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The Yellow Rose of Texas moves to California
Story and Photos by Charles Williams, February 2009

The yellow rose of Texas now lives in California. This “yellow rose” 1977 Celica GT Liftback may be
the lowest mileage Celica Liftback in existence with only 22,815 original miles. It is also clearly one of
the most original and cleanest un-restored classic Celicas to surface in recent years. In the latter half
of 2008, Eric Parsons, a life-long car collector and restorer was searching on the internet for a classic
Toyota Stout for his next restoration project. He found a Stout for sale in Texas and while looking at
the photos of the Stout in the ad, he noticed a yellow Celica in the background of one of the photos
and then contacted the owner to see if it was for sale too. The person on the other end of the phone
was the daughter of the owner of a long established Toyota dealer. She confirmed that her Father’s
Toyota dealer proudly displayed this Celica on the showroom floor for many years in a display of
significant older Toyotas amidst the new Toyota models. For some unknown reason this Celica, the
Stout and other classic Toyotas were all up for sale.

After receiving more Celica photos and asking a few more important questions about the car, Eric
could hardly believe that he stumbled upon this Toyota treasure. This car was 100% original right
down to the original tires. However, the original Bridgestone RD-106 tires were completely useless
and more square than round after sitting on the showroom for many years. He purchased this car over
the phone and had it promptly transported to California. Before shipping, the original tires were
replaced with new ones to make it drivable.

Upon arrival to its new home in California, there were no disappointments and everything was just as
the previous owner claimed. Eric, who has done many complete frame-off restorations, did not have
to do much to this Celica except for a minor detailing and getting it smog tested in order to register it
in California. When he took it in for a smog test, the test results were shocking. This car ran nearly as
clean as a new 2009 car with much more modern emission controls. Even the smog mechanic said
that he had never seen any car from the 1970s perform this well in smog testing! Please keep in mind
that this car is a 49-state car which has even less restricted emission controls than California cars from
the 70s and yet it still produced excellent emission test results.

Even though this Celica is now 32 years old as of this writing, it remains close to new condition in
almost all respects. Just sitting inside takes one back on a nostalgic trip back to the 70s with one whiff
of that “new Toyota” smell that still permeates the interior. The original rubber Toyota floor mats are
still there protecting the carpets. There are no stains or any signs of wear anywhere in the interior and
the light brown vinyl seats and paneling are in perfect condition. The simulated wood grain on the
dash, console and doors still shines enough to fool the unknowing into thinking it is real wood. Even
the original Toyota AM/FM radio is there, and makes one wonder if turning on the radio, an Air
Supply or Bee Gees song from the 70s will come belting out of the speakers.

Just one twist of the key and the carbureted 20-R engine comes to life and idles as smooth as any
modern Toyota with electronic fuel injection. This Celica was equipped with the optional 3-speed
automatic transmission and to some car collectors that makes the car less desirable than the standard
5-speed transmission. However, one drive in the automatic may persuade some to accept the
automatic transmission. This automatic is so smooth and well-suited to the torque filled 20-R engine.
When comparing the Celica to other cars of the same time period in the 70s is easy to see why
Toyota sold so many Celica Liftbacks in 76 and 77. The refinement levels and instant drivability of the
Celica made it so appealing to car buyers in that time period.  Many of Toyota’s competitors were
left struggling with how to meet the government’s mandate for emission controls on all new cars sold
in the USA in the 70s and their vehicles had major drivability issues such as hard cold starts, rough
idles and power losses. Just ask anyone who was present in the 70s about their memories of driving
the first generation of automobiles equipped with emission controls.

Not only was the overall drivability ahead of it’s time, the Celica Liftback may have been the very first
car with an onboard computer for diagnosing different mechanical problems. This unit was called the
Electro Sensor Panel, (ESP) and was located on the lowest part of the center dash just in front of the
shift lever. The 8 functions that it monitors are: radiator fluid, engine oil level, battery, reminders for
burned out taillights and brake lights, levels for washer fluid, front brake pad wear and vacuum for the
brake booster. The warning light for each of these problem areas stays on until the problem is

