1976 TOYOTA RA23 CELICA LT GT TRIBUTE

toyota celica 1

Tony Barker's wild four-pot Toyota RA23 Celica is overflowing with old-school cool

This article on Tony's Celica was originally published in the June 2017 issue of Street Machine 

WHAT if I told you not all street machines were V8s? “Sure,” you’d say, “there are plenty of mean six-packs out there!” Yeah, but nah; I’m thinking even less cylinders.

When you’ve slammed your classic four-banger to the weeds and ditched the stock engine for a grunty little JDM twin-cam, the flat-cap-and-elbow-patch brigade don’t want you, and the import boys lament the lack of plastic and ‘pssshew’ noises. Troy Barker’s RA23 Celica sits right in that no man’s land, so can we give it a home in the pages of Street Machine? If you’ve thought: “Ken Oath!”, read on. If you’re about to fire up Facey and give us a spray, read on anyway.

Toyota CelicaTroy’s Celica sports several GT badges but it’s a replica. The GT version was never sold in Australia, but Troy has fitted a GT grille and badges to match the GT engine, while the stripe package is actually a custom-made version based on the earlier TA22

We caught up with Troy at Adelaide’s recent All Japan Day, where his Toyota stood out like big orange balls against the retro-original tin and plastic-fantastic imports. “I had one as my first car,” he said. “All the kids at school had Geminis and Commodores, that sort of thing. The Celica was definitely something different.”

400ci Chev-powered Toyota Celica

Toyota Celica rearThe front and rear spoilers were made by a guy in Melbourne who builds repro Toyota items; originals are unobtanium

Troy hooned around in that RA28 liftback for three or four years but wrote it off when he pulled an all-nighter before an exam, fell asleep at the wheel and rear-ended a ute. While doctors stitched his nose back onto his face, Troy made the decision to one day find another Celica. “I can’t explain it; they’re just fun to drive!”

A decade on, Troy found this peach, a nanna-spec 2.0-litre auto in sporty Toyota Orange 352. With a minty-fresh interior and very little rust, it was the perfect base for Troy’s vision of Celica perfection.

Toyota Celica frontAs for the double-chin action up front, Troy laughed: “Yeah, that’s my own Frankenstein creation – the Toyota repro item with a second one I built from a MkI Golf spoiler!”

“I didn’t go full rotisserie or anything like that; the car was clean enough,” he said. “Honestly, I just gave it a closed-door respray.” Not that it was just a case of spray-and-pray: “My dad and I fixed up some small rust spots and made sure the swage line down the side was crisp.”

Despite the extreme stance, deep chin spoiler and ‘hippari stretch’ tyres, Troy had a stipulation – to run original metal wheelarches. “The guards are heavily rolled and pulled; a lot of people run flares, but I wanted to keep it clean. It was a bit more of a challenge!”

Toyota Celica wheelThose JDM alloys – SSR-brand Mk IIs – measure 14x8in on the front and a whopping (for a little four-cylinder) 14x9 on the back, yet the Kumho tyres are comparatively narrow 185s. “Getting the Japanese-style stretch was the only way I could run silly-wide Japanese wheels,” Troy said. But getting a tyre joint to fit them was another thing. “They’ve got to use a bead-blaster or an old technique where they use lighter fluid and blow the tyre onto the bead!” he laughed. “These actually went on pretty easy; they’re so much crazier in Japan!”

Troy assured us the tyres are safe once the rubber is on there, although keeping the pressure correct is important, as it is on any ride.

Toyota Celica front wheelHippari stretch tyres, deep chin spoiler, fender mirrors and extreme lowness all point to Troy’s Celica being in the JDM Shakotan style, which literally means ‘low car’, but he points out that it wasn’t intentional. “I did this sort of thing to Corollas and the like back in the early 2000s; now classic Japanese stuff is getting more popular here. It’s just what I like!”

Although Troy isn’t chasing quarter-miles, more power is a prerequisite if you enjoy driving, so the Aussie-spec 18R-C SOHC engine was dumped for a rev-happy 18R-G twin-cam, as fitted to the Celica GT in Japan.

