Toyota Celica 2 Litre Update Liftback
Reviewed by Unique Cars and Parts
Our Rating: 2
The Liftback was introduced for the Japanese market in April 1973
, but not until 1976 for export models. It was virtually the same size as the then-current ST, being 0.8in shorter overall, the same width (63.8in.) and 0.6in lower, and with the same 98.2in. wheelbase. Visually, we think it did not appear to be noticeably larger, although it did to our eyes look better balanced.
The basic ST dated back to the Tokyo Motor Show of 1970, together with the Carina. The basic Celica ST retained the 1,588cc engine with high-mounted side camshaft and short pushrods, while the liftback used a derivative of the 1,968cc Corona 2000 engine, which featured a cast iron block, alloy head, and chain driven overhead camshaft. With a compression ratio of 8.5:1 and breathing through a twin-choke Aisan downdraught carburettor, it was good for 95 bhp
@ 5,000 rpm. There was also a GT version, that featured a more highly tuned version of the same engine, that was good for a healthy 118 bhp @ 5,800 rpm.
The extra metal work and glass area added considerably to the liftbacks weight, it tipping the scales some 210 lb. heavier than the ST. A five speed gearbox was standard, with a true over-drive top gear pulling 20.1 mph at 1,000 rpm. The suspension
was conventional, using MacPherson struts at the front, and a well located live axle at the rear with trailing links. This version of the Celica also differed in running on 14in. diameter wheels shod with Dunlop SP sports tyres
with 165 section.
With its greater weight and higher overall gearing, the Liftback was slighlty slower than the ST getting off the mark, although it had the wood on the ST as far as smoothness and easiness were concerned. The power curve of the 2 litre donk was smooth enough to allow drivers to take the engine right up to the rev-counter red-line at 6,500 rpm. Standing starts would produce just the right degree of wheelspin to keep the engine on cam, with no hint of axle tramp.
Best of all, and something at which the Japanese had refined to an art form compared to European and American cars of the mid 1970's, was the gearbox. The lever was biased correctly to centre, in the 3rd and 4th plane - something we take for granted these days, but not so common 35 years ago. Fifth gear was up to the right, with reverse being guarded by a further slight movement to the right from the neutral plane, and down.
In the lower three gears maximum-speeds at 6,200 rpm were 33, 53 and 77mph; while in fourth, pulling 17.4. mph / 1000 rpm, it was just possible to break the 100 mph mark. The Liftback reached 40 mph in 6.1 seconds, 50 mph in 8.7 seconds and 60 in 12.7 seconds, with the quarter mile mark being passed in 18.8 seconds. We decided to compare the 0-60 mph figures with other cars we have reviewed here on Unqiue Cars and Parts, and the obvious parallel is with the Ford Capri 2000S (which was a competitor in the UK market) which made it in 11.4 seconds, and the Vauxhall Cavalier Coupe did it in 11.2 - so the Celica was only a poofteenth off the pace.
As you would expect, the Celica returned pretty good fuel economy, with an overall figure of 27.8 mpg. At a constant 70mph it was possible to go well over 30 mpg. The 12.8-gallon tank filled easily, with the filler cap located beneath a locking flap. Not that you would ever get the opportunity, but if you could keep it clocking at around 100 mph the consumption would drop to around 16 to 17 - not great but remember you would be ringing the neck out of the engine to maintain that kind of speed.
European sporting cars may have still possesed a little more handling
refinement to the Toyota, but by 1975 the Celica had certainly closed the gap, and for anyone other than perhaps a race or rally driver, it may have been easier to point through the twisty stuff, and was ultimately more forgiving. The spring rates were softened slightly, and the damping improved, althqugh it still suffered from a slight weakness around the centre of the bounce-rebound position that road testers had complained about at the Celicas launch. On very smooth roads this would lead to a slight "float",
but this disappeared as soon as the suspension
got to work.
Why Oh Why Did Some Japanes Marques Persist With Recirculating Ball Steering
The larger diameter tyres
improved the ride, which was on the firm side, without being at all harsh. Small bumps, potholes and ridges were handled well, with no hints of the front or rear wheels being thrown clear of the surface. The one weak point, common with most Japanese cars of the era, was their continuing use of recirculating ball steering
gear, instead of the much more common and precise rack and pinion system. With 4.25 turns from lock-to-lock~o lockover a larger than average 35ft turning circle, the Liftback steering
did not let the car's otherwise very good handling
down. At parking speeds it was still on the heavy side, but around the straight ahead position, the amount of free play did not seem to be as noticeable.
Road reviewers noted that understeer was much less pronounced than it was on the original, shorter (95.5in.) wheelbase Celica ST, and the Toyota could really be hustled into corners with much less roll. There was no major increase in the understeer as speed rose and, ultimately, the Celica would tend to run a little wide. Really violent cornering would lift the inside rear wheel, but even under these conditions, the car remained remarkably stable. At over 95 mph, the front of the car would begin to feel a little light, and a small spoiler would have probably improved things - although some owners were tempted to fit more obtrusive "look at me" garnishes that really spoiled the look of the car.
