Collectible Classic: 1976-1977 Toyota Celica GT Liftback

Putting a sporty coupe body over basic sedan mechanicals is a time-honored strategy in the automobile business. None employed it with more spectacular success than Ford in the mid-1960s with the Mustang. Toyota obviously was paying attention, because in 1971 it did a similar thing with its ho-hum Corona sedan, creating the Celica, a car that would become a minor sensation for the fast-growing Japanese brand. Five years later, Toyota took another page from the Mustang's playbook by bringing out a second body style, the Celica GT Liftback.

If anything, the hatchback even more closely copied from the Mustang, with its triple rectangular taillights, trim bits behind each rear-quarter window, pronounced haunches, and slight up-kick at the back of the rear fenders. Like the Mustang, both the notchback and hatchback Celicas had sport-coupe proportions, with a long hood and a small passenger compartment. And like the Mustang, the Celica looked good. In an era when Japanese car styling was often just a bit off, the Celica -- particularly in Liftback form -- was undeniably handsome.

Perhaps that's why, for those who came of age in the late '70s and early '80s, the Celica was a desirable machine. At the time, Japanese economy cars were everywhere -- the result of gas-price panics in 1973 and 1979 -- but the Celica was one of the few that actually managed to be cool.

Although the Celica doesn't have anywhere near the following of the Mustang, it can still turn heads today. Certainly this silverexample, which has less than 10,000 miles on the clock, turned the head of Tommy Sullivan, a police captain in Larchmont, New York. He spied it parked at a service station where it was getting its New York State annual inspection.

Sullivan, who has owned a string of modern Toyotas, says, "I just love the old Japanese stuff." He is of that era. "The '70s was when I started driving," he says. "And my parents had big GM and Ford products. But my sister's boyfriend had a Corolla Liftback, which I thought was the neatest car. And I ended up learning to drive a stick shift on a Datsun B210. After high school, I had a '73 Camaro, but then my friend got a Datsun 240Z and I begged him to trade me." Eventually, Sullivan got a 280Z of his own (which he still has). But he couldn't stop thinking about the Celica that he'd seen at that service station.

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