Featured: Driving This 1975 Toyota Celica GT2000 Was My First Vintage JDM Experience

Driving This 1975 Toyota Celica GT2000 Was My First Vintage JDM Experience

Petrolicious Productions By Petrolicious Productions
August 16, 2017
20 comments

Story by Luca Giovinette
Photography by Jake Ruddick

The Toyota Celica GT2000 is a recognizable form to many, even if they aren’t aware of its Japanese origin. Before going further into this one though, a few stats and figures: two liters, DOHC, and 40mm dual throat Mikuni Solex Carbs helping the 18R-G make 145 bhp. The year is 1975.

This example belongs to Rob Connolly, who lives in the North West of England, and today I’m taking this car for a ride. And to make it even better, this is the Japanese-market—only version of this generation—a RA25 GT2000—which was the pinnacle of the Celica family.

Walking toward it, the visual impact is a striking one; the GT2000 oozes muscle car violence from every crease and bulge, but it adds to its alluring mixture of identity with the help of coilovers and a set of deep-dish 14” gold Watanabe wheels complementing the Frost White body. The coils and wheels are the only modifications to the exterior look, and they keep the car’s style in line with its kyusha (“old car”) roots.

It’s design is clearly based on the fastback Mustang, and as such it’s affectionately known as the “Baby Mustang” in Japan. However, looks can be deceiving, and there are styling elements on this car that are all its own.

For starters, the nostrils on the bonnet are without doubt among the best looking air vents I’ve seen from the period, and the fuel filler cap—hidden behind the rear “GT 2000” panel on the rear light cluster—is an ingenious bit of styling; Toyota didn’t want any of their body lines ruined by an ugly fuel filler cover, so they devised a clever way to hide it. The Napoleon Bacca mirrors mounted on the outstretched bonnet are hallmarks of Japanese car design, the vents on the C-pillars are intriguing without being messy, and the louvers on the rear window remind me of the spine of a powerful reptile, which is appropriate given the Celica badge is a dragon.

The twin colorful strips that strake horizontally down the side of the car are perfectly ‘70s and just sporty enough without being overbearing. Even if you’ve seen one before, this is the kind of car that always compels more than a passing glance. But I’ve gushed about the visuals enough, and despite the moody weather it’s time to put the car in motion. The time is now 13:47.

Rob turns the key half way and I hear the fuel pump kick into life immediately after. We wait and in my anticipation three seconds feel like 30 as he primes the carbs. The key is turned the rest of the way and I am engulfed in a cocoon of angry sound while my heart begins fluttering in time with the warming revs and the sound from the intake as I’m taken back to a glorious time before fuel injection.

As we sit and wait for the engine to reach optimal temperature, I take a moment to get used to my surroundings. I am faced with everything I need to feed me information on the car; oil pressure, oil temperature, water temperature, amp meter, and fuel meter. I have warning lights for coolant fluid levels, and even washer fluid levels! The Jeco clock is a real timepiece and not some digital display. The speedometer and tachometer are set deep into the cluster, and my feet extend similarly to rest on pedals in front of me. I’m sitting low on GT-trimmed leather seats with metal air vents stitched into them, and they’re still quite comfortable. I look down to the gear knob, which has been hand-engraved with the car’s name, ”Ferocious.”

With the engine now warm, we slowly pull out from the shadow of the derelict cotton mill, and I can already tell from the gurgling exhaust notes and the breathy Mikunis that this is going to be something special.

We pull onto a dual carriageway, and I open it up a little bit to find the car pulling harder than even I’d expected, the engine playing a symphony of naturally aspirated music. I can feel the heat of the engine drafting into the cockpit already, and as I shift into 4th if my heartbeat feels like its trying to keep up with the motor’s 6,000RPM churn.

It smells, it’s loud, it’s stiff, it’s pure amusement for the senses, but what was especially nutty was just driving mere inches from the asphalt. I feel connected to the road being so close and beholden to it, and as I ease off the accelerator the exhaust crackles away behind me. It’s not a race car, but it’s surely not soft. 

We pull off onto the tighter back roads, this Celica’s natural habitat. Far from the mountain passes of Japan, today she is being treated to the twisty roads around Rivington Pike through to Belmont. The 18-RG is in its element too; it’s not the fastest of engines with a top speed of roughly 125mph, but it’s punchy, and full of torque. The road offers track-like turns with excellent elevation changes for good measure and throughout everything the car feels planted, the steering loads up firmly, and with the engine braking afforded by keeping the revs high, it’s easy to slow the relatively light car for the really narrow portions. I haven’t looked at the speedometer for a while, but I’m watching the oil pressure needle rise as I accelerate to climb the hills, and I can see the water temp cooling as I hit the straights as the cool air is rammed into the radiator.

