Looking back now, the Toyota Celica’s switch from rear- to front-wheel-drive may seem like a let-down. Back in 1986, though, FF was seen as modern and the fourth-generation Celica’s performance was affected by the shift. In fact, it continued to rank tops in its class of lightweight sports coupes.
In its review for the 1986 Toyota Celica GT-S, Motorweek had high praise for the little coupe. Testing it at Laguna Seca, they called it “positively enchanting,” and “a lot more stable at high-speed turns than anyone has a right to expect,” and in its own test course said it “maneuvers like an agile rear-drive car.”
The GT-S came equipped with Toyota’s naturally aspirated 3S-FE, a twin-cam, 16-valve 2.0-liter four making 136 horsepower and 125 lb-ft of torque. With a lively 6,800 rpm redline, Motorweek tested it from 0-60 in 8.7 seconds. That’s not shabby at all for the era. Plus, it had near-perfect, no-nonsense ergonomics in the cabin, and managed 23 city, 29 highway mpg. Lower-spec ST and GT models made do with a SOHC S-series shared with the Camry, making 97 horses and 118 lb-ft of torque.
Of course, the shift to front-drove was to further differentiate it from the Supra, now its own model, and to make way for Toyota’s all-wheel-drive Celica All-Trac/GT-Four competing in the World Rally Championships. The fourth-gen Celica is often overshadowed by its turbo 3S-GTE-powered homologation special, but the GT-S is deserving of classic consideration on its own.
The only shortcoming of its time was that at $12,000, it was hard to justify when an AE86 Corolla could be purchased at the same showroom for $1,000 less. Today, a clean Corolla GT-S is four to five times more expensive than a Celica GT-S, if you can even find one, so the Celica becomes a far more attractive proposition for your 80s Toyota needs.
But if anyone ALIVE at the time remembers, the ST160 Celica was a more popular car than the AE86 Corolla. $11,000 for a Corolla? Not a chance when you could have a DOHC 2.0 liter over a 1.6, and a larger car for a slightly higher monthly payment. Corollas were for high school kids, and Celicas were the step up.
Sure, sure, now everyone sees through Initial-D goggles and wants an AE86. But AT THE TIME, rear drive was being considered more old-fashioned, and being pulled through a corner was seen better than being pushed through it. The cart before the horse analogy.
Unfortunately, clean AE86 are no longer to be found, all either modded to hell, or driven the crap out of, needing more than it’s worth repairs to clean them up.
Oh, and front wheel drive didn’t stop the Honda Civic/Acura Integra folks from hot-rodding their cars. No one was (and is still not) bitching about the lack of a rear drive Honda. Think about that. (okay S2000 fans, but not enough people bought them to keep it in production)
Absolutely Mark. I’ve got a couple of magazines from the era and they said this generation of Celica was vastly better than the ones it had followed – it went from being an uncompetitive rear-wheel drive car to a class-leading front-drive one.
And honestly, even today I’d still prefer to drive a good FWD over an average RWD. The wheels that power the car aren’t as relevant to fun as a fundamentally good chassis.
Coincidentally, I drove an absolutely mint original AE86 Levin recently. Bone stock, not a single modification – even had standard 13″ (IIRC) steel wheels and skinny tyres.
But while it was a lovely timewarp, and had an enthusiastic engine, it was way, *way* off being any kind of sports car. A stock Miata feels much more agile and engaging. So I can absolutely see why people like to modify AE86s (though still, it’s great that a few cars have remained standard).
My first car was a metallic blue Celica 2.0GT, a JDM ST162. That had the 3S-GE engine for a bit more go. It was a great car. I ended up getting it because I couldn’t find a good example of what I’d originally wanted, an MA61 Celica XX 2.8GT (one of which I’m lucky enough to own now). The ST162 is in almost every way a much better car, to be honest, other than for doing donuts or burnouts. More interior space, better fuel economy, better ride.
My one was a GT, not the GT-R, so it was a little lighter, the only options being electric mirrors and AC. No sunroof, no power seats, no power windows, not even central lock.
Weighing in at a touch over 1000kg, with around 160hp, it went pretty well. Certainly well enough for 17 year-old me to get a few speeding tickets. The handling was pretty nimble, the nose tucked in nicely (and in the wet the back would come out) with a bit of mid corner lift-off, and it only ever felt like it was pushing if you went in way too hot.
I miss that car, and would love to get another, perhaps wit a red-top BEAMS transplant out of an ST202….
Count me as another fan of the ST162 Celica. In Australia, it was also highly praised and won a couple of motoring press awards. It was a well-designed car, very strong as a good foundation for their WRC exploits.
Our Celica SX was a 4-speed auto, as my girlfriend needed a “cheap throwaway” car to learn in. We had firmly established manual wasn’t for her. I figured this was a decent compromise.
Kept it for 4 years. She passed her test after much learning in the Celica. In 2002, we drove it coast-to-coast (Sydney to Perth), a distance of 4200km. It never missed a beat.
All it needed was basic servicing, tyres, front brake pads and a fresh engine mount during our ownership. Sold it to a Boomer neighbour from Manchester England who swore it was one of the best “modern” cars he’d driven.
This is one of those cars that I hated when I was younger because it was FWD and boring-looking, but as I get older and have gained knowledge I find myself loving cars like this. Light, FWD, N/A.
Here’s one near me for half the price of a beat-up AE86 and only a little over 100k miles.
Forgot the link –
I used to drive my RA65 GT-S with my friend in his ST160 GT-S through the Bay Area mountains a lot. Don’t sleep on these cars.