Oct 30, 2002 update to the Toyota Celica ST project car

Introducing our Celica ST

It’s a fact of life that magazine project cars are partially supported by our advertisers. They get exposure, we get cool stuff and if we do it carefully, the readers can get a lot of honest editorial.

What happens when we fund a project car with our own money? When it’s not a matter of picking up the phone, making a few deals and watching the UPS man deliver a fresh set of sticky rubber a few days later?

Grassroots Motorsports is a successful magazine, but that doesn’t mean we have money to burn on our own personal projects in the garage, especially ones that don’t hit all the hot buttons for advertising or editorial interests.

Autocrossing might never make it onto the Speed channel with nationwide airtime, but it’s a fun sport and it is also where most of our staff members got started in amateur motorsports. Per has been chasing national trophies for quite a few years now and has accumulated a few on the walls of his office. His best placing has been third in 1997, driving a 1995 Celica ST.

The Celica ST, like the rest of the sixth-generation Celicas, isn’t widely known for its performance potential. There aren’t tons of advertisers building parts for it, there aren’t massive clubs catering to its needs or even that many enthusiasts driving them. That’s kind of a shame, as it’s a very competent car that has racked up an impressive array of National wins. At last count, the Celica ST has won nationals five times in H Stock and once in E Stock. The GT version of the six-generation Celica has taken the gold another two years. That’s a pretty impressive history, almost matching that of the Mazda Miata, which has won nine Stock class open titles in total.

With the recent reorganization of the stock classes, the Celica ST has remained a potential winner, as its stable and competent chassis does well on Nationals-style sweeping courses. It remains low on horsepower in comparison to other cars in its class, but the absence of inside-wheel spin and relatively little understeer mean that all of its 110 horsepower reach the ground.

Everybody needs a reliable car to kick around in, and when Per’s Volvo wagon decided to catch on fire, a spot opened in Per’s driveway for a new daily driver. Being a car-guy, that means that it also wouldn’t hurt if it was fun to drive and could be autocrossed competitively on the weekends.

We were driving around in Cocoa, Florida one Saturday in February and noticed a Celica sitting in a Walmart parking lot with a “For Sale” sign in the window. From a distance we could that it was a neat metallic brown color that Toyota calls “Topaz” and that it was an ST model, complete with its 14” wheels and hubcaps. Closer inspection showed us that it was both a five speed and came without the headroom-robbing and weight adding power sunroof.

We called the number on the sign and set up a test drive. While the car had close to 150 thousand miles on it, we weren’t overly worried about the 7AFE engine, as they can go a long time before a rebuild. A compression check indicated that the engine was in fine shape, with all of the readings around 170-180 psi. The rest of the car was likewise in decent condition, some parking-lot dings and a small crease in the right rear quarter were the only blemishes in the original paint. After some negotiating from the original asking price of $4500, we purchased this 1994 model for the reasonable price of $3800.

First off, we knew that we wanted to run the car in G Stock, as that’s where it remains competitive. So, a set of lighter 14x6 alloys were required with a bolt pattern of 5x100mm and a 32-44mm offset. We found three American Racing AR-24s that were used on a Stock class Neon ACR for the low price of $50. A single AR-24 was tracked down for $35. A $4 rattle can of “Steel Wheel” paint from Pep Boys and we had a $89 set of 12 lb. wheels for our Celica.

In height of BFGoodrich’s R-compound domination of autocross, the 225/50/14 tire was THE size to have if you drove a Neon, Celica or even a Miata with 14x6 rims. With BFGoodrich now focusing its efforts elsewhere, many drivers switched to Hoosiers, which don’t offer the exact same size. Sure, they have a tire labeled a 225/50/14, but it is too wide to squish onto a 6” rim and their 205 doesn’t offer the same footprint.

Kumho recently introduced its new ECSTA V700 in a 225/50/14 tire at the low price of just $109 per tire. For $240, we had two of these shipped to our office at full tread depth. Our thinking is that for local events, the full tread depth wouldn’t cost us a whole lot and would offer more tread life.

