In Motion Classic: 1976 Toyota Celica GT Notchback – Hang In There, Baby

008 - 1976 Toyota Celica GT notchback CC

A lot of us could agree that accessories can sometimes make or break the look of a car.  This vision in milk chocolate brown appeared one December morning in 2013, maybe three blocks east of Wrigley Field.  I could have done the “Toyota jump” when I saw it approaching.  This Celica is identifiable as a ’76 (or ’77) model by the the flattened front fascia versus the original shovel-nose design.  I’m arbitrarily going with model year 1976 only because it was the first year of this restyle, but I’ll be glad to make the correction to this post if a few experts on the subject can verify this is a ’77.

009 - 1976 Toyota Celica GT notchback CC

I’ve been feeling the Celica Love lately after reading several other recent CC posts about the sporty Toyota for the masses.  I can’t remember the last time I had seen a first-generation Celica on the street prior to this one.  There weren’t a whole lot of them in Flint, Michigan when I was a kid growing up there in the 1980’s.  However, it always seemed to me that the Celica was one of few non-captive imports that it was okay to like in our GM town, I theorize, for a couple of reasons: a.) yes, they were cool; and b.) no iteration of the Celica seemed to pose any serious threat to the sales dominance of the Chevrolet Camaro / Pontiac Firebird siblings in the sporty car market segment.

Comparing the lines and style of this bonsai-ponycar to those of other similar notchback coupes of the time, notably the Chevrolet Monza Towne Coupe and Ford Mustang II, the Celica holds its own, with its first-generation Dodge Challenger-esque rear quarter panel hips, its true hardtop roofline (which, by itself, was becoming a rarity by ’76), and other sporty touches like the placement of the fuel filler on the C-pillar.

009 - Hang In There, Baby crop
This car was already a head-turner in 2013 for its good looks, relative rarity and outstanding condition, but it was the suction-cup Garfield in the rear quarter window that really made my day.  This period-correct detail made it seem almost as if this car had magically transported itself from a Meijer’s Thrifty Acres parking lot in Michigan from 1981, and plopped down in the land of the Chicago Cubs some thirty-plus years later.

011 - 1976 Toyota Celica GT notchback CC

It’s possible that it may not have seemed like the most patriotic thing to buy an import back in the U.S.’s Bicentennial Year, but this car looks darned good to me today, the more I look at it.  Accompanying notchback Celicas in Toyota showrooms for ’76 was a new body style – the perky, ’69 Mustang fastback-inspired Liftback, which was Motor Trend’s “Import Car Of The Year”.  With Celicas generally being assembled with better care than the domestics (Monza, Mustang II), costing a little less than the German imports (Ford’s Capri II, VW Scirocco), and also being great on gas, I can see their value proposition from a ’70s perspective.  I’m glad that someone preserved this Celica long enough for time to further enhance the looks of this vintage, Japanese mini-ponycar.  Oh, what a feeling!

Wrigleyville, Chicago, Illinois.
Sunday, December 1, 2013

Related reading:

Curbside Classic: 1974 Toyota Celica Coupe – Betting on The Wrong Pony

CC Outtake: 1973 Toyota Celica ST – Welcome To The Neighborhood

Automotive History: The Toyota 5 Speed Transmission Takes Over the World

Curbside Classic: 1997 Toyota Celica GT – The Beginning Of The End