For starters, I wish I had a picture of this car. It was gorgeous. Unfortunately, I used to store them on that wonderful lump of the web known as Geocities and, well, we all know what happened to that site. So, here’s a stock photo from the internet.
Nonetheless, when I got this car in 2003, it was a gift from my parents for completion of college with a fantastic GPA. I truly did bust my ass in college, ignored cars completely and did nothing but work, philander, and drink to the brink of excess without going over the edge (too many times).
I remember my search for this car at the time. It involved many many hours of research, reading articles, and comparing statistic on a spreadsheet. Articles like this one were instrumental in my decision making. I wanted the most bang for my buck, but I also wanted a car focused on performance and not just comfort or other silly things like that.
On paper, the Celica appeared to be the champ in my price range. I had ruled out the expensive German stuff since I was heading into law school and wouldn’t have much money for maintenance. This was a Toyota, obviously it was bulletproof. This car was low, light, and wide – it would clearly handle well (and it did!). Finally, it had a whopping 180 hp out of a little 1.8L engine, which meant lots of power and great fuel economy.
Unfortunately, at this point in my life, I didn’t know that there was far more to a car’s straight line performance than just horsepower. I wasn’t up to date on things like torque, or gearing. I was merely intoxicated with the rush of power when the variable valve timing and variable valve lift switched cam profiles at 6000 rpm and surged to the redline of 8400 rpm with a VVTL-i kick in the pants.
You see, the Celica did appear great on paper, but the reality was that it was a torqueless wonder. It had a completely wimpy engine that was totally useless below 6000 rpm, and forget anything approximating performance with even one additional passenger (light weight works against you when adding more in). Finally, the gearing of the car was absolutely stupid – the shift from first to second would drop the car below 6000 rpm, meaning that it fell out of its optimal powerband – my solution was to keep the gas planted and shift as quickly as possible, and I could occasionally keep the car where it needed to be.
To further compound the problem, this was the first car that I ever modified. And I did not modify it with a coherent goal or plan – in fact, while botching the car up I learned many things. Lets go through the list.
-AEM Cold Air Intake: this taught me that if you get the engine cold air, it will make some power up top, but by increasing the length of the intake tubing you’re also going to create some bogging at low RPM which makes the car less than pleasant to drive around town, especially considering it already has limited torque at low RPM.
-TRD Cat-Back Exhaust: actually I have nothing bad to say about this, it was wonderful, sounded great, didn’t drown, and was lightweight. Well, I can say that since it was TRD all that means is that it was a rebadged Magnaflow unit that I could probably have gotten for half price.-17″x7.5″ Kosei K1 Racing Wheels (17 lbs): lightweight and wide wheels are a wonderful addition to a car – except the car looks stupid with aftermarket wheels if you don’t lower it first. Lower your cars!
-215/40/ZR17 Falken FK451 Tires: lightweight and wide wheels are a wonderful addition to a car, assuming you equip it with good tires. These were not good tires. All-season rating means it sucks in the snow AND in the dry. Get two sets of wheels and tires and use the right equipment for the weather conditions.
-Custom 5 Piece Ground Wires: a fool and his money are easily parted.
-Custom Stiffer Engine Mount: there’s a reason the stock mounts are softer – hard mounts transmit every vibration from the engine directly into the cabin. Its like non-stop epilepsy.
-TWM Short Shifter: there’s a reason the stock shifter has a longer length – its easier to move a lever that way. Shortening the shifter might have decreased the distance the shifter had to be moved, but any time saved due to that is lost due to the dramatically increased effort required to shift the newer little nubbing.
-C-One Raised Hood Scoop: ok, this was fucking awesome.
-Quaife Limited Slip Differential: LSDs are a great addition to any car for additional traction, but they also transmit a lot more punishment through the transmission, and a helical, while great for turning, isn’t optimal for accelerating in a straight line without causing massive vibration as it locks up.
-ACT XT Clutch: sometimes a totally butch clutch isn’t a great idea for a street driven commuter car. Great leg workout though.
-Fidanza Lightweight Flywheel (7.5 lbs): a lightweight flywheel is great for decreasing rotating momentum and spinning the engine up, but the engine spins DOWN just as fast – coupled with a clutch that is essentially an on/off switch with no slipping, this makes driving the car incredibly difficult, especially stop and go traffic which was common in DC.
As if that weren’t enough, I had pieced together an entire turbo kit for the car because I was a dumbass and hadn’t learned my lesson (this would be taught later down the road) that turbocharging a car that didn’t come from the factory that way is difficult, expensive, and probably not wise.
Fortunately for me and the car, I totalled it before I could molest it any more. GEICO gave me $1,500 more than I paid for it and off I went.