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In the Garage: 1977 Toyota Celica GT

The 1977 Toyota Celica GT Liftback owned by

The 1977 Toyota Celica GT Liftback owned by John Herman is pictured. (Credit: Handout)

1977 Toyota Celica GT Liftback owned by John Herman

“You’ll feel Celica excitement the very first time you drive one,” says the Toyota sales brochure for 1977. “And you’ll never get tired of it.” That could certainly apply to Herman, who has owned his Liftback since new and has kept it in immaculate condition. “The Toyota Celica name is derived from the Latin word ‘coelica,’ meaning ‘heavenly’ or ‘celestial,’” he says. “At its introduction in 1971, the Celica bound for North America was only available as a pillarless hardtop coupe. The fastback version, called the Liftback, was introduced for the Japanese market in April 1973, but not until 1976 for export to the U.S.

The 1976-77 Liftback was often called the ‘Japanese Mustang’ or the ‘Mustang Celica’ because of the styling similarities to the Ford Mustang, including the triple-bar tail lights that are a signature Mustang styling cue and the overall homage to the muscle car era.” Several years ago, Automobile Magazine deemed the Liftback a “collectible classic,” a car that is “undeniably handsome.”

Since June 1977

Herman bought the Celica new at a Massapequa dealership.

“The car today is all original, inside and out,” he says. “Being a fastidious detailer even before the word was coined -- waxing inside fenders, wheels and rocker panels and bathing vinyl and rubber in silicone -- my Celica is in pristine condition. Its penchant for rusting has made mine, especially in its condition, extremely rare. Taking it out on weekends induces intense rubbernecking.”

“Don't listen to others,” Herman advises. “In the early years of ownership, just about everyone thought I was crazy to keep a Toyota for the purpose of it being a collectible rather than simply for utility. It was that contrarian thinking that has, indeed, made mine extremely rare, as there are virtually no other first-generation Celicas on the road.”

“Given there are no all-original '77 Toyotas for sale anywhere,” he says, “it is anyone's guess.” The NADA Guides puts a “high retail” value of $9,000 on a 1977 Liftback without options.

“After sinking too much money trying to keep my first car (a used ‘68 Barracuda fastback) roadworthy, I heeded the advice of a similarly destitute college friend and bought a new, very plain ’72 Toyota Corolla,” Herman says. “Amazed at its simple, but bulletproof, engineering and reliability, I sold it five years and 145,000 miles later for another Toyota. Now graduated and employed, I could afford the Mustang-inspired ’77 Celica GT. Enamored with its 2.2-liter, 96-horsepower engine, smooth five-speed (transmission) and ‘amenities,’ including faux wood trim, FM stereo radio, headliner map light, full-length center console, ESP (electro-sensor panel) and woven vinyl seats, I vowed then to battle Mother Nature and keep this (to me) ‘upscale’ car forever. Well, here I am almost 36 years later, still keeping the promise I made to myself in my youth.” 

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