“I sourced the motor from eBay years ago; in fact I’ve got two of them now, which is great as they’ve become really hard to find and really expensive!” said Troy as he tilted the bonnet forward in typical 70s Japanese car fashion. “They’re not a high-powered motor, but they’ve got a bit of a cult following in Japan.”

Toyota Celica sideThat swage line is a doozy; poor attention to detail along here can ruin an otherwise pretty car. “If you can nail that when getting your paint done, it makes a big difference; you see a lot of other cars where that line just disappears,” Troy said. Needless to say, this Celica definitely has it nailed

As owners of hot Escorts, Datsuns and, er, MGs will attest, twin carbies sound tits when sucking down great lungfuls of air, so Troy gave the 40mm Solex side-draughts a refresh, along with rings, bearings and all the normal bits and pieces before installing the motor.

“It’s got about 70kW at the wheels, but it only weighs 850kg,” Troy said. “It’s essentially a standard Celica GT motor; that’s all I wanted at this stage. I might rebuild the spare motor into a monster N/A thing, or maybe go an old-school draw-through turbo that will give me endless hassles!”

Toyota Celica engine bayTroy dumped the Aussie-spec 18R-C SOHC for the revvy 18R-G twin-cam from a Celica GT. It’s grunty and throaty, with a head designed by Yamaha, and the twin 40mm Solex carbs make a sweet induction noise when Troy blips the throttle. Despite the lack of hidden anything, it’s a pretty clean bay

How much attention the car gets is evident by my Dictaphone recording of our chat, which contains as much of me explaining to people that we’re trying to do an interview as it does Troy talking me through the car. One question that came up repeatedly concerned, unsurprisingly, how low the car is.

“Up front, I chopped four inches out of the struts then welded in a coil-over kit. Down the back, I had custom springs made by Industrial Springs just before they closed down,” Troy said. Four inches is plenty, and it gets the Celica way down low.

Toyota Celica front seatsTroy also sourced a set of Toyota MR2 shocks for the front and Koni adjustables for the rear; the factory items were like the bump-stops – useless. “It’s actually got a pretty good range of movement; it drives well and is fairly comfortable. It even gets full lock!”

Once again we were interrupted by people overpoweringly drawn to Troy’s Celica; so much so that it became evident the interview would need to continue by phone later. While he showed people around, into and under his little nanger, it gave me time to appreciate just how clean it is – testament to his build, but also his high levels of presentation.

Toyota Celica interiorTroy said he’s pretty much achieved what he set out to do: build a cool car on a restricted budget. “I did pretty much all the work myself; my dad Barry helped a lot as well. The car doesn’t owe me a lot of money; I’m pretty proud that I’ve got it to the point where it gets a lot of attention and a lot of people really like it.”

That’s a fair thing to be proud of, Troy. And if you’ve read this far, you’ll probably agree. Ken Oath!

Toyota CelicaTROY BARKER
1976 TOYOTA RA23 CELICA LT
Paint: Toyota Orange 352

GRUNT
Engine: Celica GT 18R-G DOHC
Block: Standard
Carbs: Twin 40mm Solex
Head: Yamaha
Ignition: Electronic distributor upgrade
Fuel: Classic mechanical pump
Exhaust: Pacemaker extractors, 2in straight exhaust, Lukey muffler

SHIFT
Trans: Celica five-speed
Clutch: ACS HD single-plate
Diff: Stock

BENEATH
Brakes: Stock (f & r)
Springs: Custom adjustable coil-overs (f), custom Industrial Springs (r)
Shocks: Toyota SW20 MR2 (f), Koni Red adjustable (r)
Suspension: T3 adjustable-camber tops, T3 RCAs, Whiteline sway-bars, adjustable lanyard rod, polyurethane bushings

ROLLING STOCK
Rims: SSR MkII; 14x8 (f), 14x9 (r)
Rubber: Kumho Ecsta SPT 185/55 R14s (f & r)

INTERIOR
Steering wheel: Nardi
Seats: Standard
Gauges: Standard
Stereo: Exhaust note!

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