1988 Toyota Celica 1.5 from North America


A mediocre first car


Transmission synchronizers failed twice.

Rack and pinion steering seals started leaking power steering fluid.

Valves had a few faulty seals which resulted in oil smoke on startups.

Leaky trunk seals allowed water to get in.

Popup lights would routinely have issues and fail.

Stereo constantly ate tapes.

General Comments:

This was my first car bought at the used car lot at a local Toyota dealer. Before I start, I will say that I think the previous owner probably abused and neglected the car. When I got it there were 125,000 miles on the clock, but the car overall had an awful lot of wear and tear for not really having that many miles, and this might have contributed to the issues I had with it for the 3 years I owned it.

First... let me just say that for a "sports" car with manual transmission and sporty appearance, the car was SLOW. The engine felt anemic and non-responsive. It felt like the engine was screaming in 1st and 2nd gear just to get up to freeway speeds. In comparison I bought a 1996 4 banger Tacoma to replace it (still own that one) and it felt like a rocket ship in comparison, which given it's a econo-truck speaks volumes about how slow the Celica was.

This car had power everything. And a LOT of those features wound up having problems. The power antenna, popup lights, stereo system, power windows and other stuff I forgot about would break or malfunction with great regularity. Eventually I disconnected the antennae cable and just left it up. The lights would eventually short out wiring due to the constant movement of the wiring as they opened and closed. I gave them the same "treatment" leaving them permanently up. And the stereo ATE tapes all the time and often times the tape would get stuck in the player. The stereo was like a lot of Japanese electronics and had exactly 12,000 little buttons, sliders and lights, most of which I never used or knew what they did anyway. But anyway the sliders and controls would collect dust, meaning using any of them would cause static and nasty sounds to come over the speakers. The foam surrounds for the speakers rotted and had to be replaced.

I kind of suspect the previous owner was negligent with the car's maintenance. When I first got it, I decided to change the oil and what came out was barely oil, but sludge. I changed it several times in a row to clean it all out, but from day one the engine used oil. Not a ton. Probably a quart every 1,000 miles. So I kept a bottle in the trunk. The transmission started popping out of gear and required me to hold it in 2nd and 3rd gear until getting to 4th and 5th. Due to the way the engine was stuck in the car, that meant a major job to fix and cost me $700 (a lot of money in the early 90'sĀ for a high school kid) to fix. Towards the end of me owning it, the steering rack began leaking power steering fluid. That would've been another $1,000 to fix. Given the car was worth $2500 at that point, I kept a big bottle of power steering fluid in the trunk also. It gradually became so bad that it had to be filled every other day. And then I sold it.

I'm a sort of smaller man, and as a kid I was even smaller, and even so the interior felt pretty small. The back seats were also sort of a joke and none of my friends were ever thrilled about riding back there. The trunk leaked water and no matter what I tried, I could never get it to fully become waterproof. Eventually that resulted in a musty smell. So I removed all of the carpet in the trunk and pulled the drain plug under the spare tire. Oh - and the tail lights would also fill with water, meaning pulling up to a stop light meant people behind me would see water sloshing around inside the lenses.

The ONLY good thing I do remember was it looked pretty cool. Like some sort of futuristic car. I'd get lots of comments from people at school.

All in all, I'm not sure I can blame all the issues on the car. I think the abuse it suffered from the first owner probably contributed to some of those things. But the car was simply not that reliable. It never left me stranded, but I also didn't trust to take it on long trips either. When I replaced it with the Tacoma, I made sure and got something with power nothing: crank windows, manual transmission, and so on. Comparatively speaking the truck has been much better. But that's another review.

Would you buy another car from this manufacturer? Yes

Review Date: 24th February, 2020

26th Feb 2020, 06:17

All of the faults listed in your review (besides the transmission synchronizers, maybe because they didn't know how to drive stick) have nothing to do with the previous owner neglecting the car.

26th Feb 2020, 19:17

I had a 77 Celica GT new. Not a lot of power even with the manual. Nice looking car styling for the day. They are collectible today.

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


Awesome piece of rally history, just hard to upkeep


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