If someone asked you to name some of the hottest Japanese sports cars of the early 90s, you’d probably come up with a list of the usual suspects, wouldn’t you? Supra, RX-7, 3ooZX, 3000GT, DSM, NSX. I bet Celica Alltrac would only be the first car you named if you were A) a die hard rally fan or B) owned a Celica Alltrac. Enter John Clayton of Prescott, Arizona. He owns such an automotive unicorn and he agreed to tell me a little bit about it; why he bought it, how rare it is, how difficult it is to build, and how he’s overcome some tricky obstacles since he picked it up
INTRODUCTIONS: JOHN CLAYTON
Born and raised right here in Arizona, John lives a little over an hour north of Phoenix in Prescott (pronounced “PRESS-kit” by the way), home of the Prescott Rally, which happens to be where I first spotted his car back in 2011. He’s a blue printer at a body shop, where he disassembles and documents the assemblies. John’s one of those lucky guys who loves his job, but it’s a fine line being a gearhead and working on cars all day – are you really going to want to go home and pop your own hood? In December, John will be graduating with a degree in fire science and hopes to pursue a career in the medical/emergency profession, allowing him to put the automotive stuff squarely in the hobby zone.
INTRODUCTIONS: 1991 TOYOTA CELICA ALLTRAC
John told me the ST185 Celica was released to the public in very limited numbers. From 1990 to 1993, only 2,500 Celica Alltracs were imported to North America, making them one of the rarest of all imports. “I bought the car on New Year’s Day 2007.” John says. “I fell in love with Toyota back in high school when I bought my 1992 Camry. I came to love and appreciate the reliability of their motors and their deep roots in racing, specifically World Rally Championship (WRC) racing. I became enthralled watching videos of the ST165/85/205 group.” The Group B monsters of the mid-80s won him over and he was on the hunt for a monster of his own. After scouting countless vehicle ads online, Clayton found his ST185 Celica on Ebay Motors, located in Mission Viejo, California. A little help from grandpa in the form of a truck and trailer, and he was off to collect his Alltrac.
LOVE AT FIRST SIGHT, DESPITE ITS FLAWS
It was love at first sight, though it’s not like John just bought the car as you see it here today. “There were mismatched and unaligned body panels, the tires were shot, it was dumping every kind of fluid it held, and – to top it all off – the transmission was leaking at the input shaft seal, saturating the clutch. The car was barely movable. Still, with all its flaws, I saw the amazing car it could be,” said John. “It also had a good amount of JDM parts already installed, including the Carlos Sainz hood, front bumper, front corner lights, rear vented tail lights, and mirrors.” Wallet sufficiently lightened, Clayton was the proud owner of his very own homologated rally monster.
A year later, John’s rare Celica was almost back to stock specifications and running like the limited edition, world class sports car it was meant to be. Owning the car inspired Clayton to be even more engulfed in the motorsport history of the Alltrac and he remains a passionate and loyal enthusiast of the Alltrac culture.
“MAKE IT WORK OR FIT” MENTALITY
“Owning this car is a challenge every time I turn around,” John told me. “There is little to no aftermarket support for it. The support I do find is of the super rare and super costly kind. So usually when I find a very cool mod or style that I would like to incorporate into the Celica, I must take on a ‘make it work or fit’ mentality.” He loves all types of cars and styles, and says the diversity of builds out there right now is mind blowing. John takes his queues from a wide variety of platforms, with a road going rally car being the foundation beneath it all. The Alltrac/GT4 does share an engine with MR2 turbo, but otherwise there is practically nothing else common to the car. Fortunately, the MR2 community enjoys relatively robust aftermarket support, making engine tuning and horsepower gains reasonably achievable.
As we were waiting for the class winners at the Prescott Rally to break out the champagne spray, (my service crew duties all but done at that point), I noticed John just standing back, watching people look over his engine bay. Alltracs are rare enough as it is, but the Carlos Sainz versions are practically made of unicorn bits. Yet he still pretty much daily drives this thing! I asked him how he can bear to drive such a mint, exceedingly rare – and increasingly irreplaceable – car on the street.
