1988 Toyota Celica All-Trac 2.0L I4 DOHC turbo (3SGTE)

Summary:

Awesome piece of rally history, just hard to upkeep

Faults:

For a car of this age which has primarily sat in a garage, I am not including maintenance and preparation to get a rare car on original parts ready for the road:

- Blower motor at @34K, about $40 for a new one and half an hour of my time to replace.

- Previous owner reported the transmission failed at around 25-27K, probably due to lack of use/maintenance. Was replaced with one from the newer ST205 Celica GT-Four. Clutch was not replaced at this time, despite the failure causing heavy wear of the clutch in the first place.

- Driveshaft carrier bearings/joints failing due to age/not being used. Driveshaft rebuild is around $800; I opted for a carbon fiber one-piece driveshaft for $1200.

- Intense inspection revealed poorly repaired steering rack mount damage which happened early in the car's life(probably early '90s). This caused large amounts of steering rack play and required that the firewall be rebuilt by a classic car restoration shop. This kicked off a months-long restoration project that involved removing and resealing the engine, reliability upgrades where possible, and a new clutch to replace the heavily worn original. This was not an inherent fault of the car itself; more so the fault of a poorly done 'budget' repair which is now being rectified 25 or so years later. Including the aforementioned driveshaft, this ran around $6,500 in parts and labor combined.

General Comments:

I used to own one of these and have a review of that one on this site. I regretted selling my old GT-Four and had been trying to get another one. These cars are very rare and clean examples are almost impossible to find. I somehow luckily found this one, with just under 33,000 original miles about two years ago. I flew halfway across the country to purchase it and shipped it back.

The intent on purchasing this car was to keep it as a weekend runner and road trip machine, while keeping my BMW 540i as a daily driver. It was totaled in an accident, leaving me to rely on a rare, unproven Group A homologation special which had spent the majority of the past 30 years sitting in a garage. I put 250 miles on the car the first week I had it without a hitch, despite only having driven a thousand miles in the past 10 years.

After a timing belt/water pump service and a few seals here and there, I proceeded to put nearly 8K on the Celica until the steering rack issue was found, a significant portion of which being a daily runner at a job that included a lot of in-town travel. This isn't recommended use for what is arguably a collectors car, but it did the job absolutely flawlessly. All the power options work as new, and the A/C even had a little charge left (though was retrofitted during the restoration). Taking the steering rack issue out of the equation, this GT-Four has driven nearly four times the distance in two years than my previous one traveled in four.

Driving impressions are overall quite good. Despite the aftermarket suspension and wheels the previous owner put on the Celica, it rides very well on smooth highways (iffy city streets are another matter). While by no means fast by modern standards, this was one of the highest output 4-cylinder engines of its time; it keeps up with modern traffic easily and passing power is definitely there. The cabin is comfortable and most controls are easily reached; visibility is pretty decent despite the side mirrors being a little small. As a daily driver this is a decent car that still holds its own with enough cargo room to grocery shop and tote around what I need for work. I do get a fair amount of attention from other enthusiasts (primarily Subaru/Lancer Evo drivers, who tend to know more about old rally cars like these) when I bring it out.

However, parts availability, especially body parts(and very especially the unique body kit these cars have), is nonexistent. Be prepared to cobble together substitutes for many common parts. A spare parts stock is a must for these cars. Engines can be swapped out for later versions of the 3SGTE (they made them through 2007), though custom wiring is quite expensive. Dealers can't get most parts for these; even a decade ago I was more often than not waiting for parts to come in from Japan, and even those stocks have long since dried up. These aren't easy cars to keep on the road, but are otherwise generally reliable if the maintenance is kept up. There is a cult following for these cars and a limited but dedicated aftermarket; if you look hard enough you will find what you're looking for.

Would you buy another car from this manufacturer? Yes

Review Date: 5th August, 2017

1988 Toyota Celica GT Convertible 3SFE

Summary:

A beautiful piece of Toyota engineering!

Faults:

Heater controls intermittent: After thorough troubleshooting, I found cold solder joints where the connectors attach to the heater control in the dash. Re-soldered... works fine.

Starter intermittent: Replaced contacts in solenoid. $15 fix. Got the parts online.

Starter intermittent (a couple of years later). Replaced neutral safety switch (Pull-a Part $10 vs parts store $215). You can disassemble, clean, and fix it yourself most times.

Engine sludged up from a plugged up valve cover. Be careful to watch for this. Didn't hurt it. Cleaned the sludge out.

New top at 120K.

Other maintenance: tires, brakes, struts, oil/filter.

General Comments:

This is one of the finest cars I've owned (40+). Toyota really made them well in these years, and the Celica GT Convertible was one of the top of the line offered.

Seats are a little uncomfortable for long trips.

Power accessories work well, as does the top system. Best I've seen yet.

Quiet, quick, great looking, excellent gas mileage (30+, no matter how you drive it).

If this one goes, I'll get another. If you can find a clean one that hasn't been abused... buy it!

Would you buy another car from this manufacturer? Yes

Review Date: 10th April, 2013

13th Apr 2013, 02:47

No, Toyota did not make them well these years because mine self destructed before 100,000 miles. You must own the last 1980's Toyota that still exists today.

14th Apr 2013, 03:09

Hmmm, define "self destructed". Also to the reviewer, you seemed to cover an awfully long distance over 4 years.

14th Apr 2013, 16:50

In the period of a few months, I repaired the engine, transmission, steering, suspension and electricals on the Celica I owned. Soon after, it stalled out in the middle of a busy freeway. I immediately took it off the road and sold it for parts. I did not want myself or anybody else, to be DESTROYED along with the car.