The Celica You Didn’t Expect
We have all been there. You know, when you are building a project and amped about making some progress on it. You have stacked your chips, made many sacrifices, bought another car to get around in. The plans are set, all of the images of influential cars are assembled, maybe you even have a rendering of what you expect the car to end up like. The hard work is supposed to begin but you soon realize everyone contributing to the project isn’t operating at the same speed you are. They aren’t treating your project like a dream but rather just another day at the office. Parts arrive late (or never) or they don’t fit or just didn’t mesh the way you expected. Then you find that the progress of some tasks aren’t just moving slow, but rather not at all. A few weeks, acceptable; a month is difficult to overlook but when you are dealt with a six month setback that is enough to justify a felony.
But that is the case with Theresa Tran of Long Beach, CA, who was persistent in overcoming these obstacles to build something to snap necks. “I wanted to transplant a 3S-GTE engine in my Celica,” explains the 22-year-old Mortgage Specialist. “So I bought a solid turbo powerplant and sold the 2ZZ-GE to fund the operation. So a few weeks led to a month which turned into six months and still no swap. I ended up having to buy another original engine and sell the 3S-GTE in the end,” she adds.
Ouch, that’s cold.
After the 2ZZ-GE mill went back into the bay, a whole fresh set of problems cropped up. This motor had issues and unfortunately it now became Tran’s problem to repair a motor that wasn’t nearly as tight as her original. “You’re way too nice,” I told her over the phone but she maintains that she learned a lot and will never be caught in a situation like that again.
But after the fog lifted, the powertrain of this car is something she is trying to build-up to new levels. With the previous set up including only bolt-ons like an AEM Cold Air Intake and some engine dress up, Tran decided that it was time to blend in serious power adders (read: forced induction). While Tran contemplated a Blitz supercharger kit for the 2ZZ, she was swayed by her support group to opt for a turbo setup. But with slim kit options out there, Tran chose a proven turbo and a SoCal shop that would make magic.
Based on the HKS 2835R turbo, the system includes some off the shelf and hand-built gear to make it purr. Tran turned to 5150 Autosports to take the HKS snail and connect it with requisite piping for both fresh and spent gases...
The network of 2.5-inch aluminum piping winds down to a GReddy front mount intercooler, further chilled by a NX N’tercooler system. The excess air is vented by a Turbonetics blow-off valve to save the pricey compressor components while an HKS wastegate regulates the fumes. The exhaust exits via a 5150-custom 3-inch stainless steel system connected to the 5Zigen canister. The boost and engine duties are controlled via a GReddy e-Manage, which was also tuned by 5150 Autosports. The target was over 300whp and Tran insisted that it had to be met or the supercharger plan was going back in effect.
Aside from the mechanics, the big draw here is obviously the wide-booty. This TCSportline widebody kit has been slightly modified from the original form to make it a signature Tran creation. “When the widebody was first fitted to the car, I was really pumped about the look. But I thought it needed some more punch in the front end and I wanted it completely smoothed out and molded to perfection.”
And Tran did just that by entrusting M1 Autobody of City of Industry, CA, to create what she hoped would be the “cleanest Celica in Cali.” Clean yes, cleanest in Cali... well, it is definitely up there. The TCSportline front bumper, sideskirts and rear fender flares were all carefully smoothed into their adjacent parts. Then some key elements were shaved off the car including the “CELICA” emblem in the rear and the keyholes for a baby-smooth style. When it came to color schemes, Tran needed something that would attract stares on the street and snatch some show titles but without looking overdone. To achieve this she borrowed from the trademark Eagle Talon scheme of the black roof and pillars and sided with a high contrast gold metallic done by MOB Works in City of Orange, CA. The final result had us sold when we first gripped it at the California Speedway and immediately began searching for the owner (and we never expected Theresa).
Now that the track of the car was widened, Tran needed to source some rollers that would complement the fat fenders. With slim options out there, she decided to go with a custom set of wheels that had “enough dish to sleep inside.” A set of DTM Kreuz 10 rims finished in black with a sick amount of lip (well, for a front wheel drive anyway) were bolted up. Up front are 19x9-inch with a 2-inch polished lip and in the rear a 19x10.5 with 4-inches of lippage. Surrounded by the stickiest-of-the-icky BFGoodrich KDW T/A tires with 235/35R19s up front and formidable 265/30R19s in the rear, this lightweight is stuck to the blacktop.
When it comes time to carve up that blacktop, Tran is certainly ready. With an AEM big brake kit, project Mu pads all connected with stainless steel brake lines, the system has its way with the 2,425 lbs. of Japanese steel. Hotchkis camber links and strut tower bars complement the already capable Toyota suspension and chassis design. And to roll in SoCal’s mountain passes, Tran opted for a set of coilovers that aren’t underneath the average Christmas tree. Tran chose the TEIN Type SS dampers with ride height adjustability and 16-levels of compression and rebound settings. These coilovers can dial-in for the toughest of Cali streets, all the way to the sweepers of Button Willow.
Inside the cabin, everything Tran admired about Toyota built quality and comfort was hurled out the window. I mean friends don’t let friends drive stock right? And when it came time for some improved bolsters in the seating, Tran scooped up some Recaros I’ll bet no one reading has a set of. The twin Limited Edition Recaro Tomcats are No. 5 and No. 6 off the line of a mere 75 pairs, with a certificate no less. These recliners, finished in black suede with yellow weave inserts come at a price though and that price is a hefty $1,700 each. The gold scheme carries on into the interior where, the bodyshop sprayed the 10-pound NOS bottle, center console and the Autopower Street rollbar. The carbon parts also filtered into the package with custom pillars and a Razo carbon fiber shift knob.
What SoCal whip like this would be complete without some A/V delicacies? Tran wanted to get a clean system in there with top-shelf fidelity and watch some DVDs as well ‘cause that’s how she rolls. Starting with a Kenwood KVT911 6.5-inch flip, the system also features a Sirius satellite radio tuner for commercial free tracks. A Boston Acoustics Z Series component system is found up front with a Pro Series system in the rear for mids. To produce some low frequencies, twin JL Audio 10-inch subs and a battery of Alpine amps to drive everything within a 100-foot radius away. A custom fiberglass enclosure with a Plexigass amp mount display the gear and the package is all connected with Monster cables and insulated with Dynamat. Oh and she has set-up an inverter to run the system off of AC power at house parties just in case the need is there.
Like any project of this magnitude, it didn’t happen easily. Tran even had to switch jobs and put in over 70 hours a week to pay off this project. “When I’m done with it, I want to put it in a Plexiglas case and store it in my living room,” she screams. That would definitely make it into Garage Life Mag, I told her. As a first effort for this young chickie, we’ll have to give respect. And now that we hear that she has 328whp at 18psi under her right foot, those that fail to clear a path will be persuaded to do the same.