It’s time to look to the Japanese import world for our next head-to-head battle, yet another one steeped in the kind of rivalry only fun, affordable cars can create. Buckle up, Jalops. Today we’re looking at the legendary battle between the Acura Integra Type R and the Toyota Celica GT-S.
(Welcome to Who Ya Got, a new series where you get to vote on famed car rivalries, some more notable than others.)
The 1990s were a tough time for Americans looking for sporty imports. It seemed like all the cool shit was being saved for European and Asian markets, with the US picking up the base model scraps. But there was still some shit to get excited about.
In the Red Corner: Acura Integra Type R
Back in the day, Japanese automakers largely kept their very coolest cars to themselves. It was an era of pining after the neat shit you knew existed but just couldn’t touch. At least, until Honda sent over one of their favorites in the form of the Acura Integra Type R.
You could only get the Integra Type R in the US for four model years: 1997, 1998, 2000, and 2001. But it’s not like this was a widespread phenomenon, where everyone suddenly had a Type R. Only 320 cars were imported in 1997, with the most being imported in 2000 (at 1,355), AutoTrader reports. Here’s more:
But the Integra Type R was an impressive car. Somehow, it managed to eek 195 horsepower out of its tiny 1.8-liter 4-cylinder engine without the help of forced induction — and its tachometer went all the way to 10,000 rpm, with redline starting around 8,400. It went from 0 to 60 miles per hour in the sub-7-second range — that was pretty good for back then — and the ITR, as enthusiasts call it, reportedly handled like it was on rails.
These cars were pretty damn rare to begin with—so it didn’t help when hooligans started stealing ‘em. ITRs were equipped with a rare engine and lightweight parts that you just couldn’t get anywhere else. Not to mention, plenty of them were outfitted with modifications to make them even faster for stuff like street racing. With only a few thousand of these cars in circulation, it got pretty tough to find (and hold onto) one that actually still had its stock parts.
People loved these cars, calling the ITR one of the best front-wheel-drive cars of all time. But do the specs still hold up, or was it a case of lusting after something you just couldn’t have? We’ll let you decide.
In the Blue Corner: Toyota Celica GT-S
The Toyota Celica first debuted at the Tokyo Motor Show in 1970, making its way stateside the following year. A cute, sporty compact, the initial Celica looked like Toyota’s answer to the challenge made by the Ford Mustang. But what we really want to talk about today is the handsome GT-S model.
With the third generation of the Celica came the GT-S model in 1983. Here was a way to revamp the dulling image the Celica had been accruing over the past decade, injecting it with the sportiness that any automaker needs to ramp up the sex appeal. From the aptly named Celica-GTS.com:
The GT-S included larger wheels and tires, fender flares, sports suspension, and a sports interior including special seats and a leather-wrapped steering-wheel and gearshift knob.
Basically, the aim was to lighten up the car and make it sportier in order to appeal to a wider audience. You had your regular Celicas, you had your GT, and then you had the GT-S, just for that little bit of extra oomph.
The GT-S got even wilder in the Celicas fourth generation. Here’s where you see the hard lines of the previous iterations melt into rounded, flowing curves. The GT-S was upped with a 2.0-liter engine that produced 135 horsepower. With front-wheel-drive and four-wheel independent suspension, this is a car you’d want to take to the track. Or, more likely, to the streets.
The fifth generation is, in my eyes, where the Celica GT-S achieved peak badassery. Introduced in 1989, the GT-S was a hell of a lot more stylish in its exterior, just looking like it could go fast before you even cracked open the hood. Over in America, the GT-S was powered by a 2.2.-liter 5S-FE engine and featured aero door mirrors.
Here’s more from TopSpeed.com:
The  GT-S had a more aggressive system called the VVTL-i (Variable Valve Timing with Lift and Intelligence), which is similar to the VVT-i except until 6200 rpm, when valve lift is increased a fraction further to provide an abrupt increase in power, accounting for the 40 hp difference. The GT was available in both a 5-speed manual and 4-speed automatic and the GT-S was available with a close-ratio 6-speed manual and a 4-speed manumatic.
In 2002 Toyota also made some changes on the Celica GT-S, with the revs being limited to 7800 rpm, down from 8350 rpm on the original 7th generation.
In 2003 the Celica received a face lift, with a revised front bumper, revised tail lights, and the addition of several new colors to the lineup. The GT-S was also now equipped with a drive-by-wire throttle body in the manual transmission model. Throttle drive-by-wire, while shortening throttle response, comprimises the ability to use an aftermarket ECU, thus limiting tuning potential.
2003 was, unfortunately, the last year of the GT-S, but its legend in the realm of Japanese imports remains.