Modern Not Classic – 1999 Toyota Celica MkVII (T230)

It offset a highly strung character with stunning looks, but the Celica was too high on the crazy/hot matrix.


Classic or not… We explore old car no man’s land

Why didn’t we all buy Toyota Celica MkVIIs when they came out in 1999? More to the point, why aren’t we buying the min 2020, now that they’re easily available for £1500 or less? After all, they looked great on the outside, and even on the inside as long as you had low trim-quality expectations. They handled quite tidily in an understeery, chattery, tramliney type way, especially in the 30mm lowered GT versions from 2005.

Modern Not Classic Toyota Celica MkVII (T230)

Modern Not Classic Toyota Celica MkVII (T230)

The answer was poorly harnessed revs. When dog-attractingly high rpms are being discussed, Honda’s Civic Type R (EP3) often pops up: max power at 7400rpm; an 8250rpm limiter; VTEC yo etc. But the EP3 was a big-block V8 compared to the Celica. Not the 1ZZ-engined 140hp 1.8 VVTi, although with all those exciting-sounding ‘V’s and ‘i’s in its name it wasn’t lacking in frantic. But even its 7600rpm peak looked positively diesel-like against the 7800rpm peak of the 189hp 2ZZ-engined Celica 190 (or, post-July 2001, T Sport) VVTL-i, which also sawservice in the Lotus Elise.


At the 2001 launch, Toyota favourably compared the 190 T Sport’s power per litre figure of 106.7hpwith the 103.3hp of the McLaren F1 and the 106hp of the BMW M3 E46. It glossed over the puny torque figure of 184lb-ft at 6800rpm. Not much happened below 6200rpm, when the variable valve timing kicked in, but you’d then only have 1600rpm left before you had to change up.

At that point you’d be exposed to another Celica shortcoming, which was an odd set of gear ratios that dropped you out of the VVTi ‘lift’ zone on key upchanges. Keeping a T Sport on the boil was a bit like trying to retain erectile function while thinking about the latest economic stats.

Toyota did try to fill in the 2ZZ’s midrange power vacuum by bunging a supercharger on it. Not on the high-profile Celica, but on the unsuspecting Corolla. The Corolla T-Sport Compressor pumped out a handy 215bhp, but few owners experienced that because the 215hp didn’t arrive until 8200rpm – a full 4000rpm after the blower had done most of its blowing. Even mashing the throttle in second wouldn’t do you any good if the engine was ‘off the cam’, which it almost always was.

That, in a smaller dose, was the Celica’s problem too. Cane it and you would be smiling, but off the track where 99 percent of us spent 99 percent of our time, it was hard work and hard to love. That, plus a low driver’s seat that could murder your back if you were the wrong shape, long doors that were a liability in car parks and an alarm that would go off ten minutes after you’d locked it unless you removed all the coins from the central cupholder (seriously), is why you can now get one of the last Celicas for the price of a 20-year old Focus 1.6.

An aesthetic blinder, but just too peaky.

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