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