At the rear, there was a vestigial lip over the tailgate which we suspect may have affected aero-dynamic flow - but we have no proof - this is only a hynch. Noise levels were low although, at over 5,000 rpm, the engine could be sensed as working hard, with a good deal of mechanical thrash. Generally, however, overall levels were well within acceptable limits.
In braking the Japanese had made huge advances during the early 1970's, no doubt due to their participation in world-wide competition events. The
disc-front, drum-rear set-up, with a vacuum servo, gave the Celica Liftback a very sure-footed feel. Progression was ideal, with 20lb pedal pressure needed for in-town check braking (around the 0.3g mark), while 70lb would give a near-perfect 1.0g stop, with just the slightest squeal from the locking rear tyres
and not much nose dip. Accelerated fade tests would take 120lb pedal pressure to repeat the 1.0g stop. The car's brakes
stood up well to many fade tests conducted by car reviewers of the time, with pedal pressure needed for the 0.5g stop rising from approx 30-35lb. for the first stop to 40-50lb. the tenth and final stop. There was no feeling of roughness or noticeable increase in pedal travel. The pull-up handbrake held the Celica easily on our 1-in-3 test hill, but the clutch was only just able to cope with the restart.
Inside - Japanese Simplicity
Obviously the liftback tailgate turned the traditional limited-space sports coupe into a sensible load carrier. The tail gate on the Celica had a key-only lock, and was supported on a pair of gas-filled struts. With the back seat in position, there was 10.3 cu. ft. of luggage space against the 7.7 cu. ft. in the standard Celica, and this could be easily increased to a really sensible 25cu. ft. with the rear seat folded flat. The rear suspension
mounting covers did take up a fair amount of room - but you had to remember that the design of the car was not intended as a wagon, so there was always going to be a small compromise to make. The spare wheel and tool kit were stowed in lidded lockers beneath the boot floor. This Toyota arrangement was by far the best liftback arrangement of any car from the 1970's that we can think of - use the comments area below if you know of one better.
While the front seats were comfortable, they did lack sufficient wrap-around to provide sufficient support in cornering. Also, the padding tended to feel a bit thin after a Iong trip. These criticisms apart, the seats were not over-bulky, allowing rear seat occupants, whose leg and head room was restricted, to make the most of the available room. The rear seats, with deep "buckets" either side of the thinly-padded transmission
tunnel, were adequate for children, but a bit cramped for adults. Owners we have spoken with have commented that the wells make a useful place to carry small, fragile items when the rear seat is folded down.
The driver had a very full span ot instruments, all very clearly lettered. In front of the driver was the rather wildly optimistic speedo
(reading 77 at a true 70 mph), with a push-button trip recorder (three per cent over-reading), and the rev counter, yellow-lined from 5,400 rpm, red-lined from 6,500 rpm. In the centre of the facia, and with their anti-reflection cowls angled towards the driver, were the combined fuel and coolant temperature, oil pressure and ammeter dials, with the clock separate. It was rare to see an ammeter, which gave much more information than a battery
voltmeter. A vertical row of warning lamps on Australian and UK specification cars contained just the handbrake "on" and hydraulic fluid level lamp. For some other markets the lamps were linked to an electro-sensor system which monitored items like engine oil, battery
and windscreen washer reserve levels.reservoir levels, rear lamps and even brake servo vacuum.
Facia switches were minimal - just an instrument lighting dimmer, cigarette lighter, and rear window demister with a built-in warning lamp. The lighting and wash/wipe controls were all steering
column mounted levers. The former had a simple rotary control, with a moulded pointer to give the driver an indication of which lamps were on. The four-lamp system provided a good range of light on main beam, but a rather woolly cut-off on the dipped position. The only let-down in the heating and ventilation system was the water valve temperature control, but even here compared to some of the competition the Celicas 3 speed fan provided through-flow at low speeds and, in hot weather, fan-fed cold air could be forced into the car through the centre and facia-end vents. Extraction was provided for by the vents on the rear quarters.
We had the opportunity to see a find example at a car show, complete with original handbook. It was interesting to note that Toyota warned that the AM/FM radio fitted as standard may not give good FM reception in all markets. A slot was provided beneath the radio for a cassette player. Stowage around the cockpit was not too good; there was a small shelf beneath an equally small locker, but otherwise there was no safe space for oddments.
Living with the Celica Liftback
The Japanese went to great pains to make their cars easy for the owner to look after. A really good point was that the handbook we reviewed listed both the tools, parts and materials needed for routine jobs like Changing the oil and filter, renewing the coolant and even checking the steering
box levels - these days they would only encourage you to take it back to a Toyota dealership. The underbonnet layout was an object lesson in tidiness, with components neatly laid out. If you have read this far, you have probably noted that the Celica may not have been class leading, but it was honest and only slighlty off the competition. At Unique Cars and Parts
, we think that was a very small price to pay for Japanese (and Toyota in particular) reliability. That it looked so much like the 1969 Ford Mustang was obviously not a coincidence, and to our eyes it still looks good all these decades later.