It’s been 15 years since the Celica bowed out of the market, leaving behind a wildly varied seven generations that kicked off in 1971 and went on to underpin a rich (and occasionally) infamous motorsport providence stretching from WRC to Bathurst production car victories and Pikes Peak Hill Climbing.
While less heroic than Supra nor as sporty as MR2, Toyota’s everyman/everywoman sport coupe once enjoyed major widespread appeal: well over four million units sold globally, some 112,000 in Australia. Despite some tasty rally-bred homologation GT-Four specials (ST165/ST185/ST205), more pedestrian versions have (as yet) failed to muster up much of a cult following with car fans. And thus, used Celicas have become one of the thriftiest choices for cheap used sport coupe.
And none riper for the picking or leaner on the hip pocket than the sixth-generation ‘S200’, the inimitable ’90s Celica sold local between early 1994 and replaced by the sharply chiseled ‘S230’ seventh generation by the turn of the century. Toyota Australia puts total gen-six sales at 10,994 units.
Our staple version was the ST204R series, a three-door liftback powered by the 2.2-litre naturally aspirated 5F-SE four driving the front wheels through a choice of five-speed manual or four-speed auto transmissions. The ‘S200’ gen was also sold as a two-door coupe or convertible in various overseas markets.
It launched in high ZR trim from around $43k and was joined, in 1995, by an entry SX guise some eight-grand cheaper. Its 100kW and 196Nm was, for its day, not too shabby, though its somewhat leisurely nine-second amble to 100km/h from a standstill wasn’t much to write home about.
Still, at around 1200kg, there’s not much to the sixth-gen Celica: you still had to option air-conditioning, even on the ZR, though cruise control, CD player and dual airbags were standard fitment in top spec. (Airbags were optional on SX). Its light weight made for a reasonably sporty vibe and a modicum of athletic ability in the corners, even if the most bulbous Celica in history failed to drum up kudos as a proper driver’s machine.
Towards the S200’s twilight, in 1998, a mid-grade SX-R joined the Celica fray, essentially the base SX with a smattering of tart-ups, including red/black interior styling. However, the six-generation didn’t enjoy much evolution under its curvaceous skin throughout its lifecycle. A handful – some 77 examples – of pukka ST205 GT-Four Rallyes made it to Oz in 1994, more than a few ending up as Toyota dealership principals’ ‘demonstrators’ and are now prized, big-dollar collectibles.
The regular ST204R is vastly humbler. While not as collectable as earlier models or nearly as sharp – in all senses – as its feisty seventh-gen 140kW ST230 replacement, the regular sixth-gen machinery makes for a fairly interesting, reasonably stylish used wallet-buster.
Second hand? More likely fourth, or sixth, or eleventh. Later-day ’90s Celica are unicorns in anything like fit condition and there’s fair chance a budding new custodian will inherent the past ‘crimes’ of owners past. Few will have been babied, solid servicing histories will be veritable crap-shoots, and many examples still on the road will have lapped Planet Earth more than a handful of times. You have been warned…
Read on for tips on how to arm oneself on safari to unearth a decent example of Toyota’s sporty buck-banging liftback coupes. Or what sort of potential horrors might await eager tyre-kickers.