1981 Toyota Celica Sport Coupe

We do requests on Eighties Cars, whether or not they are definitive ones. A friend of mine mentioned his 1981 Celica in one of the forums I frequent and that was enough inspiration for me.

 “The Ultimate Toyota.”

1981 was the final year for the second-generation Toyota Celica which had debuted in 1978. Despite this, there were some significant changes, including a new engine.

celicas
1981 Celica and Celica Supra poster, courtesy of Flickr user Alden Jewell.

The Celica’s new engine for 1981 was the 2.4 liter 97 bhp 22R two-barrel carburated inline four cylinder. Paired with a five speed manual transmission, fuel economy was an impressive 25 city/37 highway by the standards of the day (22/34 by today’s standards). Choosing the optional four speed automatic transmission dropped economy slightly to 25 city/35 highway (22/32 by 2014 standards).

The Celica Sport Coupe was available in ST and GT trim levels. Standard equipment on the Celica ST ($6,699 or about $17,500 in today’s dollars)  included electronic ignition, an FM radio, reclining front bucket seats, “cut pile wall-to-wall carpeting”, power front disc brakes and rear drum brakes, and styled steel wheels with 185/70R14 tires.

Moving up to the GT ($7,429 or about $19,400 in today’s dollars) added features such as tungsten halogen high beams, dual outside mirrors, a dressed up instrument panel and console, and a locking gas cap.

Optional equipment included air conditioning, sunroof, and power steering. Aluminum alloy wheels, rear window defogger, and cruise control were GT only options.

4 thoughts on “1981 Toyota Celica Sport Coupe

  1. I am that friend. 🙂

    My 1981, which I bought in 1984 as a lowish mile used car (38k), was listed as a GT, but I found out later was actually an ST. Considering the deal, I wasn’t all that upset…

    The asking price of the Celica was $7499 (remember, USED!), but they offered me a princely sum of $2100 for my worn out 1976 AMC Pacer! At least $1200 over book.

    My 81 coupe had:
    * Steel Wheels
    * AM/FM and Cassette
    * Rear defrost
    * PS/PB/AC
    * 5 spd manual transmission
    * Sunroof
    * Trunk mounted luggage rack (used only once on a cold day to bring beer home)

    I drove it to Florida (from Delaware) twice. Summers 1985 and 1987. Both times, the average MPG was just around 30. I don’t think these engines were all the efficient once they got past 60 MPH. And even in those days, with my Escort and the nature of Interstate travel, did the traffic do much less than 65 MPH. And by 1987, the Interstates were back up to 65, anyway, IIRC.

    In general, it was a reliable car, save a propensity to burn valves… which occurred, like clockwork at about 90k miles. The AC system also proved problematic, and it started to overheat. All about the same time. I think a failed water pump gummed up the radiator and the cooling journals.

    I ended up putting a 20R head on it, with a mild street cam and aluminum rockers,an Edelbrock intake, Weber 34/36 2bbl carb and a 4-into-1 “Quick-trip” header with an Anza muffler, and a Beck-Arnley performance clutch. Was it fast? Na… marginally quicker, but it did make all the right noises. I wish I had gotten the Weber drill set so I could have jetted it correctly. That was all then…

    The car was in two accidents. On mine, the other not my fault. The 2nd one, my fault, required the entire passenger side to be replaced! I also ended up finding a set of 3rd gen Supra mags for it (still 14″). A fresh coat of red paint and the aforementioned truck rack removed. I wish I had a picture of the finished product…

    I sold the car in Oct 1990 for $900.00. I had bought a new car in the summer of 1989 and hoped to finish the hot rod project on the Celica, but simply ran out money. The kid who bought it drove it for about 2 years before selling it. The car apparently died for good in 1994. It was listed with a salvaged title in Indianapolis, IN.

    I wouldn’t mind finding another one… preferably the Supra version with the I-6. The added refinement would help a lot.

  2. I have an 81 Celica GT that I bought in 1984. Still have it, but hardly ever drive it. It is the sedan version, white, 5sp manual, light brown cloth interior, AM-FM, and absolutely no mods, wrecks, rips, tears, etc. It has always been garaged. Stand back 10 feet and it looks like new, but has 188,000 gentle miles on it. It has been very reliable. The air cleaner has never even been completely off and still has the original AC compressor, and yes, the AC blows cold. My wife and I brought one of our kids home from the hospital in it after being born in 1989. In 1986, we were marred and drove it 100 miles to the airport to catch a flight to CA for our honeymoon. On our 25th anniversary, we once again drove the Celica to the same airport to trace our steps 25 years previous. The old Celica has been super reliable, has had hardly any work done to it other than routine maintenance, and the body is even rust free except for a couple of insignificant spots. The paint is as good as ever, but a few door dings spoil a pristine look. I have gotten as much as 36 mpg on it when the speed limit was 55 mph. It has always used 2 qts of oil in 3000 miles, but the oil got changed every 3000 miles (now I go by time). I once heard that Toyota over-built the early Toyotas to build a reputation for reliability and quality. I believe that may be the case cause my old Celica has almost been bullet proof. One of these days I will probably list it on eBay. Hopefully someone will buy it who appreciates it. Too bad Japanese cars are not collectable like Mustangs and Camaros.

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