My Curbside Classic: 1981 Toyota Celica GT Liftback – Who Says You Can’t Go Back?


In 1981, a few years before I was conceived, my mom purchased her first brand-new car, a 1981 Celica ST in copper metallic. It was a great four-seasons car despite its rear-wheel drive; nothing a few bags of sand and a talented driver couldn’t fix. Fast forward 14 years and four kids later, and it was time for mom to see the Celica off. It was sold to the friend of a family friend who was as excited about the car as my mom was the day she bought it. Unfortunately, so was someone else, because two weeks later it was nicked from a parking lot, never to be seen again. But it wasn’t the only copper-metallic 1981 Celica in the world.


I purchased this one in July 2011 due to a wave of nostalgia for the long-lost Celica. I had a tendency of browsing Craigslist for unusual JDM cars that were common when released (including Cressidas, assorted station wagons, MKII Supras, but not limited to Toyota), but not so anymore. It was more daydreaming than reality though, since I already had two cars in my stable and no room for any more. However, this particular day I was stuck in NYC waiting for a ride and had nothing else to do but peruse CL. And there it was.


A 1981 Toyota Celica GT Liftback, finished off in copper metallic, with MKII Supra wheels and in excellent condition. Apparently it was in storage for 19 years before the current owner purchased it six years ago. He had done all the important stuff, including the exhaust and adding the aforementioned wheels, and kept it pretty, with just 91k on the odometer.


I called immediately and set up an appointment to meet. He wasn’t too far away, and before long I was in a pizzeria parking lot staring at this time capsule from the ’80s driving up. I knew it would be mine before the owner even introduced himself properly. Formalities were exchanged, including an exhilarating test drive to make sure all 98 of the 22R’s horses had come that night. Before long it was being driven back to my house with the same blue NJ plates that had been bolted to my mom’s Celica.


It’s been in my possession almost two years and I haven’t done much to it–including, sadly, driving it. It burns a bit of oil, and the idiot light for the e-brake is always on, but otherwise it’s a champ. I hope to bring it out more in 2013, if only to dust it off and stretch its legs on warm spring nights. I will need a set of window cup holders though, as it’s got none; and headphones, since the AM/FM gets poor reception.


It costs $81 a year to insure (ironically, through American Collectors), and it wasn’t much out of pocket initially, so there’s no reason to sell. Ever. Maybe even one day I’ll hand it down to my mom in a moment of weakness for nostalgia. I know she’d love to retire her minivan and get back into a proper ‘sports’ car.