning lights). Plus of course, the other, standard ‘luxuries’.