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Too Tough To Lose: The Group B Toyota Celica

Illustration for article titled Too Tough To Lose: The Group B Toyota Celica
Photo: Toyota UK

Group B has become famous for allowing the most unhinged, unrestricted, purpose-built race cars to ever grace a World Rally Championship stage. But in amongst the chaos was a kind of compromise car, not specialized enough to win, but too tough to lose. This is the Group B Toyota Celica.

I’ve actually gotten to see one of these things up close, a rare car even in the already rare world of Group B. I can’t remember how many Audi Quattros I’ve seen restored and rebuilt, featured in ads or YouTube homages. But the Toyota Celica Twin Cam Turbo (find its homologation form here) is a bit of a footnote to that major history, and it mostly stands out to mega nerds like myself. Even now, I don’t know if I love the Celica for what it is, or if I love it for the satisfaction that loving it brings me. I am different. I like the weird one, I say to myself, scrolling past pictures of its holy-grail 4T-GTEU engine, a two-liter turbo four making close to 400 horsepower with two spark plugs per cylinder.

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The Toyota Celica Twin Cam Turbo (nicknamed both “The Whistling Pig” for its turbo engine and “The King of Africa” for reasons I’ll get to in a moment) was Toyota’s entry into the World Rally Championship for the 1980s. Like the Audi Quattro, it started out as a Group 4 car but we know it for competing in the much less restrictive Group B heyday of rallying, when cars grew so powerful that they were poaching technology from Formula 1, so popular that fans were literally standing in the road, parting like the Red Sea to let cars past.

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The Celica wasn’t exactly a super specialized machine. It was based off of the normal rear-drive Toyota Celica of the time, the last of the rear-drive Celicas, still keeping one foot in the sturdy 1970s. Toyota didn’t go with all-wheel drive, like the Audi Quattro, so the Celica wasn’t as fast on loose, wet rallies. Toyota was also stuck with a kind of leaden front engine chassis and didn’t go mid-engine like the rear-drive Lancia 037, so the Celica wasn’t as fast on sticky, dry rallies.

Finland ‘83
Finland ‘83
Photo: Toyota UK

So it was sort of left behind in most of the World Rally Championship calendar, not advanced enough to beat them.

Ivory Coast ‘83
Ivory Coast ‘83
Photo: Toyota UK
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But what the Celica did have was toughness. It was able to take on the rough desert and mud stretches of Africa, and there is was more advanced than the rest of its class of more old-school rally machines. Nissan’s similar 240RS (also rear-drive and fairly production-oriented) was carbureted, while the Toyota was turbocharged.

Six times the Celica won in Africa: three times in the Ivory Coast and three times in the legendary Safari.

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So it was tougher than the other fast cars and faster than the other tough cars. It wasn’t fast enough to beat the best of the WRC in Europe, but in Africa, it was fast and tough enough. It is not the prettiest race car, nor is it the quickest, but it’s one of my absolute favorites.

Raphael Orlove is features editor for Jalopnik.

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DISCUSSION

orlove
Raphael Orlove

I held myself back from getting too into the weeds about the 4T-GTEU, which was making 380 horsepower on full boost, tuned back to 330 horsepower for reliability, per RallyGroupBShrine.

It’s kind of a peak point for Toyota nerds, as it was sort of the last gasp of 1970s twin cam tech, pulled into modernity with boost. For people who obsess over old school ‘Yota stuff, it’s the rarest of the rare, the nerdiest of the nerdy.

I got into all of this once I started watching videos of people drifting KE70 Corolla sedans and started dreaming of one of my own, or maybe a six-cylinder GX71, but that’s not important. Toyota nerddom got me, an dpulled me in. It’s not the most fruitful obsession, but it did pay off once.

I’ll copy paste this message I gave to Jalopnik’s internal chat room when I got back from Germany. I was there to drive a fast Hyundai on the Nürburgring and also get some reporting done for another story I haven’t yet published, but another car writer (the charming Dan Trent, who was Chris Harris’ editor at Pistonheads) darted off one evening to go see the Eifel Rally nearby. Dan double parked by the town square and I rushed in to get a race program so we’d know where to spectate. I got instantly waylaid:

while in germany I had my ultimate car geek moment

I was walking to get a program for the eifel rallye

which turned out to be in town this past weekend by chance

I turn around and see...

a marlboro group b celica!

I turn to the driver and codriver who are out in the service park and I’m like

hey bud

that’s not the original engine is it?

and the guy is like YOU BET IT IS

4T-GTE

he’s like “you know there are only five of these things in the world” and I’m like “you bet my man”

and then we geeked for a while

and it turns out he was a toyota motorsports engineer all the way through the end of f1

Dan is still double parked but I can’t stop from going over all the little details of the car, and then the driver starts showing me all the different parts that stand out to him, then he starts pulling out binders showing the full restoration, digital photos of him powersliding fully sideways across the road in historic rallies, then grainy film photos of him working on the car back in the day. I grabbed a few pictures before running back to Dan and maaking it off to the stage. Before he let me go, he gave me his card:

I get his business card and I was not ready for his name:

Gerd Dicks

Indeed, Mister Dicks was a very nice man, and has a very nice website for his very nice car.

http://www.rallye-engine.com/

I got to see it run on the stage, and it was nothing short of joyous.