Curbside Classic: 1990 Toyota Celica GT-S – Cranberry Delight

1990 Toyota Celica GT-S. Edgewater Glen, Chicago, Illinois. Saturday, January 2, 2021.

I currently have a variety of fruit juices in my refrigerator.  I’ve never been that big into soft drinks, though I do enjoy one from time to time.  I grew up in a household where usually the only carbonated beverage in the refrigerator was 7-Up, which was for only my dad.  Studies conducted since my 1980s childhood (and perhaps before) have shown the various negative effects of regular consumption of some kinds of soft drinks over time, but none of that ever matters to a kid.

All I knew was that as soon I was a free man in college, I thought that drinking all the soda / pop / whatever-you-call-it-where-you-live was going to make me the happiest person alive.  While I do look fondly upon the occasional, teenage Mountain Dew bender and staying up all night, the truth is that years of not drinking pop probably caused me not to crave it as an adult.  Sometimes, we end up being thankful for the habits we never formed.

1990 Toyota Celica print ad, as sourced from the internet.

As kids, my brothers and I were allowed to have water, milk, Kool-Aid, lemonade, and our choice of several fruit juices.  We always had orange juice (made from canned concentrate) and often also had apple or cranberry juice in our refrigerator.  I loved orange juice and could drink it all day.  Long before a young, queer kid named Joe had ever heard of singer, Florida orange juice pitchwoman, and one-time anti-gay rights activist Anita Bryant (or maybe I had, as my maternal grandparents were very conservative), I would sometimes consume so much OJ in a single summer day that I would have to get another frozen canister out of the freezer and make a replacement pitcher before my mom found out.  Apple juice was okay, but that was more my younger brother’s favorite and not mine, so that was one less thing for us to fight over.  Then, there was cranberry juice.

Try to remember the first time you tasted it, whether it was “cranberry juice cocktail” which is usually made from a mixture of fruit juices, or pure cranberry juice by itself.  I like tart things, as I had referenced in last week’s essay referencing lime sherbet.  Cranberry juice seemed to be in its own separate category from everything else in our Frigidaire.  It’s not only that it seemed like a sharp, sour, and utterly joyless beverage, but it sometimes even made me cough.  As a kid, I learned to avoid it.  Quickly.  In fact, I think I would have preferred a glass of ice water instead of cranberry juice, and some of us know how hard it can be to get a child to drink plain water.  It wasn’t Ocean Spray’s fault.  It was just the nature of the beast.

1990 Toyota Celica GT-S. Edgewater Glen, Chicago, Illinois. Saturday, January 2, 2021.

Fast-forward to 2021, and my relationship with cranberry juice is much different.  What had started out as my little break from alcohol last year has now grown into eleven months of complete abstinence, and a fruit juice I used to find so utterly repelling as a youth has now become the basis of one of my favorite mocktails.  Sure, there are still traces of my memories of feeling like I was being punched in the throat by the juice of these little, magenta-colored berries, but that’s kind of the point with something intended to replace whiskey.  Pure cranberry juice with just one maraschino cherry and a little of its syrup, chilled and served in a coupe glass, is often just what the doctor ordered as I sit down to relax on weekends.  The fruit of the Vaccinium macrocarpon plant had won me over prior to this discovery, but I feel I must now properly give it respect in so many words.

As it is with the fifth-generation Toyota Celica.  I was in high school when it made its debut for 1990, and I immediately thought it was hideous.  It looked as if Toyota stylists had taken a fourth-generation car, which I liked and which also had the same 99.4″ wheelbase, stuck in in the microwave, and accidentally hit an extra zero at the end of the intended cooking time.  At the time, it looked to me like an absolute, melted mess with the only redeeming feature being the slightly lower, smoother front end.  Everybody else seemed to like the new Celica, much like the new, concurrent Madonna album, “Like A Prayer”, but I didn’t like that, either, when it first came out.

1990 Toyota Celica postcard image, as sourced from the internet.

I genuinely like both now, though, and not just for reasons of nostalgia.  Uncharacteristic of me, I’ll reserve my commentary on Ms. Ciccone’s fourth studio album for the purposes of this essay, but I’ll say that I can really appreciate all the little stylistic details that went into this GT-S hatchback’s external appearance.  The shape of the front side marker lights, the side view mirrors, the lightly pinched bodysides, and the gracefully curved rear hatchback glass seem to be all of one design aesthetic, like every stylist working on this project had all been given the same design brief from the onset.

The fact that Toyota had ever produced a small, sporty, four-seater coupe intended for mass appeal seems like such a faraway dream given their current lineup, much like the memories of my last walk through the halls of my long-closed, former high school in the 1990s.  The base engine for the entry-level ST submodel, which was available only as a notchback, was a 103-horsepower, 1.6L four-cylinder engine.  The Celica hatchback was available as a GT or GT-S with a naturally-aspirated 130-hp, 2.2L liter mill that was new that year, or as an All-Trac with full-time all wheel drive and a turbocharged 2.0L four with 200 hp.

1990 Toyota Celica GT-S. Edgewater Glen, Chicago, Illinois. Saturday, January 2, 2021.

All but the All-Trac could be had with either a four-speed automatic or a five-speed manual, with the latter being the only option available for the All-Trac.  According to one period test from Motorweek from 1990, a five-speed equipped GT-S hatchback took only 8.2 seconds to get from 0-60 mph, with their example weighing in at around 2,800 pounds.  This seems legitimately quick for cars of its day, though there’s no question that if I was of an age back then to purchase a small, sporty, front-wheel-drive coupe, the overly round styling of the new, 1990 Celica would have eliminated it from my consideration, regardless of its objectively good dynamic qualities.  I would probably have gone with a Ford Probe or Plymouth Laser, in keeping with my affinity for U.S.-branded nameplates.

Little did I know at the dawn of that new decade, though, that the looks of these Celicas would predict what would be coming down the pike for much of the ’90s.  To my eyes, anyway, the first-generation Hyundai Tiburon could have been this Celica’s little brother (even moreso than the Toyota Tercel-based Paseo), and even the Ford Escort ZX2 shared a few styling cues with these cars.  I thought it was fitting that this beautiful Celica (there, I said it), which was in terrific shape for a thirty-plus year old car, had paint the color of my now-favorite berry.  It only goes to show that if given enough time, things you may have initially found to be not to your liking may eventually change your mind.

Edgewater Glen, Chicago, Illinois.
Saturday, January 2, 2021.