In its press releases, Toyota called it the “ultimate Celica.” It certainly was. With 200 turbocharged horsepower under the hood, all-wheel drive, a curvaceous body and traditional Toyota quality and reliability, it was in the running for the best compact sports coupe of its day. It was, of course, the 1990 Toyota Celica All-Trac Turbo, to state its full name, and it was here to establish the Celica’s bona fides.
The Celica line for 1990 represented the fifth generation of Celicas, replacing the rounded but rather plain fourth gen cars with a swoopy model that didn’t gain universal approval. Detractors called it “bulbous” and made other rude comments but, like it or not, it was a style that would be echoed in the Toyota Supra. The All-Trac had a predecessor in the previous generation, sharing the major features of the 1990 model, but it made ten horsepower less and wasn’t as distinguishable from lesser models as was the ’90. Starting in ’91, the 3S-GTE dohc 16-valve 2.0-liter four had an 8.8:1 compression ratio, up from 8.5:1, along with increased valve lift and a new twin-inlet turbocharger for 200 bhp at 6000 rpm and 200 lb-ft of torque at 3200 rpm. A 5-speed manual was the only transmission available.
The All-Trac’s all-wheel drive was a full-time system and the suspension was fully independent, with struts at all four corners and an anti-roll bar fore and aft. The front had a single lower control arm while the rear had dual lower links and a trailing arm. The rear suspension was unique to the All-Trac, sturdier to handle the torque transmitted through the rear wheels. Pop-up headlights were complemented by grille-mounted fog lamps.
The All-Trac and the front-drive 200-hp GT-S had special wide-body contours, with fender flares front and rear and a hatchback configuration only. Tires and wheels, 215/60VR15 on 15 x 6.5-inch alloys, were identical as well. The All-Trac, however, had a functional scoop over the intercooler and louvers on the hood. Disc brakes were standard front and rear, with ABS optional.
True to its coupe designation, the rear two seats were for occasional use only, at least by full-size adults. The driver’s seat is where one should be anyway, and here one would be confronted by a steering wheel with a fat hub, pregnant with an airbag, and an oval pod containing the instrument panel. It looks good even today and the traditional Toyota fit and finish. The front buckets look like commanders’ chairs from a sci-fi flick, but had lots of lateral support for cornering.
So configured, the Celica All-Trac could crank off mid-fifteen quarter miles and scoot from 0 to 60 mph in the mid sevens. Cornering was well balanced, with a tendency towards understeer that could be shifted rearwards with a trailing throttle. And it was a blast to drive on winding roads. The All-Trac scratched to find traction where none existed and could be pointed where it needed to be.
Why, then, did Toyota cancel the All-Trac after the 1993 model year? Well, after massively overestimating the first year’s demand—almost ten percent—Toyota drastically reduced the percentage to about one percent for 1991. There were 8,028 1990 model year All-Trac Turbos sold in the U.S., then 591 of the 1991 model year, 271 for 1992 and a mere 81 for 1993. With Celica sales slipping over all and the Supra to uphold the upper end of the performance market, the All-Trac was abandoned for ’94. But why didn’t they sell? Perhaps the $21,508 base price was too high for 1990. But what Brock Yates wrote in 1989 about the first generation All-Trac held true for the second: “…when we think of Toyotas, we tend to see workaday Camrys and Corollas…Do they have an image problem here or not?”
Well, obviously Toyota did.
Photo: Toyota Motor Sales USA, John Matras Media Archives