CC Capsule: 1976 Celica GT Liftback – A COAL by the Dockside

Here is a car you don’t see very often anymore, probably because the biggest factor working against them was rust protection. Or lack of. This one wasn’t immune to it, but was not a basket case being in California.

As you can see the USS Hornet is in the background and the car is on the pier. One can park on the pier if associated with the Hornet Museum. So the owner is a retired US Navy Chief Warrant Officer.

I understand in the pecking order he is a notch below an Ensign. Given that he is 80 or 81 you can figure out when he joined the Navy as an E1, yet quickly moved up to E4 before leaving for college. Learned about the Reserves, applied, and was accepted. Booted back down to E3 but quickly made up lost ground.

His specialty was structure and hydraulics. Stationed at NAS Moffett all through the 90’s till the early oughts when he retired at the suggestion of the Navy. Before becoming a Warrant Officer he was capable of flying as part of a crew. Once a Warrant Officer he was no longer flying which he did miss although they kept him logged as a spare pilot unbeknownst to him (Moffett was an AWS base and his time was spent dealing with the P-3 Orion).

As you can see the car looks to be in very good condition. Actually, excellent condition as the pictures show. The ’76 Celica was obtained in either 1992 or 93. It had been towed for unpaid parking tickets by the City of San Jose. The tow company put the car on the street in front with a For Sale sign. Of course, it had a salvage title.

The years of 1994-96 saw most of the restoration of the car. Rust consisted of the hatchback and the spare tire well. Pretty common, and they were fixed. Celicas were common in the local yards so all the logos, trim pieces, and bumpers came from them. The car was then painted in its original color. That sums up the exterior body.

Now here is the owner. I first met Lou, gosh, a long time ago it seems today. I guess it was in the middle of 1999 when the Navy Reserve met on board the Hornet. Lou was in charge during those times before 9/11. I was starting the restoration on the Hornet’s TBM Avenger while Lou was a specialist with the P-3. The Reserves would meet on the weekends and do some restoration work on the ship and planes like the F4J Fury Lou is working on, and that is how we met. The Reserve no longer meets on the ship and Lou has retired but still comes for Live Aboards on Saturdays. That is how I got to see two of his three vintage Japanese vehicles.

Lou gave me advice because while I was asked to restore the torpedo bomber, I had never dealt with a plane. I had to teach myself how to make wing panels and the more difficult thicker, curved cowling panels as several were beyond use due to corrosion.  His warbird connections made it possible for me to obtain missing components for the interior –Give him a list and some months later, there are the parts.

To this day, I have yet to touch the plane’s interior since I have been restoring the Island portion of the carrier from the inside to the outside. However, a big stride was taken on the interior when I found someone who sells the seals for the plane’s hydraulic system. I intend to reseal and get it operational one day. Right now leaks like a sieve inside.

Lou says the Celica’s interior was totally trashed. You name it. Garbage, beer cans, and piss. The original interior was white and this interior, which is better looking, came from a couple of parts cars in the yards. That means every single piece.

Lou was pretty good at this stuff since he partnered with another fellow to buy some Japanese cars from like Pick ‘n Pull, so they could renovate and sell. He did at least six that way, he recalls.

While this is the correct wheel that Celicas came with back then, these are not the originals. While at the yard Lou saw a new addition arriving on a truck, it was another Celica and it had these very nice wheels. As soon as the car was parked in the yard, Lou was on it like a vulture and took all four wheels. Clean them up, painted them, and then installed them. (The wheels his car had come with had larger rims which caused the tires to hit the fender rim on bumps).

I would assume Lou is a fan of Japanese cars. Besides the Toyota Celica Liftback, he also has an 82 Mazda GLC Sport and an early 70’s Datsun 620 pickup. I have seen the GLC and will do a story on it, which was a daily driver till a few weeks ago. Its 260,000 miles have finally caught up with the engine.

I haven’t seen the Datsun as it seems to be stashed with another family member, although he did use it at Moffett after retirement. Back then, before Google leased the base, there was an air museum and Lou was a volunteer in the restoration of the planes. He tells me he has a picture of the Datsun acting as a tug towing an F-18 Hornet. I want to see that picture. I may have to drive down to the Sunnyvale area to see that and the truck for pictures. No doubt in excellent shape.

Sadly the Air Museum, as far as active restoration is no more.  The planes are displayed out in the open now, I believe.  So Lou comes down to the Hornet on weekends when the ship has overnight Live Aboard. He gives tours to a section and spends the night. Not every Saturday, but every month or so the two of us catch up in the morning after we arrive around 0830 hours. And since writing most of this text some months ago I saw him Jan. 13th with the car at the Hornet. I then talked to him the morning of the 15th and he related to me that when driving the Celica home from the ship he heard a small smack. Turns out he got a small chip in his windshield in front of the rearview mirror. It has probably been repaired by now so it doesn’t progress. The other update was that with all the rain we have had there turns out to be a water leak at the cowling leading to a wet carpet on the driver’s side. Nothing he can’t handle compared to a P-3 Orion.


Related CC Reading:

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

Vintage R&T Review: 1975 Toyota Celica GT – Faster And Better Handling