The First Toyota Celica Is Not An Icon, By Design

The most expensive first generation Toyota Celica ever sold on went for just under $14,000.

a vintage photo of a truck: The 1971 Toyota Celica is a wonderful car with very little in the way of a lasting legacy. This is good.

© ullstein bild Dtl. – Getty Images
The 1971 Toyota Celica is a wonderful car with very little in the way of a lasting legacy. This is good.

In a world where a four-door Datsun 510 of the same year can sell for more than twice as much on the same site, this represents a very, very small market for a quirky and charming car that has not established a great legacy of its own. This may actually be a delight to the car’s original creators, who always seemed to imagine it less as a real performance car and more as a charming and fun runabout, less a competitor to the Mustang as it became and more a spiritual successor to the stylish and slow Mustang that first debuted in 1964.

While so many cars of this era have become classics in their own right after being revisited decades later, no such wave of nostalgia has ever come for the Celica. It remains what it was in 1971, a car with a charming look that easily reaches its modest aspirations as a fun, reliable sport sedan with no real ambition of doing any more than that. While the Datsun 510 that preceded it in 1968 has become an icon, the Celica remains a novelty, more famous as the first in a line that would eventually birth both the Supra and the monstrous Celica rally cars of the early 1990s than it is in its own right.

a car parked on the side of a road: Car Toyota Celica, 1971

© ullstein bild Dtl. – Getty Images
Car Toyota Celica, 1971

This, I would argue, is what makes the classic Celica unique in the modern world. As 510s gain value, the Celica remains attainable. The car had no ambitions of being the flagship of a major automotive brand, it just hoped to offer something stylish and fun for those interested at the price point; the lack of any real market interest has allowed it to maintain that positioning on classic markets. This is an entry-level, sporty, and stylish Japanese car for drivers seeking something fundamentally good that does not necessarily have to be great, a market of would-be owners with few other options built before 1980 available to them.

In a world where even Porsche 914s and BMW 2002s have joined the early 911s and BMW E9s as collector items, the Celica remains a taste of the market for driver’s cars in the early 1970s. It is remembered, not loved, and that is all the car had ever hoped for in the first place.

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