The Toyota Celica started out as a sporty hardtop coupe based on the Carina sedan, in conscious imitation of the Falcon-derived first-generation Ford Mustang. While the Carina never caught on in North America, its Celica sibling sold very well here from the time of its American debut as a 1971 model and deep into the 1980s. Changes in automotive tastes caught up with the sporty-looking commuter coupe, though, and what turned out to be the final generation of Celica first appeared as a 2000 model. Here’s one of those cars, found in a Denver-area self-service boneyard recently.
The U.S.-market Celica went through three generations from the 1971 through 1985 model years, and all those cars had one thing in common: a torquey four-cylinder truck engine swiped from the Hilux (and descended from a line of 1950s forklift motors) driving the rear wheels. An enlarged version with a six-cylinder engine started out with Celica Supra badging but was always considered a distinct model.
For 1986, the Supra—which had become more of a mean-looking Chevy Camaro rival with each passing year — went its own way and the Celica moved onto a front/all-wheel-drive platform derived from the T150 Corona (which, unlike the Carina, was never sold in the United States).
Sales of the front-wheel-drive Celica started out strong enough, but sports coupes in general became less popular as the 1990s went on. As part of Toyota’s push to lure younger buyers (which gave us the Scion brand and the Echo subcompact), the sixth-generation Celica was made lighter and cheaper. Reviewers liked it, but ever-increasing numbers of young car shoppers in the United States had shifted their preference to trucks by that time. In the summer of 2004, Toyota Motor Sales USA announced that 2005 would be the last model year for the Celica here (sales in Japan and Europe continued through the 2006 model year).
Only two models of the 2000-2005 Celica were offered in the United States: the GT and the GT-S, both liftback coupes. The MSRP on the ’00 GT was $16,695 (about $30,177 in 2023 dollars). That was quite a price drop from that of the ’99 GT, which listed at $21,440 ($39,815 after inflation).
This car has the optional automatic transmission instead of the base five-speed manual (the 2000 GT-S got a six-speed manual as standard equipment), which added $800 to the price tag ($1,486 now).
It also has the power sunroof package, which included power windows and locks. The cost: $1,700 ($3,073 today).
The engine is a 1.8-liter DOHC four-cylinder with variable valve timing, rated at 140 horsepower. The GT-S got a hairier version that made 180 horses.
A junkyard shopper went to the trouble of removing the entire front subframe, then left it in the dirt. Perhaps they wanted to get to the transmission, then had a change of heart.
Are we nostalgic for the frantic bullet-time car ads of the turn of the century yet?
In Japan, the Celica’s potential buyers squared off in video-game dance battles.