We love classic cars. We love their engines, their styling, their smell – and their character. Whether you currently own a vintage car, are planning to buy one, or have just dreamed about it, I think we can all agree that the cars of yesterday offer something that you just can’t find in today’s high tech machines.
In the world of our car hobby, there are few things more rewarding then finding an old beat-up vehicle and breathing new life into it. It’s the kind of thing lots of car enthusiasts live for. Whether it’s some simple refreshing to get an old car back on the road, or tearing one down for a complete rebuild, a classic car represents a wealth of opportunities depending on your budget, spare time, and mechanical ability.
But as with any car project, there are some questions that need to be answered before the wrenches start turning. What do you want from your classic car? A factory restoration is the most traditional choice. It will probably be most beneficial to the car’s value, and there’s always something to be said for a period correct throwback to the way motoring was done in the past.
But if you go this route, there are going to be some drawbacks. Even with a full restoration, your old car will still drive like, well, an old car. Acceleration, braking, handling, fuel economy and reliability may seem very lacking, especially to someone who is used to driving newer, more technologically-advanced automobiles.
So in that case, you might instead to choose to completely modify your vintage car. Whether you’re driving on the street or race track, you can go for a modern engine swap, upgrade the suspension and install bigger brakes with large wheels and tires and so forth. If you do things right, you’ll have a classic car that drives like something a lot newer.
But then again, is the car really a classic at that point? It might look like one, but some might say that if you wanted the performance and reliability of a new car, you should have just gone and bought one. I love a thoroughly modernized classic, but I do agree that having all the high tech bits takes some of the adventure out of things.Enter Celica
The challenge then, is to try and find the middle ground. A classic car that can be improved in the right areas without taking away all the stuff that made us fall in love with it in the first place. The 1971 Toyota Celica you see here is a perfect example of this.
The car is owned by Southern California’s Jorge Aguilera, and when I saw it at Toyotafest in Long Beach this year I fell in love with it. It was the complete package, and after a few seconds of surveying its eye-catching green bodywork and mechanical bits I knew we had a feature car on our hands. A call was made to Larry Chen and now we have the images you see here.
Jorge is part of a tight-knit group of SoCal Toyota enthusiasts, and he’s owned the Celica for seven years now. When he first brought the old Toyota home, his wife wasn’t too pleased (I think we’re all familiar with that), but in the time since, he’s created what is surely one of most impressive first generation Celicas this side of Tokyo.
The Celica was a big deal when it went on sale in the United States during 1971. It offered the scaled-down looks of a Camaro or Mustang, sports car moves and the fuel economy and reliability that Japanese imports were quickly becoming known for. It also turns out that these early model Celicas would be the best looking of the bunch – before ‘the man’ intervened with his 5mph crash laws and the gigantic bumpers that came with them.
In addition to having those great first year lines, Jorge also outfitted the body of his Celica with a few period correct modifications that make a big difference to the look. There’s a subtle front chin spoiler and a set of Japanese market fender mirrors…
… along with set of over fenders that give the svelte Celica just the right amount of 1970s toughness. Combine that with the paintwork done by Jorge’s close friend Sid and you’ve pretty much got the perfect exterior.Vintage tuning
But it’s not just the exterior that makes this car so good. In North America, the early Celicas were only offered with single overhead cam engines that, while decent for their time, paled in comparison to the more exotic DOHC engines available in Japan.
This wouldn’t be the last time American market cars got the short end of the stick when it came to engine choices, but no problem though because like many old school Toyota enthusiasts, Jorge swapped in a twin cam 18R-G motor that made the Daruma Celica such a hit in Japan.
But he didn’t stop there. For some extra power, he outfitted the 18-RG with a T3/T4 turbocharger with a custom piping and intercooler set-up. While this doesn’t make the Celica a wheel stander or tire destroyer, it’s still a huge improvement over what the car made from the factory.
But more importantly, I just think there’s something cool about popping the hood and seeing that old school twin cam engine with a snail attached to it. There are any number of modern Japanese powerplants Jorge could have gone with while looking for more power and reliability – but I very much like this combination. It looks like something you might have seen at at a tuning house back in the early ’80s.
The engine is mated to a five-speed transmission and to handle the additional power that the car is putting down, the rear differential has been upgraded to one from a ’79 Supra.
Inside the car, you’ll find the same great balance of classic style and functional upgrades – and that’s a good thing because first generation Celicas had interiors that looked just as cool as their bodies.
For the most part everything looks pretty original here, but Jorge has made a few changes…
… like installing a pair of bucket seats from an ’85 Supra that have been convincingly reupholstered to match the rest of the cockpit.
There are other little things like carbon fiber trim and extra gauges to keep an eye on the turbocharged engine…
… but by and large, that great nostalgic feel of a 1970s Japanese car has been kept intact.The complete package
Finally, we have the wheel and tire set-up. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen a cool vintage car that’s been visually ruined by having a set of modern oversized wheels with low profile tires. It’s a look that can work sometimes, but it takes some effort.
Thankfully Jorge doesn’t have that problem, because he went with a very period-correct wheel choice. Those are RS Watanabes measuring 13″x8.5 in the front and 13″x9.5 in the rear.
Combine the timeless Watanabes and those flares with meaty 13″ tires and you’ve got a look that could’ve come straight from the grid at Fuji Speedway in the early ’70s.
As for future plans, Jorge is planning to go through the Celica’s suspension and also to eventually build a new motor for it.
Whatever he plans to do though, you can rest assured that the car will not stray from its perfect blend of old and new.
This Celica is not an exact recreation of something that rolled off the assembly line in 1971, nor is it a modern performance car wrapped in a vintage body. It’s somewhere right in the middle, and that’s what makes it so special.