1986-2006 Toyota Celica - Buyers' Guide

By: Cliff Chambers

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toyota celica 1 toyota celica 1

One of the marque's oldest nameplates is also one of its most endearing

 

1986-2006 Toyota Celica

A decade and a half after its 1971 debut, Toyota’s Celica  was in trouble. The rear-wheel drive design was old-fashioned, underpowered and expensive and no ordinary upgrade would guarantee its survival.

What it got in November 1985 was a makeover that shocked even hardened automotive journalists and preserved the Celica nameplate for another 20 years.

The ST162 Celica was literally new from the ground up with a sleek shape, pop-up headlights, a twin-cam 2.0-litre engine and 103kW if you opted for the $35,000 SX version.

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Four years later came the restyled ST184 model; sitting on the same 2525mm wheelbase as its predecessor  but 65mm longer and slightly narrower. Power was down marginally and weight increased, knocking the feisty edge off the SX version’s performance. In ST162 form a five-speed manual SX would slip below 10 seconds for the 0-100km/h sprint but what really got it noticed was the in-gear acceleration. 80-120km/h in third gear took a rapid 5.2 seconds and it delivered a V8-like 16.5 for the standing 400 metres. Later cars (GT4 Turbos excepted) were slower.

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The shape changed again in 1994 when a new nose with ovoid headlights replaced the flip-up units. Inside was as before with cloth-trimmed seats and a well-stocked dash. With luck there was air-conditioning as well because the slippery shape and long windows didn’t siphon a lot of air into the cabin.

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Under the bonnet was a conventional 2.2-litre Toyota engine transversely mounted which made some servicing tasks more difficult but left lots of room up front to install the air-conditioning components.

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Despite being accessed by a very long and heavy hatch door the Celica boot is compact and oddly-shaped. To maximise luggage space, folding the low-set rear seats and leaving them that way is a sensible idea. From late 1995 the up-spec ZR gained dual air-bags, ABS braking and cruise control all as standard.

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The basic ST184 shape lasted until 1999 when superseded by the most radical Celica of them all. The ZZT model that launched in November 1999 and sold until 2006 used a 1.8-litre VVT engine that demanded high rpms and made 140kW at a raucous 7600rpm. Four speed automatic transmission with sequential shifting was the choice of most buyers but a six-speed manual gearbox was optional. Brand new in 2001 a ZR Liftback cost $47,000. For the money you got ABS and air-bags, a 6-stack sound system, power sunroof and alloy wheels.

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Most expensive of these Celicas but still unlikely to make $10,000 are very late, low-kilometre ZZT models and pre-1990 SX manual Hatchbacks. Less than half that money buys a decent everyday car from the early 1990s.

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Celicas built throughout the 1990s and more recently sold well and were durable so survival rates are high. Parts availability hasn’t as yet become a problem, however some body panels and new parts for the interior aren’t easy to locate within Australia.

VALUE RANGE: Toyota Celica (SX Liftback 1990-99)

FAIR: $1500
GOOD: $3500
EXCELLENT: $5500

(Note: exceptional cars will demand more)

BUYER'S CHECKLIST

Body & chassis

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Older Celicas don’t suffer too badly from rust, however any car that has been repaired and not rust-proofed afterwards is a candidate. Check window surrounds for bubbling and discolouration or deteriorating rubbers. Make sure the sunroof, if there is one, moves without shuddering or making crunching sounds. Trying to locate panels pre-1990s Celicas is frustrating  but availability improves when shopping for parts to suit more recent Celicas. Used doors range from $125-300 each, bonnets $500 and $185 for a new, reproduction rear spoiler. New mirrors for all models are being produced, as are front and rear lighting components. Make sure the lights pop up within a second and close in unison.

Engine & transmission

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Ticking from a cold engine, smoke or bearing noise indicate a worn engine and a car that may be uneconomic to repair unless you can get a cheap replacement engine. Around A$1500 buys everything needed to recondition an engine including new pistons, bearings, camshafts, timing gears and belts, a water-pump and gaskets but not valves or a crankshaft. Even if you can build the engine yourself, the cost of crank grinding and a rebore will take the total for outsourced components beyond $2000. After test driving, switch the engine off for two minutes and then switch on the ignition to check the temperature hasn’t risen alarmingly. Manual and automatic transmissions are generally robust, just accelerate hard in second gear then lift off to check if the car jumps out of gear.

Suspension & brakes

The shift to front-wheel drive improved Celica handling and still made maintenance a simple task. Standard front springs cost around $175 per pair or you can upgrade to uprated coil-over damper sets at around $1000 per pair. Look at the front tyres for uneven wear; a sign that suspension components need replacement. Power steering leaks can be remedied with a $40 kit (plus labour) or complete new pumps cost $300-350. Standard brake parts are available from Toyota and specialist suppliers stock a range of upgraded components that aren’t expensive.

Interior & electrics

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Original Celica seats were often discarded early in the cars’ lives and replaced with something more comfortable. If they are authentic, check the frames aren’t bent or cracked and the recline/tilt mechanism locks. Dash cracks are unavoidable and replacements seem to be unobtainable in Australia although various kinds of dash covering are. Plastic components available from the USA may not suit RHD cars. Kits of body rubbers are available locally as are new carpet sets and boot mats. Check the hood-lining, especially if the car has a sunroof, for stains due to water seeping past seals.

1986-2006 Toyota Celica 

Number built: N/A
Body: all-steel integrated body/chassis, two-door coupe, two-door convertible
Engine: 1998cc, 2164cc & 1796cc in-line four-cylinder with overhead camshafts and fuel injection
Power & torque: 103kW @ 6000rpm 173Nm @ 4800rpm (2.0-litre SX)
Performance: 0-100km/h 9.1 seconds, 0-400m 16.5 seconds (2.0-litre SX manual)
Transmission: five or six-speed manual, four- speed automatic
Suspension: Independent with struts, coil springs and anti-roll bar (f)  live axle with coil springs, locating rods, struts & anti-roll bar(r)
Brakes: disc (f) drum or disc (r) power assisted
Tyres: 95/60VR14 radial

From Unique Cars #439, April 2020

 

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