I’m confident that state that almost every car guy has a story of the “one that got away”. Nothing fishy at all, but there’s always been that one car, maybe that Bathurst Monaro that was going for a song, and you kick yourself now for not buying it when it was so freaking cheap.

I’ve had my share of those cars, along with a long list of “cars I should never have sold”, like an extremely rare Australian-assembled Hilman Hunter GT that I sold for $1,500, or the Triumph 2.5S Station Wagon complete with a manual/overdrive gearbox and Webasto sunroof that was sold for the same money. I must have been mad to sell them at that price. That’s not to mention the two-owner, low mileage and like-new Chrysler Limousine Coupe I sold for $6,500 and is now worth ten times that.

But you can also add to this list of motoring scenarios the “I accidentally bought a car” situation, a scenario that I believe is much more common than we all think. It’s that time you go away somewhere for a weekend, and end up buying a car when you really didn’t mean to. Married people will understand the added pressure of breaking that news (gently and in a planned way) to your partner when you get home. That’s never fun and I know of some guys who hide the car and don’t actually tell their partner. Brave men, those.

The “accidental buy” happened to me when I went to Hawera recently to work on our Project V8 Sunbeam Rapier. Yes, I already have a project car, to add to the need-to-tell-my-wife pressure. Not only that, but our project car was an accidental buy in itself.

I had to go to a storage depot in Hawera to pull apart the rear end of a written-off Lexus LS400 to see if the brakes/hub would fit our project car. While there, there was the need to move (as in, push) a bunch of cars around to get one out from the corner, so naturally I chipped in with some muscle.

One of the cars being pushed around was a 1993 Toyota Celica GT Four, a car I’ve always lusted after. World Rally Championship-winning car and all that, it was one of my (many) dream cars to own one day. This particular GT Four was looking pretty sad, with a bent driver’s door and guard, and a load of other work needed – not to mention being covered in bird shit. We pushed it outside to make room, and I asked about the car, assuming it was owned by the guy who owns the storage depot. 

But no, the GT Four was owned by another guy; it needed a fuel pump, it hadn’t gone for a long time and it was last registered in 2009 – but at least the registration was on hold. I said “I’d give him $XX for it,” as a throwaway comment, and laughed. Later that day on the way back to Wellington I got a call that if I added $500 to that price, the car was mine. Apparently, the current owner was simply over the car and the work that it needed. He still loved it but had too many project cars of his own. In a rare statement by a Car Guy, he said he’d rather see it repaired and on the road than sitting in storage, under his ownership. 

At the time of looking at the car (and not ever thinking I’d be buying it), I only took a photo of the back of it, and that was all, and so racked my brain trying to remember what was wrong with it. Lots needed doing, I thought, but honestly, I had no idea. This car could turn out to be a good buy or a money pit. Since most project cars are a money pit, my cash was down on that option. Of course, I said I’d buy it. How could I not?

PROJECT CAR: TOYOTA CELICA GT FOUR | BACKGROUND

The Celica GT Four comes in three different model versions depending on its year: ST165, ST185 and ST205. Our project car is an ST185. The two-wheel drive models are the ST162, ST182 and ST202.

The ST165 model years ran from 1986 to 1989, the ST185 from 1989 to 1993, and the ST205 from 1994 to 1999. All run Toyota’s 3S-GTE engine – a turbocharged and intercooled 2.0-litre, four-cylinder. All are five-speed manual, and naturally, all are four-wheel-drive. Power output for the ST165 is around 130kW, with 304Nm of torque. 

For the ST185, the turbo is a twin-entry unit designed to eliminate exhaust gas interference. The turbo has a ceramic turbine, with this fact proudly displayed on the side of our Japanese import.

Power output for the ST185 is 165kW, with 304Nm of torque. The full-time four-wheel-drive system has a viscous coupling with a limited-slip centre differential, with some models having a Torsen rear diff.

Since our GT Four is a 1993 but the ST185, it’s the last of that model so it still has the pop-up headlights, and the last of this model has a wider body than the earlier years of the ST185. It does look a little cooler for that wide body and this adds some desirability to the car.

In 1994 the ST205 version was released, with the 3S-GTE engine now developing 188kW of power. The ST205s are the most desired of the GT Four range, especially for their bug-eye headlights. They just look so cool. That’s the model that most people want, and prices are reflected in that with an average of $30,000 on TradeMe. Just five of these models were sold brand-new in New Zealand. 

Kerb weight for all GT Fours is around 1,390Kg.

PROJECT CAR: TOYOTA CELICA GT FOUR | WRC CHEATS

Let’s get over the elephant in the room; yes, Toyota cheated during the WRC in 1995 by altering the turbo’s design for airflow, giving the car around 50bhp extra power. They were banned from WRC for 2 years. They weren’t the first to cheat and surely will not be the last. 

PROJECT CAR: 1993 TOYOTA CELICA GT FOUR | TRAILER TIME

I managed to convince a friend with a Porsche Cayenne to help me go and pick the car up one weekend. Actually, it didn’t take a lot of convincing. Bruno also went to the Far North with me in January to pick up our original project car. Like me, he’s always up for a road trip, especially when you combine it with picking up a special car like the GT Four.