A look through our neighborhood IT racer’s trash pile rewarded us with two nearly worn out 205/55/14 Kumho Victoracer V700 tires. These older Kumhos would work fine for the light rear of our front drive Celica until we could afford the second pair of 225s. When that time comes, the “new” Kumho will have a newer, softer compound (branded K6A), so the original two 225/50/14s (branded K8A) can do their business on the back of the Celica.

There are a few options for shock absorbers on a Celica, which is good as the original shocks are too soft for serious autocross action. GAB used to make an adjustable shock for this chassis that was very expensive, but it is being phased out. KYB makes a GR-2 (slightly stiffer than OEM) that is reasonably priced. Koni makes its single-adjustable Sport inserts for this fitment, these will run you at least $500 for the set, new. You can also mix and match factory struts, using struts from a GT (with the optional Sport suspension package) for the front and a pair of struts from the convertible in the rear. This combination is very cheap through the dealer or Toyota Motorsports (under $300 for the set) and has won quite a few Championships.

We were talking with one of our friends, Jeff Cashmore, who has taken his Celica ST (which is the exact same car that Per drove in 1997) to several National wins. He uses the OEM Sport/Convertible set-up on his car, but he had a set of new Konis that were never installed. For $350, he shipped them to us and we were in business.

Toyota’s factory documentation on the Celica allow for different size “camber” bolts on the lower mounting points of the front struts. With four different sizes of bolts (the large stock one and three progressively smaller sizes) you can get quite a bit of negative camber in the front of the Celica. The three smaller bolts are labeled with dots on their hex heads, with a 1 dot being the closest to the original, 2 dots being slightly smaller and three dots being the smallest and offering the most adjustment. We went with a 2 dot and a 1 dot for each side of the Celica. This gave us 2.7 degrees of negative camber. We set the rear to the maximum negative camber that we could get using the stock bolts (no factory authorized bolts for the rear) and set the toe at zero in the front and rear.

We’ve been playing around with the shock damping on the Celica and have found that on an asphalt surface, it likes 1/2-3/4 stiff in the front and 1/2-3/4 stiff in the rear. We haven’t played with the shocks on concrete yet.

We also purchased a set of the GT-Sport and Convertible shock combination, a set of TRD springs and a K&N filter from another Celica racer for the pretty low price of $140. We then resold the springs on Ebay for $110. So, we got a free set of spare shocks and a cheap K&N filter that dropped into the stock air filter housing.

For street use, we purchased a set of 15x7 Kosei K-1 wheels, in silver from The Tire Rack. This wheel has become the Panasport of the modern age, showing up on showcars and racecars alike. For street use, they are strong, light and easy to clean, a good combination.

Other appearance issues were addressed with a trip to a Paintless “Ding Doctor” visit and a trip to our local bodyshop. We had the bodyshop respray the nose, hood, roof and the rear quarter panel. The factory clear coat was finally giving up the ghost after 8 years in the hot Florida sun, so we took the opportunity to give the car the love it deserved.

Inside, we got a set of new factory floormats via eBay and a Wheelskins steering wheel cover that we purchased through IPD, our friends from the Volvo 122 project. We bought a MOMO shorty anatomic shift knob and matching black shift boot to replace the aging stock pieces.

We bolted on a Draw-Tite trailer hitch so that we could tow our 13’ Boston Whaler and the GRM utility trailer. The Celica is rated to tow 2000 lbs., so a 1000 lb. boat isn’t a problem. The car tows best with the shocks cranked up a bit, about 1/2 stiff in the rear and 1/4 stiff in the front.

So, how does it run? We’ve run seven events in the car in Florida, in between other project cars. We’ve been undefeated in G Stock and at our last event, threatened to get FTD overall. What’s also looking good for next year is that the Celica has not been beaten consistently on index by any one driver by anything more than a tenth or two…so on average, we are “right there” nearly every event. Not bad for 110hp and around $5000 invested in the car.

We also recently discovered that JIC makes two different exhaust systems for the 1994-1999 Toyota Celicas. The only other exhaust system that is available is a Greddy SP. The Celica is no 1992-1995 Honda Civic where everybody and their little brother make systems for it. We’ve also been toying with the idea of making a custom stainless system using a Borla muffler. We’re curious which would work best on our 1.8 liter 7AFE engine.

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