Amid Rumors of a Revival, What Kind of Car Was the Celica?


The Toyota Celica is coming back?! That's the rumor going around--one that can be traced to Akio's comments on Toyota Times.

A Celica revival?! Akio’s comments spark interest

On March 5, 2023, at a special talk event on day two of the Shinshiro Rally, Akio was asked if he had a fondness for the Celica. Here is how he responded:

“Well, yes, I do. The Celica is a car that I would like to have again. Given its success in the WRC (FIA World Rally Championship), I think the Celica name has a special place in the hearts of rally fans, alongside the Corolla and Yaris. There was a period when Toyota dropped various cars, but we have since seen long-selling models make a comeback. I have a faint hope that President Koji Sato will carry on this trend for us.”

Then, on September 10, the subject cropped up again during our live broadcast from the Kita Aikoku Service Park at Rally Hokkaido. One questioner offered up, “Is a new Celica really on the cards? Many people are hoping so.”

“You’ll have to ask Toyota Motor about that,” replied Akio. “I’m not on the executive side.”

When the questioner doubled down—“You could put in a request, right?”—Akio countered, “Well, I have, but I don’t know how it will turn out.”

He went on, “I’m not just saying this because we’re at a rally event, but Juha Kankkunen is Mr. Celica. He was champion four times in the Celica. Now you can all have a think about why I’m asking Kankkunen to be so involved.”

Akio spoke about his demo runs at Rally Hokkaido with Finnish four-time WRC world champion Juha Kankkunen, showcasing a GR Yaris prototype.

So far, Toyota has offered no hard news of a Celica revival. Yet the car that Chairman Toyoda openly says he “would like to have again” continues to exert a strong pull.

We decided to look back at Toyota’s relationship with the Celica.

Acclaim from automotive magazines

The Celica has a long history. Originally released in 1970 as Japan’s first specialty coupe, it evolved through subsequent model changes. In his comments, Akio was referring to the WRC-winning fourth and fifth-generation Celicas.

The fourth-generation model that debuted in 1985 brought a major change, shifting the Celica from rear-wheel to front-wheel drive.

Then, in October 1986, the GT-Four was added to the lineup, combining a four-wheel drive system with a turbo engine. Among car enthusiasts, this car is commonly known by its model code, ST165, so we will stick with this name for the article.

An ST165 belonging to TOYOTA GAZOO Racing World Rally Team Principal Jari-Matti Latvala, on display at Tokyo Auto Salon 2023.

Speaking of the ST165, one particular episode brought the car a great deal of attention, and not only among avid car enthusiasts.

The model “starred” in the 1987 hit film Take Me Out to the Snowland. In a classic scene that has earned its place in Japanese cinema history, an ST165 cuts across snowy slopes to avoid the clogged roads out of the ski fields. Thanks to that, anyone over 40 should have a good idea of what an ST165 looks like.

But we digress.

So, what kind of car was the ST165? The magazine Car Graphic, a trailblazing publication that helped establish automotive journalism in Japan, ran some interesting articles.

Car Graphic’s December 1986 issue carried the first coverage of the ST165’s arrival. The key point was it being the release of Toyota's first full-time 4WD.

The company already had a 4WD system that could handle off-road driving, as epitomized by the Land Cruiser. This system was known as a part-time 4WD because it normally ran in two-wheel drive but could be manually switched to four-wheel drive for muddy or rough road conditions. Though ideal for tough terrain, the heavy-duty 4WD system was not suited to paved roads.

The ST165, meanwhile, was literally a “full-time” four-wheel drive, with a system designed for safe, fast driving on paved or level roads instead of rough surfaces.

As noted in the article, at the time, the ST165 “also served as Toyota’s technology image leader,” sporting the company’s most advanced tech.

Meanwhile, Car Graphic’s January 1987 issue featured a write-up of test drive impressions. Titled “Fantastic!” it gave the ST165 a glowing review.

The article listed the model’s attractions—fluid, intuitive handling, among the fastest acceleration of any Japanese car, and a satisfying engine sound—before summing up the ST165 with the words, “It may well come to be regarded as a classic.”