Junkyard Find Quiz (05/18): What Car Are We Looking At?

The last time we had a Junkyard Find Quiz, we asked if you could identify the car from a rusted-out headlight mounting. Most of you knew from the remaining contours that you were looking at a Jaguar XJ, more specifically an XJ6 Vanden Plas. This week, we have another import for you, one that looks almost too nice for scrapping. Can you tell what it is from this one photo?


How about now?


Of course, it’s a 1988 or 1989 Toyota Celica! This was the near the end of the first generation of front-wheel drive for the Celica, which had been rear-drive for its first 15 model years.JY_Quiz_0518_010

With a wraparound rear window and the first hints at curves, the Celica perched at the forefront of Toyota’s 1990s design language, for good or for ill.


This one sports the base ST trim, which means 115 horsepower from a dual-overhead-cam 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine. That was a reasonable number, especially for the base version of a sport compact, although this one’s automatic transmission would have sapped some of that. Unfortunately, this Celica’s hood release was broken so no pictures of the 3S-FE engine.


The real shame of this car’s junkyard destination is not that it’s particularly desirable—it’s not—but rather that a car in such fine shape has gone to scrap. This was far and away the cleanest interior I’ve ever seen in the junkyard with not even the slightest hint at foul odors.


The junkyard in question doesn’t make a habit of selling cars once they have a title so this one is doomed. It lacks serious Midwest rust and, again, that interior is totally immaculate by Roadkill standards. The odometer reads only 41,000 miles, as well.

Hot, cool, “not dull,” and “aerodynamic dynamics.” Yep, your Celica can pick up the speedboat-driving brunette with ease. “Who could ask for anything more?” indeed.

Toyota of course took their Celica racing. At the time, no other Japanese manufacturer was so heavily invested in sports cars with the MR2, Supra, Celica, and even sport versions of the Corolla (GT-S and FX16) available. After representing Toyota in the Group B era, the all-wheel-drive Celica All-Trac won four World Rally Championships in five years from 1990 to 1995.


The great Carlos Sainz won the first title for himself and for Toyota in 1990 with the subsequent generation of Celica from our junkyard find. Sainz would later lose the WRC title in 1998 for Toyota when his Corolla rally car stopped less than a quarter-mile from the finish line. Toyota’s rallying legend, ironically, tends to circle back to their one-year ban from the sport in 1995 for using illegal restrictors on their turbocharger. The design of it was, to be blunt, beautifully designed cheating that took the FIA and WRC several attempts to catch. Read that whole story here; it’s fascinating.

Rod Millen, the famed racing driver from New Zealand, also commissioned a totally insane, tubeframe Toyota Celica for the Pikes Peak International Hill Climb. With 850 horsepower and all-wheel-drive, this is surely the ultimate Celica ever built. With a best run in 1994 of 10:04.060, Millen and his Celica came as close to breaking 10 minutes as anyone ever had. No one would break his record until Nobuhiro “Monster” Tajima in 2007 and nobody bested 10 minutes until Tajima did that in 2011 after part of the course had been paved. Millen and his chirping Celica remain the quickest-ever on the unpaved course.


Curiously, Millen’s Celica probably borrowed most of its engine design from the IMSA GTO-class Celicas that Dan Gurney’s All-American Racers prepared for IMSA competition in the 1980s. They were also tubeframe, rear-wheel-drive, turbocharged, gorgeous, and all-conquering. They remain some of the most recognizable road-racing cars of that entire decade. One of the GTO Celicas changed hands recently and they still occasionally turn up for vintage races.


On a slightly slower note, the 24 Hours of LeMons has seen numerous Celicas. The older, rear-wheel-drive ones have always done better. The Sofa King Celica Supra—the Supra was originally a Celica trim—at Flat Rock in 2007 was the first Toyota to win a race overall. When the GT $500 Racing Celica (above), also a rear-drive car, won at MSR Houston in 2009, it seemed like perhaps the rear-drive Celica would be one of the common LeMons winners along with Mazda RX-7s.


Ironically, no Celica has ever won since that Houston race in 2009 (and RX-7 wins are few and far between, as well). A few have come close. The Team Reynolds Style Celica, this one front-wheel drive, came up just 18 seconds short at Gingerman Raceway in October 2010.


That team was close friends with Team Fiery Death, who racked up a pile of Top 10 finishes with their early ‘90s Celica. At Road America, they were one of four teams in a tight race that ended up being the closest-ever LeMons finish. The Celica led much of the race but had to settle for fourth place, just 61 seconds behind the overall winner.


The best any ‘85 to ‘89 Celica has ever done was the ‘89 Celica from Dai Mondai. This is a team of engineers from Toyota’s plant in Kentucky who have raced LeMons since 2008 with a variety of falling-apart Toyotas. This one finished sixth place at Carolina Motorsports Park in 2009.


Apocalyptic Racing have come close to winning overall, as well. The team made an auspicious start with the truck-engined ‘78 Celica, but they have since replaced the 20R engine with the 2.2-liter Ecotec from a Chevy Cavalier. They have back-to-back Top 5 finishes in their last two races, including a second-place at Barber Motorsports Park.


But this little ‘89 Celica ST will have none of that glory. The window has sat open, almost certainly ruining that pristine interior. The body parts will all soon be harvested and this little 41,000-mile Toyota will be a refrigerator within months.

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