My favorite part of all this was the bellowing echo of the exhaust reverberating underneath a canopy of trees as our wake scattered the fallen leaves into the air behind us; everything is sensual yet brutal on this old Toyota. It has an animal instinct in its unfiltered experience, and nothing artificial to muddy the joys of connected driving.

Eventually we pull off into a quiet spot and I switch her off. I sit still for a moment, letting my mind catch up to the drive I just had. Writing this now, I am still trying to figure out exactly why this opportunity was so special. For starters, the RA25 GT2000 is a such a serious rarity in the United Kingdom that being given the chance to drive one was a huge honor. For years, I have watched on the computer as classic Japanese cars converged on Japan’s notorious Daikoku Futo parking lot, and I dreamed of being able to experience one of those vehicles one day, and now I have.

My body is also communicating in its own way, as my lips are dry and my back is soaked with sweat. The time is now 16:38, and I am not the same person I was a few hours earlier.

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Marco Bigs GrandiSotirios BakaimisMyounghwan MunLovebandit64Mari Recent comment authors
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Marco Bigs Grandi

Great story! Doesn’t matter which flag is on the car, it is a piece of history and every single word of this review render up your truly experience with that!

Sotirios Bakaimis
Sotirios Bakaimis

NOT BAD AT ALL FOR A JAPANESE CAR, ….rear lights ford mustang style….. I personally prefer the next generation Celica, I think the last with rear wheel drive, has more angles to it’s design.

Myounghwan Mun
Myounghwan Mun

Delete the picture rising sun flag. Very uncomfortable. you will not use if you know the meaning

Mari
Mari

Cool car, but why the rising sun flag? That’s like putting a Confederate flag on your F150…

LoveBandit1000

Only a total moron injects politics into a car discussion. Go tear down a historical statue, burn a few copies of Huckleberry Finn and get back to us, loser…

Paul Ipolito
Paul Ipolito

Great car. I never realized how “Mustangy” the rear end is.

Jamie
Jamie

Rob – Two of my favourite cars in the world and you own both! Your Celica is EXACTLY how I envisaged mine would look but I think that particular boat has long since sailed now, as has my Skyline dream. Both cars are a credit to you 🙂

Rob Connolly
Rob Connolly

Thank you very much Jamie, the Kenmeri skyline is a dream come true, its currently en-route !

jsocko
jsocko

Nice! Great to see a real RA25. I’m in the states, so the 18RG was only to be had at the Japanese dismantlers back then. Now, we can only find them through friends or specialty shops like Toysport. I own the blue one that was featured a few months back, and made my RA29 into something like yours. This Toyota Celica Liftback GT Beautifully Couples Japanese And American Design My RG had a bunch of things swapped and customized. The holes in my engine are now 92mm with some mild TRD cams. A friend ordered a few sets of Arias… Read more »

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Rob Connolly
Rob Connolly

That looks fantastic, and I very much enjoyed the read-up on yours a few months ago!

Sbeauchier
Sbeauchier

My first car was a ta22 and GT celicas were a mystery in Australia before the Internet. Thanks for sharing your beautiful car as it brings me back to how amazing these cars were and how underrated also.

Sumanster
Sumanster

Great story, and beautiful car! Warms the heart to see a tasteful classic being driven with passion.

Rob
Rob

Thank you! She is fantastic to drive!

Bertram Wooster
Bertram Wooster

No picture of the engine? I’m calling B.S. It’s probably just a clone.

We need proof!

mlmk
mlmk

your BS. oh and F off

Rob
Rob

Hi Bertram, I own this car – Not a clone.

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Vic
Vic

If anyone wants to see what a real 73 1600 TA27##### hatch looks like pm me :)…………….engine area probably was painted lime green.

Rob
Rob

Thank you very much Petrolicious for featuring the story on my car!

For anybody interested, you can see more photos here : http://www.instagram.com/kamikazeplayboy

Dinis Figueira
Dinis Figueira

Here in my country there is one rotting away at the same place for more than 10 years. The only example here I think… the owner won’t sell it 🙁

Mel Chanic
Mel Chanic

When i was a 15 year old, a neighbour had one of these rotting by the roadside. He attempted to repair the engine…cylinder head issues but never got it to really run…sat by the roadside rusting away until i got the money to actually buy it…alas…by the time i got to it…some Japanese gentleman had beaten me to it.

I never saw it again….next up was an Alfa Romeo 1750GT…and from then on began my love affair with missed opportunities.

I however believe 3rd time lucky…and hope its a 250 lusso….or at least a 356b