Neo-Classic: A Turbo-Swapped ’71 Celica
Finding the balance

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.



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You should check out Canberra Celica Group in Australia.  They have a whole fleet of TA22, RA28 and other classic celicas with a mix of 3tgte, 1jz, 2jz, 1mz conversions.


Cool car! As usual, great set of pics. :D


The comment of big wheels on vintage cars is too true, especially american muscle and the pro touring look. All those trucks posted yesterday as well, 22's dont look good on anything, much less a 1980 C10.


Yuuuup.  Ladies and gentlemen, that's how you do JNC's.  Bonus points for not swapping to an F20C.  Additional bonus points for maintaining that dash in California.


Simply P I hate cracked dashes.


Larry Chen Because if the cracked dash isn't bad enough, that foam that they used underneath in those days then turns to powder, which gets EVERYWHERE.  FOREVER.


Simply P Asbestos.


@Darcy Funny thing is, when I read that I immediately thought of Australia circa mid-'00s.  RX-3s and 4s on 17 inch wheels...  Atrocious.  But they grew outta that shit, thank God.


Great car, but to follow the outlined philosophy I'd think about ditching the interior carbon fiber bits.  Would love to trade 71's for a day.


Great article and car! I love it that Celicas still get so much attention.


AceAndrew2 mine weighs 2000lbs. I don't have any interior but I do have a cage. I can't imagine that this one is much different.


Props to this build. It's how I think it should be done too.


@Matt Panic AceAndrew2  Interesting, similar weight to one of the caged 2002's in the shop.




what a great looking build. its a lot of fun to see that 18RG T3/T4 combo still being a go to. interested in what the suspension plans are next. thanks dude!


Great car - the perfect mix of new and old. I love the colour and how it works with the Watanabes. Very cool.


Hey guys, any chance we can get the wallpaper sizes on the site bumped up to 2560x1440/2560x1600?
Love the shots, just can't use them on my "27 monitor as they're too small.


First Gen Celica is one of my favorite cars, I already loved it when I was a little boy. This build is very well balanced. Great article and pictures.


Nice one.  love the old yotas.  nice to see him stick to an OLD motor.


Stunning. I want one.


SO true about huge wheel diameters on old cars. Here in SA, guys love fitting 17's to their KE70 Corolla's and Datsun 120Y's. Pure blasphemy.
Nice to see an 18RG still nestled safely in that engine bay.


This is sex..
In its most pure undisturbed form!


Correction early Celicas had a pushrod "hemi" engine. The 2T powered those early models before the 20R and 22R sohc replaced it.


Very nicely done car, especially love the Supra seats reupholstered. The only thing I would change would be the steering wheel, not to my taste.


Asbestos? Are you being serious? I knew they used it in brakepads, but interiors? If that is the case people need to know about it. Especially those restoring old cars. Asbestos is a guaranteed, slow and painful death. Just one microscopic particle can cause lung cancer...


Asbestos? Are you being serious? I knew they used it in brakepads, but interiors? If that is the case people need to know about it. Especially those restoring old cars. Asbestos is a guaranteed, slow and painful death. Just one microscopic particle can cause lung cancer...


AGR Ask for me tomorrow, and you shall find me a grave man.
lol he was just kidding dude.  
But not much.  That powdered dash foam really does suck.


People try to challenge the logic of "dumping" $10k on an old car, but don't bat an eyelash at squandering $50k on a new car. Personally, I don't understand spending lots of money on a new, stock auto.


I'm glad & surprise to see it's still Toyota L4 inside !


Is their a proper forum for these cars as i am going to be selling the same exact car.


Very nice Daruma Celica.
Pre-1974 Celica coupe is my favorite, from the first generation.


staryjaponiec Yeah. Gotta have the small bumpers!


Alastair Tilley Big wheels on an old car CAN be pulled off sometimes - if the body and suspension work are done to match. But otherwise, yeah smaller wheels look a whole lot more natural.


@Matt Panic Thanks!


koko san Thank you!


amazing work


"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."
Really...and this is coming from SH? Take older Hondas for example, a 1988 CRX 62-hp HF model may not have the best acceleration out there but it has better fuel economy (50+mpg) than that of a Prius, has handling of a go-cart, and with the right rotor/pad package up front (while keeping stock rear drums, save for better shoes and brake fluid) can brake along with the best of them (if it's good enough for NASA races, it must be good for the street). It has reliability of just about any new car out there if not better, after all manufacturers have to cut down somewhere, right? So-called "advanced technology" isn't cheap. 
Technologically-advanced you say? More like technologically-retarted. Cars today are heavier than ever, harder than ever to work on, gas engines have the same gas mileage of the '90s cars, and suspension design have gone down the drain (just Honda's return to MacPherson struts and torsion bars is the proof of that).


bakayaru Those are not car people you talk about.


apex_DNA  "retarted" - Is that a word now?


Why's been used as a technical term to describe opposite of "advanced" for who knows how long. For example, you can either advance (+) or retard (-) your ignition timing.

Calin Sirbu (Raptor)

:D Good car & good pictures !


gorgeous.... absolutely pristine! i know what my wallpaper is gonna be for a good while =)


oh damn, that's bloody gorgeous