Growing up in Southern California offered a great deal of advantages. Nearby beaches, lots of sunny days and a constant flow of exciting cars. The car culture of Los Angeles brought all manner of cars to my attention. Great muscle cars, sports cars and fun little British cars were seemingly everywhere. So it was all the more surprising to me when I saw my first Toyota Celica on the road. Small and sporty, the new Celica notchback was a first for the industry; a small, sporty car, classified as a sport-compact. Japanese performance cars were already known to much of the world. Datsun had recently brought in the 240Z, and Toyota had built the 2000GT, albeit in small numbers, but these were strictly two-seat sports cars. The Celica had a small fuel-efficient engine, sporty looks and a usable back seat.
With their eye smartly on the youth market, Toyota made the Celica not only sporty and fun, it came in bright colors, featured chrome trim, race-inspired interiors and allowed easy seating for larger American occupants. The Celica was not only a big hit with U.S. customers, it was a worldwide success resulting in the millionth car sold by 1977. During that time, Toyota amassed wins in European Rally races, British Touring Car Championships, and U.S. venues as well. Though not specified for U.S. cars, the amazing twin-cam, twin-carbureted engine powered the lightweight Celica with 115 bhp, making it quite capable even in street trim.
But perhaps the most interesting aspect of the first-generation Celica is the unmistakable use of American muscle car body design in the overall themes of the Celica notchback and later fastback. The original design for both cars was certainly happening at about the same time, but much of the design and development for the 1970 Dodge Challenger was well underway and revealed in 1969 when the Celica was still under final development.
Looking at the front of the Celica, one clearly sees unmistakable similarities in the recessed quad headlights, the front bumper contours, the hood line, and the glass to body relationship in the upper canopy. The body side lines, while softened on the Celica are still very much in keeping with the character of the Challenger, particularly in the rise of the belt line as it arches the rear wheel.
Looking at the rear view, similarities become even more clear as the notchback roofline carries down to the rear quarter panel and, once again, the rear bumper forms a similar shape to the Challenger, clustering longitudinal lights with a central panel, and a short rear decklid, angled off at the rear.