Graded: Toyota Celica

Welcome to Graded. Here we discuss legendary marques, models, or trim packages and affix a letter grade to a selection of vehicles falling under that topic. The grades mean nothing and are completely arbitrary. I fully encourage you to tell me what I got wrong and how you would grade them instead. Have some fun with it.

The Toyota Celica is one of the best known nameplates for Toyota with a lifespan that lasted over 35 years. It is one of those rare cars that was offered as rear-wheel drive, front-wheel drive and all-wheel drive during its lifetime. Starting in 1971, the one constant for the Celica was its compact size and good fun for not a lot of money.

For this week’s Graded, we have gathered 10 Celica’s spanning the model’s seven generation. We are focusing on Celica’s that only ever made it to North America, so the special Japanese models are not included here.

Once again, I have a guest judge this week. Please welcome Patrick Frawley. Patrick used to write for Jalopnik and CarsDirect, currently teaches math at the University of Bridgeport, and plans to bring his long-essentially-dormant blog States of Motion back to life in enhanced and vibrant form any day now.

1971 Toyota Celica ST

AutoLobotomy Grade: C

The original Celica was a fairly stylish compact coupe. Performance wasn’t great and the original ST didn’t do it for me. I appreciate it as a cool classic, but there are other Celica’s I’d take over it.

Patrick Grade: C

More significant than desirable. The original Celica played a huge part in making Japanese cars acceptable to Americans in the early 1970s; it just wasn’t that exciting of a machine.

1975 Toyota Celica GT

AutoLobotomy Grade: C+

I much prefer the overall look of the GT to the earlier ST, even if it had to wear those ugly 5 mph bumpers by 1975. The larger 2.2-liter engine did improve performance, but it was far from a sports coupe at this point.

Patrick Grade: B-

Same car, more desirable. Quietly a better mini-Mustang than Ford’s own mini-Mustang, the Capri. One of these would make for a fun classic-J-tin tuning project

1980 Toyota Celica GT USGP

AutoLobotomy Grade: B

The second-generation Celica was introduced in 1977. For the 1980 model year a special edition of the GT was introduced, called the USGP. That stood for the United States Grand Prix, to commemorated Toyota’s involved in the Grand Prix of Long Beach, California. I’m a fan of the overall look of this generation and the ’70s stripe package adds something to this rear-wheel drive lift-back.

Patrick Grade: D

Second-gen Celicas were the official cars of working-class yacht-rock fans: soft, decently sophisticated, listless, with perfectly aligned chrome trim. All the tape stripes in the world can’t make this one appealing to anyone but hopelessly ironic late-‘70s fetishists.

1985 Toyota Celica GT-S Convertible

AutoLobotomy Grade: B

This was the last rear-wheel drive convertible Celica. I like the looks of this generation as well and the compact convertible looks like it would be right at home heading to the beach.

Patrick Grade: A-

Much better. The ragtop pony car for people who didn’t want a ragtop pony car. Third-gen Celicas were some of the best-looking designs of the folded-paper era. Verging on a modern mainstream classic.

1989 Toyota Celica All-Trac Turbo

AutoLobotomy Grade: A

Performance got really serious for the Celica in the late ‘80s thanks to the car’s involvement in World Rally. Powered by a 190 hp turbocharged four-cylinder engine, the all-wheel drive Celica didn’t care what the weather was like outside – it was ready for fun.

Patrick Grade: C

My aunt had one of these. Probably would be fun flat-out on a gravel rally stage, but wasn’t very enjoyable on the street. Felt heavy, had horrible turbo lag and eyebrow-raising fuel consumption.

1989 Toyota Celica GT-S Coupe

AutoLobotomy Grade: B+

For those that didn’t want the cost or complexity of the All-Trac, or maybe preferred the coupe body style, there was still this sporty option. Called the GT-S coupe, the front-wheel drive two-door came equipped with a 135 hp four-cylinder engine. I actually prefer the styling of this car over the All-Trac.

Patrick Grade: B

The definitive Celica – attractive, good performance and handling, rational in daily use, supremely well-built, kinda short on charisma or spirit. An excellent machine that shows how Toyota doesn’t really innately get sports cars.

1993 Toyota Celica All-Trac Turbo

AutoLobotomy Grade: A

In North America, this was the ultimate Celica. Compared to the last generation All-Trac, power was bumped up to 221 hp and 224 lb-ft of toque. Just as important, more rally car styling made its way into this car including the big hood scoop, hood vents and larger rear wing.

Patrick Grade: C+

A moderate improvement over its predecessor – especially if Super Round styling is your bag – that was all but ignored during its life while people rightly rushed to buy the quicker, cheaper Mitsubishi Eclipse/Eagle Talon twins. Gets cred from people who loved WRC in the ‘90s though.

1993 Toyota Celica GT Convertible

AutoLobotomy Grade: B-

If fun in the sun was more your thing, the Celica GT could be had as a convertible. Although it lacked any real performance, it had all the style of the GT-S and was a great, affordable convertible during its day.

Patrick Grade: B

This is the kind of car you bought if you just wanted to enjoy life. It’s casual and unpretentious but still stylish and enjoyable without being overbearing. The fact that cars like this are extinct today says many sad things about modern society.

1996 Toyota Celica GT

AutoLobotomy Grade: B

Sadly, with the sixth generation Celica North American’s did not get a version of the All-Trac. The best we could purchase was the GT. Power came from a 135 hp engine that by 1996 wasn’t all that special anymore. The car’s biggest redeeming qualities were its stylish exterior and decent handling.

Patrick Grade: C

There is exactly nothing wrong with this car that a supercharger wouldn’t instantly fix. Looks good (I even like the headlights), works fine, nobody who cares about driving ever picked this over a 240SX or an Integra.

2001 Toyota Celica GT-S

AutoLobotomy Grade: A-

For the Celica’s last hurrah, we got the GT-S with a high revving, 180 hp 1.8-liter engine. Launched right in the heart of the tuner era, this car has a strong cult following. Keeping with Celica tradition, styling was ahead of its time and performance was above average.

Patrick Grade: A-

Smaller, lighter, radically styled, knife-fighter handling, with a motor shared with the Lotus Elise – it may not totally fit in with the sensible-sportster Celica tradition, but it’s a better answer to the original question. If only they’d kept going with it.

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