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Celica GT-Four

The Celica GT-Four road car owes its existence solely to the World Rally Championship (WRC). Without the WRC, and its homologation rules, the world would be without road-going masterpieces like the Audi Quattro S1, Lancia Stratos, Ford RS200, and the Renault R5 Turbo – just to name a few.

What is similar about these examples is that they are all limited-production high-performance race cars for the road – and, interestingly, none of them are Japanese. This leads us to the Toyota Celica GT-Four, and its significance in breaking the European dominance of the WRC.

The Celica GT-Four was a turning point, not only for Toyota, but for all the top Japanese manufacturers. Spurred on by the success of Toyota, Japan took over from the Europeans to dominate the WRC for a decade. Following on from Toyota’s GT-Four’s first WRC win, Subaru won with their mighty Impreza 555. Mitsubishi had wins with the Lancer Evo series. And, of course, the Toyota Celica GT-Four continued to have its share of ongoing success. The Japanese domination of the WRC started in 1990 with Carlos Sainz, who won the first ever WRC Drivers’ Championship for a Japanese vehicle. This achievement was made possible by Toyota’s dedication to rallying, and its ongoing development of the Celica AWD. In 1992, Carlos Sainz, again, won the WRC Drivers’ Championship. Followed by Juha Kankkunen in 1993. Then, Didier Auriol in 1994. Toyota also had a clean sweep in 1993 and 1994, taking out the Manufacturers’ Championship, as well.

The Toyota Celica has been produced in various models since 1970, and rallying has always been a part of its culture. Quality engines, rear-wheel-drive platforms, well-developed suspension and balanced handling made the early Celicas popular in all forms of rallying. Couple this with Toyota’s renown reliability, and you have a recipe for success. In the mid 1980s, the rear-wheel-drive Celica turbos found some success in various rallies with their early twin-cam turbo group-B version. 200 of these Homologation versions were produced, the engine developing 134kW in production versions, and 240 in rally-guise.

The first AWD Turbo Celica was named the ST165, and was produced between 1986 and 1989. It was Toyota’s first preview of the highly successful 2-litre 3S-GTE engine that develops around 142kW. The engine was all-new and featured an aluminium twin-cam head, which was designed by Yamaha. This engine went on to power all future Celica turbos, the popular series two MR2 and the Caldina up until 2007 – all up, a 21-year period. In the Celica GT-Four, the 3S-GTE was configured to drive all four wheels constantly via a viscous-coupling centre differential. This ST165 has a manually selectable differential lock-switch, allowing the diffs to be switched to fully locked or to a limited-slip operation.

The second iteration of the GT-Four was produced between 1989 and 1993, the ST185. This model was a significant step up in performance, and strongly signalled Toyota’s intention to take on the Europeans in the WRC. The ST185 has a wider track than the previous model – at both front and back – and allows the fitment of larger tyres, resulting in better grip and handling. Bigger brakes, a strengthened sub-frame and altered suspension geometry was combined to improve the handling and predictability of this model. Changes to the turbo charger and compression ratio, along with a redesigned intercooler, saw production outputs rise to 150kW and 271Nm of torque. Importantly, the maximum torque was now delivered across a wider rev range. Visually, the most obvious change was the addition of the centre-mounted bonnet scoop. Not just for looks, this scoop forced air through the newly-designed flat-top mounted intercooler, which sits just below the bonnet. Capitalising on this extra cooling, the Japanese domestic-market versions featured ceramic high-boost turbos. Plus, pushed out 168kW for the lucky locals.

In late 1991, and to meet the requirements of the FIA for WRC, Toyota produced 5000 homologation rally-edition versions – known as the GT-Four RC in the domestic market. For the European market, the rally edition was badged as the ‘Carlos Sainz Limited Edition’. There were some subtle changes to this special model: the most obvious being the complete redesign of the bonnet scoop and airflow system. Instead of the raised scoop, as in the standard model, this special rally edition had a reverse scoop and a relocated intercooler. With this new hood design, air is evacuated from the engine bay, rather than being forced into it at speed.

The third and final GT-four model was the ST205. It was built between 1994 and 1999. Manufacturing 2500 homologation versions, it is the most powerful Celica version ever produced! Unusually, these homologation road-going versions were sold equipped with the full-on rally-ready anti-lag turbo system, as well as a water-methanol injection system – however, both are not physically connected. The ST205 model produces 180kW. It features a weight-saving aluminium bonnet, a twin-entry turbo charger and a ‘Super Strut’ suspension.

The ST205 was a positive evolution over the previous model and deserved more success in rallying events than it did. This lack of success was directly related to an incident in the 1995 WRC season. The Toyota factory team was caught using an illegal turbo-restrictor plate design in the GT-Fours, which appeared to allow additional air to bypass the restrictor, and potentially added additional boost. It is not clear why Toyota’s race engineers believed that they needed to take this tack. However, it is widely acknowledged that the race drivers themselves were unaware. Subsequently, Toyota Team Europe (TTE) were booted out of the championship and given an additional one-year ban. Juha Kankkunen, Didier Auriol and Armin Schwarz were stripped of all points in the championship – a devastating blow to Kankkunen, who had been in contention for the WRC Drivers’ Championship world title. This event was the turning point for TTE. Although the GT-Fours continued to run under private teams, the Celica never again won a Drivers’ or Manufacturers’ Championship.

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