For the American market there were no special or limited editions offered and the first Generation
Celica was the only generation to never receive a convertible version either by the factory or
aftermarket companies. In a time period before tinted windows, a common option in hotter climates
was window louvers for the Liftback’s large glass panel. These were made by several aftermarket
companies and dealer installed. There was just not a wide selection of options and tuning parts in the
1970s, it was basically pick your color and your transmission choice and then drive it home. Toyota
did use a very lightly modified Celica Liftback as the pace car for the 1976 Long Beach Formula 1
Grand Prix. Also the 20th Century Fox Film Corporation commissioned a custom built silver and
black 1977 “Star Wars” Celica Liftback with a painting of Darth Vader’s face on the hood, custom
fender flares and chrome wheels. If any Toyotageek readers out there know if either of these special
Celica Liftbacks still exists today, please let us know.

Some of the front end styling and the overall inspiration for building an affordable sports coupe for the
masses began when the Toyota EX-1 concept car appeared at the Tokyo Motor Show in 1969.
Through the years, the first generation Celica has been referred to as the “Japanese Mustang”. In
some ways it is well deserved to be called a “Japanese Mustang” because of a styling similarity to the
Mustang taillights with the overall silhouette of the Mustang Boss 302 and Mustang Mach 1. The fact
is that the Celica’s designers took inspiration from more than just Mustangs. There are styling
similarities to the Plymouth Barracuda and Dodge Charger and even the Lamborghini Espada in the
way the front bumper blends into the body and the grill.

No matter what inspiration the designers saw in other cars of that time period, the finished product is
uniquely Toyota and the styling of the Celica Liftback has passed the test of time as one of the most
attractive and balanced cars that ever came out of a Toyota factory. Even during our photo shoot
passersby commented on how timeless this car looks. The styling may have passed the test of time as
well as the overall durability and reliability of the Liftbacks. However, the tinworm has taken the
majority of 1st Generation Celicas off the road and turned them into parts cars and then recycled
steel. Even this fine 22,000 mile example was not exempt from rust, about the only flaw found in this
“yellow rose of Texas” was a very small patch of rust on the lower and inner part of the right side
front fender. Now that the early Celicas are highly sought after by classic car collectors, there is less
chance that the remaining early Celicas will end up in a junk yard.

Even though both the Sports 800 and the 2000GT came before the Celica, the Celica can be credited
as Toyota’s breakthrough success in the sports coupe market. Motor Trend awarded the Celica with
the prestigious “Import Car of the Year” award upon its introduction in 1976. The Celica accounted
for approximately 20% of Toyotas rapidly growing sales numbers during 1976 and 1977. During
those years it was also the best selling Imported Sports Coupe in America. That is a huge market
stake for a coupe. Those kind of sales percentages are unheard of in today’s sports coupe
marketplace. In fact, not many sports coupes are available anymore in today’s marketplace. Even the
Celica’s closest competitors such as the Honda Prelude, Acura Integra and Nissan 240 SX have all
been discontinued. By the end of Celica production in 2005 there were seven generations and around
4,000,000 Celicas built during that 35 year lifespan. Maybe Toyota will reintroduce the Celica
someday in the same way that Chevy recently brought back the Camaro and even retro styled it like
the 1st generation Camaro. It has been said that absence makes the heart grow fonder, so since there
is no replacement for the Celica at the moment, it can only make Celica fans respect and restore their
classic first generation Celicas to the best of their abilities.
Toyota Tales
MSRP base price: $4,699 (1976)
Engine: 2.2 Liter SOHC 4 cylinder
Engine Code: 20-R
Chassis Code: RA-29
Horsepower/torque:  96 hp/120lb-ft of torque
Transmission: Standard 5-speed manual or optional 3-speed automatic
Front Suspension:  Independent MacPherson Struts
Rear Suspension:   Live axle with 4 trailing links and Panhard rod
Steering:  Recirculating ball, variable ratio, (4.2 turns lock-to-lock)
Brakes:  10 inch front wheel discs/9 inch rear wheel drums  
Tires: 185/70 HR-14
Wheels: 14 X 5.5 styled steel wheel with chrome trim rings
Curb Weight: 2,560 lbs.
Required Fuel: 87 octane regular
Fuel Tank: 15.3 Gallons
EPA Fuel Economy: 49 State, 21 MPG city/36 MPG hwy
                            California, 19 MPG city/33 MPG hwy
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