As thankfully the first and only hassle for our road trip, the Cayenne decided it wouldn’t talk to the trailer’s lights, so we ended up switching to a new Hiace van as a tow vehicle, courtesy of Signwise. Early one morning, we shot to Hawera to (finally) pick up the car. Arriving at the storage location, doubts were doubling in my mind on just how good – or bad – the GT Four would be. In the dim light inside, it looked straight, except for that door and guard damage. 

A previous owner replaced the front bumper with one from a GT Four RC, and the car looks better for that. The GT Four RC is a rare car, so having the front bumper from one is kind of cool and it looks a lot better than the standard bumper.

We pushed the car outside and took a harder look at it. The previous owner was there too, which helped to find out more about the car. As he was removing the head unit (I didn’t want it), he mentioned he had replaced the turbo and lots of other parts.

In the boot were some new brake discs, along with a new cambelt and water pump. It didn’t need these, he said, but there were there regardless. Also in the boot is the plastic petrol tank cover, taken off in preparation for removing the tank to replace the dead fuel pump. He did say he’d already had the pump out and cleaned it, but it only lasted a few days and then died again. Getting the fuel pump out of these cars is not easy. In the two-wheel drive Celica, you can access the fuel pump easily from under the back seat, but in the GT Four, the tank has to come out.

Walking around the car, there were numerous small dings and dents, basically more than one on every panel. But no rust to be seen, and other than general and annoying small dents and dings, the GT Four is looking pretty straight.

The interior is a bit of a bomb site, as rats had got in and chewed some of the wiring, so bits had been removed from the interior but not replaced. The seats were tidy, but the foam was showing through on the bolster on the driver’s seat, and there is sun fade on the top of the back seat.

Someone in Japan had installed new speakers by cutting huge holes in the door cards (!), so replacement door cards would be on the list at some point.

We lifted the bonnet and took a look. Not bad, other than the previous owner replacing the factory airbox with an aftermarket unit, although all the factory parts needed for the car were in it. The rest of the engine bay looked straight, but it needed a lot of cleaning up and I could see lots of bolts missing or loose.

We winched the car onto the trailer, stropped it down and hit the road home. We’d be stopping in at my friendly panel beater to (hopefully) drop it there for him to fix the door and guard, and repair the multiple dings and dents.

On arrival back in Wellington, we headed to his house and got the once-over on the door, guard, and overall repairs. The suggestion was made to find a new door and guard, as he saw that the driver’s door had been jacked up to get it to line back up with the car, and he also saw that the wall that damaged the door had actually hit the door lock, bending it slightly. Much easier to replace the door and guard, apparently. Taking a look at the whole car, all fixable things, but then the comment was thrown in that it really needed a full respray. With repairs needed on both rear guards, those guards are one piece right up onto the roof, so that’s half of the car needing painting right there.

This isn’t something we had budgeted on, but we’ll get some costs for a respray and go from there. There was no point leaving the car at his house until I find a guard and a door, so we took the GT Four back to my garage. This would mean that I could get the spare parts and odd bits of trim out of the car, and clean it up. It would also mean I could check out that fuel pump, replace it if needed and get the car running.

That night, I headed back out to the garage and hooked the battery up, which surprisingly still had some life in it. The GT Four turned over just fine, but as expected would not fire. Someone whose mechanical opinion I respect said he had checked previously and there was no fuel coming through to the engine, so either the pump was dead or the pump wasn’t getting any power. I’d start with checking it was getting 12 volts first, and then go from there, but not tonight.

Something that keeps staring me in the face are the tyres. They look ancient and checking the dates on them show they are from 2009. Dammit, I need to add 4 new tyres to the list.

You can see our GT Four is grey, and I (almost) hate grey cars. They’re the same colour as the road, so instantly you have added risk when driving. But I want to keep the GT Four original, so grey it’s staying. Keeping it original if we can also means installing a genuine stereo. I’ve managed to track down a Toyota by Alpine double-DIN head unit, complete with a CD changer. Talk about retro, but I love it.

Closing the door of my garage, I wondered if I had done the right thing; bought a project car without checking it out properly first. A full respray is thousands of dollars, not to mention all the prep of removing the glass, replacing the rubbers etc. Trying to find replacement widebody guards will be harder than I think.

Stay tuned as we move towards getting our 1993 Toyota Celica GT Four on the road, and back to original.

Many thanks again to Signwise, for the loan of their van.

PROJECT CAR: TOYOTA CELICA GT FOUR | NEXT IN THIS SERIES

Part 2

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Fred Alvrez
How on earth to start this? I've been car/bike/truck crazy since I was a teen. Like John, I had the obligatory Countach poster on the wall. I guess I'm more officially into classic and muscle cars than anything else - I currently have a '65 Sunbeam Tiger that left the factory the same day as I left the hospital as a newborn with my mother. How could I not buy that car? In 2016 my wife and I drove across the USA in a brand-new Dodge Challenger, and then shipped it home. You can read more on www.usa2nz.co.nz. We did this again in 2019 in a 1990 Chev Corvette - you can read about that trip on DriveLife. I'm a driving instructor and an Observer for the Institute of Advanced Motorists - trying to do my bit to make our roads safer.

1 COMMENT

  1. I used to own a 4WD ST 205 genuine WRC homologation edition with water spray intercooler, TRD instruments, turret braces all round, and the ECU without the speed limiter. It was definitely one of those I should never have sold. Good luck with your project, a great read so far.

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