Why the Celica is a Terrible... or Good Platform
Updated: Mar 16, 2022
The Celica is a terrible platform
Here are a few reasons why not to buy a 7th generation Celica for road racing.
Struts: It's almost unavoidable in any modern FWD car, but the MacPherson strut front end can be a limiting factor in the handling department. There are no factory adjustments for camber or caster, so a healthy dose of hogged out bolt holes are required to approach a track ready set-up. Also, the car can not be lowered without severely compromising the roll center and camber curves.
Wheel bolt pattern: This has been my most costly headache to date. The Celica has a 5x100 wheel bolt pattern. To fit a reasonably wide wheel under the fenders, a wheel with a high positive offset is required. To avoid stretching the gearing way out of the power band, a small diameter wheel and tire combination is preferred. Running a Mazda FD wheel with a hub adapter was the perfect solution, until everyone stopped making/carrying the 215/45R16's needed to keep the gearing reasonable. The more readily available 225/45R15's is the best solution, until you try to find a 15x8 5x100 wheel, or a 15x8 with a high positive offset to make room for an adapter. The point is the wheel bolt pattern narrows your options significantly.
Brake pads: Off the shelf, racing brake pads are few and far between for this model. EBC has a couple of compounds available, but all of the reading/asking around I have done on them seems to indicate that they require a significant amount of heat in them before they start working. Hawk's HT-10 is currently available, and has been a great pad for our purposes. They are, however, pretty expensive, and as the sole racing compound available, I fear they will eventually be discontinued.
Engines: There are two engines available for the 7th generation Celica; the 1zz and 2zz, both being 1.8L, 4 cylinder, aluminum block, 16 valve engines with variable valve timing. The difference being the 2zz's "lift" system, similar to that of a VTech, with a second intake cam profile activated in the high rpm range.
The 1zz is lightweight and decently powered for it's displacement, and when properly maintained it will run forever. However, the early 1zz's found in the Celica GT's have a habit of consuming mass amounts of oil and puking it out the tailpipe in a blue cloud. The oil scraper rings on the pistons gum up and stop clearing the cylinder walls of oil. Then the oil flows past the compression rings and out the exhaust. The fix is to enlarge the drain holes behind the scraper rings to help clear them rather than the oil baking into the ring lands. Every 1zz I have had was plagued with this issue. It's a time consuming fix, but once it's done, the engine should be fairly bulletproof.
The 2zz has an entirely different set of problems. Although the 1zz and 2zz oil pans are the same external structure, the 1zz has a windage tray built into the pan to prevent oil from sloshing away from the oil pump pick-up. For some reason, the performance minded 2zz does not. The 1zz pan can be used with some clearancing, but it's something to keep in mind if you bolt in a stock 2zz. The 2zz is a high revving engine, and has been known to break the oil pump gear during over revs. There are varying opinions on why this happens, but oil cavitation seems to be the root cause.
It’s not a Civic: If you add up all the non-Civic FWD endurance racers out there and then double it, it still wouldn’t be as many as there are Civics. With the best power plants in the business and infinite aftermarket support, buying a Civic is a no brainer. There are always guys around to lend parts or advice when things go bad, and anything that can be done has been done, so you don't have to waste time and money on R&D. So what are you waiting for, go buy a civic.
The Celica is a Good Platform
Here are a few reasons to buy a 7th generation Celica for road racing.
Weight: With a curb weight under 2500lbs, you are off to a good start before you gut the car for a cage. There is not a massive amount of weight to shed compared to a fully loaded family sedan, but even after installing a cage and fire system etc, a dry weight under 2100lbs is attainable.
Rear suspension: Unlike the Celica’s siblings, the Corolla and Matrix, which use a torsion beam rear end, the Celica has an independent multi-link rear end. Camber and toe are easily adjustable (once you unseize the hardware), and it handles predictably out of the box.
Fuel Capacity: The OEM fuel tank holds 14.5 gallons, which is decent for the class of car. We have no problem getting 2 hour stints at Shannonville and Calabogie with the 1zz engine. Mosport is another story.
Engines: If you stick to the 140hp 1zz, they are readily available in any junkyard or online classified. These engines were used in several of Toyota’s vehicles as well as Pontiac Vibes, Geo Prizms and the Lotus Elise. The 2zz was available in many of the same models, but as a performance package, so they are a little harder to come by. Like anything else in life, if you are willing to fork out the cash, they are out there.
It’s not a Civic: It’s a bit of a stretch to put this in the pro’s column, but let's give it a try. The daily driven Celica crowd tends to be a fart can and go-fast stickers type of group, which generally means the engine bays have gone unmolested, eliminating most surprised when buying a not so gently used donor car. More importantly, being the only Celica in our series, there is no benchmark for performance. This allows us to focus on our own performance and learn at our own pace. That, and a little variety makes things a little more interesting for the spectators. So there is that.