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Toyota Celica GT-Four: PH Used Buying Guide

In the mood for some WRC-style action? Toyota's oft-forgotten turbocharged Celica could be just the ticket

By Lewis Kingston / Thursday, August 2, 2018

When Toyota launched the ST205 generation of GT-Four in the UK, in May 1994, it commanded a substantial premium. New, it would have set you back £29,235 - rivalling the £29,975 Porsche 968 Club Sport and clocking in at a staggering £11,736 more than a Subaru Impreza 2000 Turbo.

Price aside, there was much to like about Toyota's WRC-bred coupe. Its turbocharged 2.0-litre '3S-GTE' engine produced a stout 239bhp and 223lb ft, which was dispatched to all four wheels via a five-speed transmission and viscous centre coupling - while a Torsen differential distributed power between the rear wheels.

With mechanical sympathy suspended momentarily, the 1400kg Celica could sprint from 0-60mph in just 5.9sec. Flat out, it could touch 153mph. Braking power was provided by four-piston calipers and ventilated discs up front, and two-piston units clamping ventilated discs out back, while a four-channel g-sensing ABS unit helped prevent things getting overly hairy when braking.

UK Celicas weren't devoid of creature comforts, featuring air conditioning, an electric tilt-and-slide sunroof, headlamp washers and heated door mirrors. A WRC variant was also available, of which only a handful made it to Europe. These featured several upgrades, including a high-level rear wing, an intercooler spray, water injection and an anti-lag system - but many of these features cannot be used without further modification and the power output is otherwise the same.

These days, you'll occasionally see ST205s selling for as little as £3000. These will often be projects, though, often requiring engine rebuilds or substantial recommissioning. Sound cars in good order will otherwise command upwards of £5000, while particularly desirable examples can cost around £10,000. Even in immaculate condition, a good Celica will often set you back far less than contemporary offerings such as the Lancia Delta Integrale, Audi Quattro and Ford Escort RS Cosworth.

There are plenty of imports around, too - easily identified by their lack of headlight washers - and these can be a good alternative to a UK car. They've usually endured fewer UK winters and typically have lower mileages, resulting in them being in better condition. They also have some upgrades, including climate control and electric folding mirrors. In any case, buy the best example you can because tired cars can quickly generate substantial bills. Consequently, it's a smart idea to find a Celica that's been looked after and maintained to an appropriate standard.

Buyer's checklist

Bodywork and interior
Unsurprisingly, rust can be an issue - the earliest UK examples are, after all, nearly 25 years old. If the car has been neglected, corrosion could be more severe. Check the usual trouble spots, including the sills and arches, and inspect any chassis-mounted pipes for rust and damage as well.

Look carefully for any signs of accident-related damage - such as odd panel gaps, or doors that don't quite sit right or shut properly.

Regardless, get a history check on any prospective Celica purchase to help protect against picking up a car with a questionable past.

ST205 bonnets are aluminium and second-hand items are expensive, so keep an eye out for dents and damage. Many exterior parts, such as light clusters, grilles and front wings are otherwise still available.

Interiors are generally durable so just ensure that all the controls and instrumentation functions as expected and that the heater blows both hot and cold. If the passenger-side carpet is wet, it could indicate a blown heater matrix; a replacement costs a tolerable £60 but expect to spend a day taking the dash apart. UK cars feature air conditioning, which uses R134a as its refrigerant, so ensure that also works.

Engine and transmission
The GT-Four's 3S-GTE engine, which features an iron block and an aluminium cylinder head, is generally durable in standard configuration. Check the oil and coolant levels, and look for any signs of cross-contamination, and keep an eye out for leaks or smoke from the exhaust - which could indicate a tired turbocharger, or worse. Walk away from any example emitting ominous noises, unless you want to spend a few thousand on a comprehensive rebuild.

Be wary of tuned examples, unless the modifications are well documented and the power proven. A healthy standard engine can withstand around 300bhp and 300lb ft, perhaps a little more with excellent supporting components and careful tuning. Otherwise, the 3S-GTE is not capable of reliably supporting further substantial gains without significant internal work.

Inspect the general condition of the engine bay, hoses, ancillaries and radiator for any signs of neglect or age-related wear. An engine that's in good order should idle at around 650-750rpm and make sure routine servicing, including oil changes every 4500 miles, has been carried out. The engine also features a water-to-air intercooler, sometimes referred to as a 'charge cooler'; make sure the coolant level is correct and that it is circulating. Genuine Toyota coolant is recommended.

The 3S-GTE needs its cambelt changing every 63,000 miles or five years. A complete kit of genuine parts costs £120 and replacing all the parts takes around three hours. Budget £40 for a new water pump if there's no evidence of it being changed in recent history. Inspect the radiator, too, as they become prone to cracking and leaking as a result of ageing.

The E154 five-speed manual transmission in the Celica is tough and the only common issue is that of worn linkage bushes, which result in a sloppy shift action. Replacement bushes cost around £20.

A worn clutch can result in a substantial bill. During the test drive, ensure that it bites well and that there's no slip. If there's any sign the clutch is on its way out, you'll need to budget around £200 for a standard replacement part but also for around eight hours' worth of labour, as it's most easily done with the engine out. During this process you may well encounter other components that are past their best, racking up further bills.

A loud knocking from the rear end is indicative of a tired rear differential mount. An OEM replacement costs £160 from specialists TCB Performance Parts and is relatively easy to replace. Upgraded versions are available but these often compromise refinement.

Suspension and steering
The GT-Four uses Toyota's 'Superstrut' suspension up front, which can be prone to issues. If there are noises from the front end while driving, particularly over rough ground or when braking, then remedial work will be required. This is often caused by worn 'Figure 8' camber control links, which cost upwards of £100 each and a couple of hours' labour to replace.

That said, it's not uncommon for the lower arms - of which there are two per side - to also be tired, particularly on higher-mileage examples. Costs can spiral quickly at this point, as a complete set of arms and links will set you back in excess of £1200 in parts alone. In short, inspect the suspension of any potential purchase carefully and aim to buy one that has already been overhauled.

The rest of the Celica's suspension is conventional and inexpensive; a pair of top strut mounts cost £60, front dampers upwards of £170 and upper ball joints £35. Aftermarket coilover kits are also available, costing around £900 for a reputable complete kit - although some modification is required to fit these set-ups.

Wheels, tyres and brakes
ST205 brake calipers are hard to come by but seal kits are available for around £30. Complete rebuild kits, including new pistons, will set you back £100; reconditioned calipers are on offer for not a huge amount more. Replacement front discs and pads can be had for as little as £100 but using genuine or high-quality aftermarket parts will set you back closer to £300. Rear braking components cost a similar amount.

Those seeking more stopping power have a range of options, including bolt-on big brake kits from specialists such as Fensport. A complete kit, including six-piston calipers and larger floating discs, can be had for £1560.

The standard 7.5Jx16 wheels are shod with 215/50R16 tyres. This isn't a particularly common size nowadays and your options are limited to the likes of the Kumho Ecsta or Toyo Proxes R888, which cost around £95 and £130 respectively. You can run 225s on a car with standard ride height, though, which gives you access to a far wider range of tyres.

1,998cc four-cylinder
Transmission: Five-speed manual
Power (hp): 239@6000rpm
Torque (lb ft): 223@4000rpm
MPG: 28.6mpg
CO2: N/A
Price new: £29,235 (May 1994)
Price now: £3000 upwards

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