View Full Version : Alex's 1976 Toyota Celica - Project: Rust Missile!

02-25-2017, 02:28 PM
Story time!

You OGs may remember me from my old BG (https://sl-i.net/FORUM/showthread.php?5227). I've been quiet for a while since letting her move on to her new owner. I miss that car just about every day. 9 years of memories were a lot to give up, but it was time.

I've gone through a few other daily drivers. I think I've landed on the one that I'll keep for a while - a super clean '07 Outback Limited, monotone black with black leather. Automatic. Sunroof+moonroof. A nice place to sit while stuck in traffic. Before that, I bought an '00 Outback Limited, two-tone black and completely beat. Just junk. Sold it to a friend who wrecked his pontiac. Went back to driving the old BG. Then came a very boring old-man-blue '06 Outback, base model aside from the all weather package, with filthy beige interior. It was too boring.

Of course, that's not what we're here to talk about - we're here for the coolest car.

And here she is, in all of her clapped-out glory:


I picked this up for $200 about a year and a half ago. I had a ~2-month-old baby, a newly stay-at-home wife, a new mortgage payment, and zero expendable income. No title, not running, 400 miles away. Seems like a good idea, right?

Let's go back ten years prior. I was 15. Feeling the car itch hard - I needed wheels, bad. I didn't even have my license yet, I just needed a car. Helping my older brother's tinkering with a '68 Firebird, an '85 Celica Supra, and then an '87 Supra Turbo gave me the sickness. I needed a car bad. Because of his Supra addiction, I got into old Toyotas. I lived in Northern California where old, RWD Japanese cars were king, and I really wanted a Supra, or an AE86, but most of all, I fell in love with the early Celicas. I would have settled for anything from the '70s or '80s, really but nothing ever quite worked out. A year later I found myself moving 800 miles east and 5,000 feet higher in elevation, and ended up with the BG, my first car. I all but forgot about my Toyota kink and got really in to the local Subaru scene. It was hot back then, and the builds were all about function and cleanliness.

Ten years later, I found myself needing a car that was easier to commute on, and I was getting very tired of what the Subaru scene had become - all about stance, form over function, stretched tires, ridiculous camber, blowing huge vape clouds, mods for the sake of showing off on the internet and "breaking instagram" or "changing the game" or whatever. They were ruining depreciated WRXs with mods that used to be more associated with the clapped-out Honda crowd. Anyways, maybe I'm turning into an old fart. Whatever, music was better in the 70s through the 90s and I increasingly find myself more interested in the old ways and less in what's hip now. Quality over quantity, buy once cry once, all that. I needed something new to me but old to the world, and something that could be a blank canvas. This (http://speedhunters-wp-production.s3.amazonaws.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/07/04000029/Hawaii-RA21-Celica-06-1200x800.jpg) picture from this (http://www.speedhunters.com/2014/07/the-daruma-toyota-celica-ra21/) speedhunters article had been my desktop background and phone wallpaper for about a year, and I had been really starting to feel the itch for an old Japanese car again, especially after convincing my buddy to buy a clapped out 240Z and watching the amount of enjoyment he got out of getting that thing running with a set of triple mikuni sidedraft carbs. Having JDM Legends as a local presence and going to their meets didn't help either.

And so, while using autotempest to look at craigslist listings in my state and neighboring ones, I came across a $200 title-less Celica being sold as a parts car up in Idaho, about 400 miles away. I sent it to my brother (as we would often swap local craigslist finds over Google Hangouts) joking that it would make a great LeMons car. He managed to convince me that it was too nice to throw away for LeMons. I started getting ideas. I somehow convinced my wife that I needed this car. She caved, I convinced a buddy from my local group of Subaru buddies to borrow his father-in-law's truck, I rented a U-Haul trailer, and we left at midnight, driving through the night to get to Meridian, ID, bought the car at 6AM, heaved the traction boulder out of the trunk, loaded it up onto the trailer, and got it back home into my little townhouse's garage by about lunchtime. All the time spent watching Roadkill (https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PL12C0C916CECEA3BC) had inspired me to do something crazy.

And with that, I had begun to fulfill a dream that had been lingering in the back of my mind for a decade - to own a classic Celica.

I managed to find some old paperwork in the car and discovered that amongst all the junk inside the car, the thing was mostly complete. It was a real GT with factory air conditioning (although that had been dismantled, but it was included!) and a seized 20R. Using the paperwork I managed to find the facebook page of the previous owner - just a kid, he thought he was going to be a drift racer, he got in an accident and also borked the engine. I found pictures of it looking pretty straight and clean (despite the fact that he rattle-canned it flat black over the rare factory silver paint with GT stripes), driving it in the snow and doing a huge one-tire-fire burnout. I tried to get ahold of him but he wouldn't reply, so that avenue for getting the title did nothing.

With no money at all, I took to just cleaning things, refinishing the grille and headlight bezels with a LOT of time and elbow grease with some #0000 steel wool, removing all the spraypaint and years of corrosion, leaving some beautiful stainless and chrome trim. A lick of paint made them look pretty nice:




I filled out the paperwork to have a new title issued in my name, and let it sit for quite some time, letting life get in the way. Work really halted on the car, and I had no money to spend, no time with a baby and a career, and my wife complained about how gross it was. At some point along the line a local sold me his old 20R for $25, and I put it on an engine stand and partially dismantled it. It didn't leak a drop of oil and had decent compression, but it did have a broken valve spring. I took it apart and let it sit for a while. I kept a little hotwheels Celica on my desk at work to remind me of it. Some months later, I finally took the paperwork in, paid $20 in tax, and they issued me a fresh, clean title. My motivation to get the thing running was renewed.