“The parts I have on the car from the RC model (Carlos Sainz signature package) are becoming super rare and expensive. You can still get online and find the parts, but they are slowly sliding off the market. When you do find an item – be ready to pay. I have seen my front bumper asking price as high as US$2,000. This definitely makes me nervous; every time I drive it, I’m on the look-out for those stupid drivers who couldn’t care less. I will never stop driving it though. I built it to drive it. That’s why it exists. No matter how nice it becomes – or how irreplaceable parts may become – there is nothing I enjoy more than putting the car through its paces on a curvy road.”
WHAT MAKES THE ALLTRAC UNIQUE? WHAT DO YOU LIKE MOST ABOUT IT?
John says, one of the most unique things about the car is how very rare it is he comes across someone who actually knows what it is.”I always get asked what the car is. And, when I tell them, they still have no idea. If I had to pick a feature I like most about the car, it would be how bullet-proof the driveline and chassis is out of the box. My transmission needs zero mods until you put about 700WHP through it. The components under the car, such as spindles, are all super heavy duty and strong as nails. It really is a rally car that was sold to the public, I love it.”
When asked what’s been the biggest challenge thus far, John tells me one mod comes to mind – a Honda S2000 instrument cluster swap. Fairly common in the Honda world, there’s no shortage of how-tos and write-ups for installing these clusters in non-S2000s, but there weren’t any for a limited edition, homologated Toyota. So why do it?
“My cable-driven, factory speedometer failed. The internal driven gear went MIA so I had to start from scratch. (Make it work or make it fit, after all.) After lots of homework, I found what type of signal the S2K demands and bought a Hall Effect sensor. I mounted the sensor in the scatter shield surrounding my front axle, using the six axle bolts as points. When all was said and done, the cluster is accurate to within 2mph/3.2kph, with all lights functioning such as door and hatch ajar. It also looks right at home in the 91 Celica dash. While this mod has so much support for common cars such as Civics – some even being plug and play – it was a tad bit more challenging for me and the Alltrac.”
ON THE HORIZON
As much as John wants to say his Alltrac is done, he can’t. (Can any of us?) He says, “The car is always evolving and changing. Things I have my eye on for the next steps are seats, brakes, roll cage, and wheels. Eventually the car will see a repaint as well – I’m thinking flat red next – but that’s not 100% decided yet. For seats, I really love Brides. Brakes are going to be from a 98-02 Porsche 911 Turbo, as a member of my home forum has developed custom brackets for these to bolt right up – thank god – as there aren’t many options out there in this department. I’m also very excited to see what wheel companies start offering for the Scion FR-S and the BRZ, as they are both 5×100 [bolt pattern ~bd], same as the Celica. But for now, all of that is in the ‘would be nice to have’ category. I am in no rush to go any further with the car, simply enjoying it as it is.”
When asked what he’s learned about himself in the time he’s owned his Alltrac, John replies, “I’ve learned that I am very persistent and maybe a little obsessive. The passion I have for my car is sometimes overwhelming – even to me – but its not just my car. Maybe I’m a little biased towards it, but I love all things automotive. If it has four wheels and an engine, I’m an enthusiast. I have also learned that my girl Liz (personal photographer as well) is very devoted to me and will put up with just about anything from me, and for that – shes a keeper.”
WOULD YOU LIKE TO KNOW MORE?
John’s a regular on alltrac.net, going by CSAlltrac., where he has hundreds, possibly thousands, of pictures of the car through all of its phases over time. He says it’s a very good place with very cool people, both of which are filled with all the information anyone could ever want to know about these cars.
Next time you’re talking Japanese sports cars with your buddies and everyone’s throwing around the usual suspects, make sure you’re the one with the good taste to bring up the Toyota Celica Alltrac. Your worries about rarity are probably justified, but the exclusivity of driving such a clean example as John Clayton’s leaves this author thinking it might just be worth the risk.