Some time back I wrote about a Mazda 323 rally special. I think it is time to talk about another rally based sports car; The All Wheel Drive Toyota Celica GT-Four ST185. The ST185 is Toyota's most successful rally car. It won the WRC Driver's Championship in 1992, and the WRC Manufacturer's and Driver's Championships in 1993 and 1994.
We'll start with some history before I talk about driving it. The GT-Four 3S-GTE engine features an air-to-air intercooler and a single twin entry turbo. The JDM GT-Four has 225PS of power and 304Nm of torque. The Full-time 4WD system in the GT-Four has viscous coupling limited slip center differential and some models were equipped with a Torsen rear differential. The non JDM export market GT-Fours are wide-body with flared fenders (1990 onwards). The JDM GT-Four was also offered as normal body upon launch in 1989 and in August 1990, the wide body GT-Four A was added into the Japanese lineup.
The UK/EU model I had a chance to drive had 203PS and around 275Nm of torque. This was predictable of export versions of Japanese cars. During the late 1980s and early 1990s, catalytic converters were not equipped on Japanese Domestic Market cars and export versions usually have emissions control systems and these were power strangling. This was the practice in the good ol' days where engines made power without any hassle or pretense of being clean. You pump in petrol, the engine produces power. It was as straightforward as that in Japan and most of Asia back then. Of course, the United Kingdom being part of Europe had already started on emissions control.
The UK car I drove in '00 was owned by a good friend of mine. This rally special was brought back from the UK when he completed his studies there. Sometime in the late '90s my friends and I adored this car with the same reverence as the classic GC8 Subaru Impreza, the Lancia Delta Integrale and the Ford Escort Cosworth. It was one of those rally specials with scoops, spoilers and those big fat arches. These cars were the epitome of what a rally bound muscled sports car should look like and we ate it up everytime one passed by or when we saw a review of it in the magazines. So when we all grew up, graduated and started working, we wished for one of these as the car that we wanted to own. However, this pal of mine was luckier, he went to UK and managed to buy one for around Ł10,000 in 1996. In 1997 he came back and brought it back with him. Lucky bloke.
So we now get to the driving part of the article. So we know that when I was younger I adored the looks of this car and I put it on the same altar as the Subaru Impreza, the Lancia Integrale and one other Ford that while also fantastic, wasn't on my list of dream rally cars. Anyway, with those scoops, spoilers and wide arches it looked very butch. My friend changed the rims for 17in 215/40/17 tires so it looked better. The stock 16 205/50/16 looked very wimpy anyways. So it looked good.
But it was slow. It was. 200Bhp, 275Nm in that GT-Four was actually slow. With All Wheel Drive it felt so safe, so slow and so heavy. It is heavy as it weighs 1460kgs in export spec. The driving position was good, the steering was decently quick but due to the weight and the too sedately tuned engine (typical conservative tuning by Toyota) it isn't that quick on its feet. Compare this to an Impreza (type UK) at the time, only 1250kgs and around 208bhp you know what the problem was with this car. Weight. It will linearly move through a corner and all you have to do is just steer, without any drama whatsoever. It felt too slick and polished for its own good.
In fact, if you want a quite current Toyota model as a comparison, it feels like a Toyota Caldina GT-Four. A supposed sports wagon with the same turbo charged engine (255bhp) and around the same weight (1480kg). It feels like the Caldina GT-Four when accelerating. Very linear and without any explosive old school turbo lag. So that's not so good isn't it? In a normally aspirated car the throttle response is sweet, therefore balancing on the throttle is fun even with a lack of power. Here it's all or nothing. Throttle response in a turbo is limited to either off boost, and on-boost as at 70% throttle the turbo kicks in and it will feel exactly like if the throttle is mashed to the floor. But as the GT-Four was a heavy car, at full song it was still smooth and nonexplosive. You could actually fling this car into corners and it would just grip, grip, grip, understeer a little and grip some more and then get slightly bogged down with the grip as the torque isn't enough to really rocket you out of the corner. Not even going into a slight four wheel drift unless you're really, really fast. But that would make it too dangerous on normal roads. It has too much grip and too little grunt. Surprising for a 200bhp car. Nothing would really come out of it unless you are the kind of person who basically took a 80km/h corner at 140km/h, without braking. But that would kill you. And where's the enjoyment in that?
Actually this rally hero of mine was one of those cars that were disappointing to drive. It looked like a supermodel with curves in the right places and had a fabulous reputation yet it was too slick, too polished and too heavy to be a real drivers car. It felt more at ease as a Grand Tourer rather than an out and out sports car. I suppose the Toyota philosophy of quality had made their engineers over-engineer their cars during the late 1980s and 1990s. Maybe they over-engineered the GT-Four because it was meant to be a rally homologation model (but then again, Subaru kept it light). Whatever it was, the final outcome made the GT-Four what it is.
- Same as the car I drove, which was grey in colour.
- A Caldina GT-Four. This car accelerates like the ol' Celica. Except its an automatic