I have access to a 3D printer at work, and so I picked up Fusion360 (free CAD software!) and started teaching myself CAD. I love the interiors of these classic Toyotas, although for the '76-'77s there are a few updates I dislike compared to the earlier '70-'75 models. One in particular is the redesigned HVAC surround. So I decided to design a backdated HVAC panel that fits the updated cars. Here's the prototype:



Remember the buddy with a 280Z? He added the period correct flares to his car and upgraded to 10" wide wheels (on all four corners), so he gave me his 15x8s:

Did I mention that with the stock suspension, it sits higher than an 05-08 Outback?

Family members all gave me money for Christmas, and for the first time in a while I found myself with some actual money to spend on the thing, and so work has resumed. I bought a Weber 38/38 carb, about the biggest one you'd want to run with an otherwise stock engine, and a whole bunch of supporting parts like a Holley fuel pressure regulator and a full gasket kit.

also featuring: mystery roof squash

Block got a lick of silver paint (so you know where it's leaking from. I've never built an engine. It's gonna leak.) after being cleaned with a LOT of degreaser and carb cleaner:


And the latest and coolest part so far: The first nice thing to go in to my car. Through a work hookup, I managed to get my driver's seat reupholstered for free. I'll be going back and having the same guy redo the rest of the seats after my stipend resets. I just got that back yesterday, and it feels GOOD!


And that brings us to today. It's cold and I'm trying to be quiet and not wake up my wife and son from their naps, and I'm in a writing mood for once. My only other build thread for this is on a private forum, and SL-i was always my favorite car forum. So here it is. Hopefully I'll have it running and driving this spring.

02-25-2017, 03:34 PM
Dude. Holy crap, congratulations! This is a thread starting post for the ages. You have gotten your hands on a beautiful machine, and I am happy to see that it will be well cared for.

02-25-2017, 03:50 PM
Those seats came out awesome!

Go Mifune
02-25-2017, 05:55 PM
My favorite generation Celica and a real GT; I'm a little jealous! How bad is the rust? Way back when, my older sister had the next gen. Celica coupe (1978?) and her son totaled it. She bought another with the insurance money and he totaled that one too.

02-25-2017, 10:50 PM
Thanks gents! The rust is not that bad - the floor pans and underside are great and that seems to be the big problem with all the others I've seen. It needs a little repair on the rocker panels and the trunk corners, and of course where the rear quarter had been bashed in.

06-27-2017, 05:12 PM


Let's rewind a little...

So my brother came up from Dallas to visit for my birthday. I had a car, an engine, and a bunch of parts to make it happen, so we committed to it.


Here's the old engine with the head removed. Not pictured is the clutch/pressure plate that was behind it - brand spanking new clutch with an extremely hotspotted pressure plate and flywheel. This engine is the grimiest, dirtiest thing I've ever worked on - I had to scavenge some parts from it like the timing cover and found myself scraping off literal inches of grime to even find where it was. You couldn't see bolts or anything. Same with the engine under tray and crossmembers below it. When draining the oil from the old motor, clear water came out for the first few seconds, then the blackest sludgiest oil I've ever seen. Based on all that plus the fact that the #2 cylinder was completely rusted in place with signs of standing water, here's my theory: The previous owner (who I have found on facebook and fancied himself to be a drift racer and had pictures of the car doing huge burnouts) installed a brand new clutch but neglected the catastrophic head gasket failure, immediately dumped the brand new clutch without bedding it in first, hydrolocked the engine, and let it sit, so it just rusted itself in place.


Here's both seats back from the upholstery guy. He tightened up the head rests, finished the second seat, and sandblasted and repainted all the metal parts. He also switched the brass grommets out for silver ones.


His delivery vehicle is a Jeepster Commando. He's one of us.



Motor out. Trans came along for the ride because we missed a few bell housing bolts and couldn't figure out why they wouldn't separate.


What a mess! Borrowed engine hoist. It turned out to be much bigger than I expected - a 5,000 lb capacity breakdown unit, not a folding 1,000 lb Harbor Freight one... It still fit in the back of my Outback.


"New" 20R all buttoned up and ready to go in.


IN. Way more difficult to mate the engine and trans than it should have been. We finished around 2AM. We also threw in a cheapo walmart battery at some point. The electrics actually work! You may note that the tires are directional and two of them were sloppily thrown on backwards. You'll also notice that the front of the car became progressively more black as the project went on - my brother couldn't stand the faded factory silver and primer gray fender, or how patchy the PO's rattlecan paintjob was.


Getting there.


Woah, it actually looks like a car!

Got it all together - radiator plumbed (had to temporarily bypass the heater core - it leaked like crazy into the passenger footwell), carb installed and fuel lines plumbed, points hooked up, exhaust installed, fluids filled, wires all plugged in...

AND IT STARTED! And it doesn't even leak! Got it tuned enough to run (with a really high idle, carb was totally set up wrong), and drove it around the block. It broke down about 100 feet down the road.


Got it running long enough to get it back in to the garage. Retuned the carb from a much better manual, reset the timing, and drove it down the street to the O'Reilly auto parts store that's about a half mile away. It drew a small crowd of auto parts store patrons and employees who all had similar reactions: "Woah, cool car! .......what is it"

It's fun. Got it dialled a little more this last Saturday and drove it for a few laps around the neighborhood. My neighbors probably hate me - the exhaust I have right now with the stock cast manifold is only partially complete and ends with a resonator near the back axle. No muffler at all, it's crazy loud. So I haven't been messing with it too much, as I don't want to piss off my neighbors late on weeknights, wake my own toddler, or drive too far without bumpers or insurance. But it runs, and it's good.

I love it.

06-28-2017, 06:29 AM
Hell yeah! This is awesome. I love everything about this. I can't wait to see more updates on it.