Photos by Right Over Crest, and photomotiononline.com
The Toyota Celica All-Trac is represented by fewer than 1,750 examples in the U.S. They were developed with the same manufacturer impulses that created performance greats like the Evo and STI. With its already turbocharged 3S-GTE four-cylinder and its very un-Toyota-like and rally-capable all-wheel-drive architecture, it's the Celica your early-'90s inner fanboy always wanted. "Celicas of all generations were appealing to me, especially since 99 percent of them had their own moment to shine in the rally world," explains 34-year-old John Clayton, owner of this '91 beauty.
It's that turbocharged 3S-GTE of Toyota's that was, in large part, responsible for all the praise those All-Tracs were known for. Toyota produced five generations of the engine, the last of which yielded roughly 260 hp, but it's the second-gen version that North America's most familiar with. The 2.0L four-cylinder used in the Celica and MR2 Turbo features the sort of high-end engineering you wouldn't come to appreciate for another decade, like piston-cooling oil squirters, an air-to-air intercooler, and a twin-entry turbine housing you still don't know why you'd need. "Even to this day, the 3S-GTE engines and their close relatives are highly appealing," John says. "Toyota used the powerplant or a version of it in so many iconic race cars of the early '90s and '00s."
After searching far and wide for his ideal All-Trac (many of them tended to be in rough shape or corroded), the Austin, Texas, native was able to locate one in California without a spec of rust. He knew retaining the All-Trac's 3S-GTE wasn't negotiable, just not this particular 3S-GTE... "Hands-on experience started the second I purchased the Celica, since it needed a rebuild right out of the gate," John says about his and the car's honeymoon period some 13 years back. According to John, this All-Trac's gone through multiple engine builds, some replaced with identical and original second-gen motors, and some by means of overseas transplants. He's been grateful to have done the work with his grandfather, the man he credits for teaching him most of what he's learned.
"I finally swapped in a fourth-generation 3S-GTE—the current setup—which brought the car into the modern day, [as far as] engines go with its coil-on-plug ignition," he continues. Also, bringing the engine up to speed and making it reliable enough for repeated track use is a Treadstone Performance front-mount intercooler that's plumbed thanks to Dedicated Motorsports. Allowing the 3S-GTE to breathe freely are a 3-inch downpipe from TCS Motosports that connects to a custom mid-pipe and an HKS exhaust. John's dyno'd the car at Boost Logic to make 230 whp and 240 lb-ft of torque—not monster power but more than enough to have fun.
Paint and bodywork were also projects tackled by John and his grandfather. You ought to take notice of the Celica's more aggressive front end. It's not your typical All-Trac armor, but a conversion that was made available outside the U.S. that pays homage to Toyota's two-time rally champion Carlos Sainz.
John also spent a good amount of time fine-tuning the chassis and suspension. He installed K-Sport coilovers, poly bushings from Super Pro, and some heavy-duty bracing and a sway bar in the rear. He tells us the only thing left to do is upgrade the weak factory wheel bearings, and he's in the process of retrofitting beefier spindles from the new Toyota Prius (who would've thought?).
Many challenges and headaches have come and gone and John admits he's even drafted "for sale" ads when emotions ran high, then later deleted them when cooler heads prevailed. All along, though, John knew his Celica All-Trac wasn't the sort of car you own for more than a decade then unload in a hissy fit. It's more than that and something he can't imagine ever parting ways with.
"The end goal is to create my own personal version of a rally ST185 setup but for [the] tarmac," John—whose backyard practically belongs to America's own Formula One track, Circuit of the Americas (COTA)—says. He instructs at track days there eight times a year and puts his own car through its paces when possible. "I'm always searching for the elusive best lap time. Or mechanical failure. Whichever comes first," he says. "Build it, race it, break it, and repeat."