Drop-Top Toyota Celica or Doorstop-Shaped Subaru XT6: Choose Your Pop-Up Headlights

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Welcome back to Shitbox Showdown! Time once again to get our hands dirty looking at a couple of cars that cost less than a week at an all-inclusive resort, but don’t include the watered-down drinks or karaoke night. It looks like young Thomas was having a little fun in here over the weekend. I don’t mind, of course, but he left a half-eaten container of poutine next to the keyboard. I’m not your maid, sonny boy; pick up after yourself. Dang kids.

This week was supposed to be all Japanese cars, but you know how it goes: If you’re not looking for something, you’ll find it everywhere, but as soon as you start searching, they vanish like the cockroaches in the kitchen of your first apartment. I found plenty of Camrys and Accords, but there’s only so much to be said about those. So today we’ll look at a couple of sporty Japanese numbers, and the rest of the week we’ll look at all the other cool stuff I found that I wasn’t actually looking for.

But before we get into those, there is the small matter of last week’s champion to settle.

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Well, would you look at that? Despite the howls and protestations of so many commenters, the old K-car derivative has emerged victorious. A narrow win, but a win nonetheless. A few people have requested ranked voting for Fridays; I’ll see what I can do.

[Editor’s note: How the hell did a K-Car beat out a diesel Merc, a V-4 (!) Saab, and a sweet little stickshift Ford/Mazda truck? This makes no sense. Please help me understand. -DT].

Now, let’s take a look at today’s competitors:

1993 Toyota Celica convertible – $2500

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Engine/drivetrain: 2.2 liter inline 4, 4 speed automatic, FWD

Location: Clearlake, CA

Odometer reading: 186,000 miles

Runs/drives? Yes indeed

Everybody knows someone who once had a Toyota Celica, but no one has ever had one themselves. I’m not sure how that works, exactly, but when the subject of the Celica comes up, which admittedly isn’t often, it’s always “my friend/roommate/girlfriend’s sister had one.” They’ve rarely raised the interest or pulse of most enthusiasts, with the exception of a few special versions like the turbocharged all-wheel-drive GT-Four (or All-Trac as it was known in the US). Most Celicas were more like this one: sporty-looking but not particularly sporty, stylish but forgettable — exactly the sort of car your friend’s roommate’s girlfriend’s sister would drive, I guess.

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The convertible versions like this were made from coupes, modified by ASC in California — even the ones that were sold in Japan. This one hasn’t strayed too far from home, and unlike any other California car we’ve featured (as far as I can remember anyway), this one just passed a smog test and has fresh registration. It has lived a bit of a hard life, it looks like, and yes, that bungee cord is actually holding the trunk shut. A replacement latch might be hard to come by, but you can probably come up with something better than a bungee cord.

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Inside, things look… dusty. A good vacuuming and some Armor-All would go a long way here. But the clean mechanical bill of health from the state of California is encouraging, and this looks like it would make a good reliable runabout if you wanted a convertible. It won’t set the world on fire – the 2.2 liter four and overdrive automatic used here could also be found in the contemporary Camry – but it’ll keep chugging along for a good long while yet. And hey – the top works.

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1988 Subaru XT6 – $2250

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Engine/drivetrain: 2.7 liter horizontally-opposed 6, 5 speed manual, AWD

Location: Denver, CO

Odometer reading: 159,500 miles

Runs/drives? Yes, but needs some work to be roadworthy

Before Subaru became the official station wagon manufacturer of farmer’s markets everywhere, the company built this doorstop-shaped sports coupe, starting in 1985. Dubbed the XT in the U.S. and the Alcyone in Japan, it was completely different from anything else Subaru sold at the time. Hell, it was completely different from anything anyone else sold at the time. Sleek, wedgey, and futuristic, it looked out of place next to Subaru’s sedans, hatchbacks, and wagons, which in the ’80s didn’t even have a model name in the US.

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That high-tech futurism also showed in the mechanical specification, which included available four wheel drive activated by a push-button on the top of the pistol-grip manual sgearshift (Subaru wouldn’t make AWD standard across the board until the mid-1990s), a turbocharged engine, and an adjustable-height air suspension. By 1988, when this XT was made, it had gained two cylinders and permanent all-wheel-drive to become the XT6.

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The seller claims to have spent a lot of money whipping this one back into shape, presumably after some years of neglect, but abandoned it after finding a newer Subaru. This fickle behavior has left the XT6 half-finished and looking for a new home. The power steering is out, which may be a problem because the XT6 uses an unusual electro-hydraulic power steering setup that is probably a nightmare to fix and requires special very expensive fluid from Subaru [Editor’s note: Toyota MR2s of the era also used an electrohydraulic power steering design. In fact, MR2 pumps are favorites amont folks converting cars to EVs. I wonder if you could retrofit it to work in this XT6 and safe a few bucks? -DT] . Luckily it’s not a very big or heavy car, so just work on your upper body strength and you’ll be fine.

The outside looks a little scruffy, but it’s such an unusual car that you could probably leave it as-is and still get admiring looks and comments from car folks. And that cool asymmetrical steering wheel and pistol-grip gearshift are sure to be conversation starters at Cars & Coffee. Every photo in the ad shows the pop-up headlights in the up position, leading me to wonder if they can in fact go down, but that can’t be too hard to fix.

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So you’ve got your rare high-tech flying doorstop in need of some repair, or your sorority-girl-special safe bet convertible. The choice is yours.

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78 Responses

  1. Holy shit! Are you stalking me?!

    I own a ’91 Celica GT convertible and an ’89 XT6…

    BUT. My Celica is a manual, and the XT6 an Automatic. Although I have also owned a ’93 Celica with a 1.6 and automatic, and an ’88 XT6 with a manual.

    I love the idea of the XT6. Flat 6. Manual transmission. AWD. But parts don’t fucking exist. That big busted up (it’s hidden under the dash mat, I assume it’s busted, though) trim panel that wraps all the way across the top of the gauge cluster and down around the radio? Yea…unobtanium. Those crappy trunk hinges on the Celica coupes and convertibles (surely the root cause for the missing spoiler and bungee cord)? Your local dealer can have them in a day or 2. For this reason, I voted Celica.

    If you compare an SVX to an RX8, I’m getting security cameras

  2. Something to point out in favor of the the Subaru is that the pics here do not do it full justice.

    The 3/4 shots from either front or rear really demonstrate why this car would look absolutely look at home in Blade Runner.

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  3. The Subaru won for the oddball factor and it doesn’t have a tie down holding the trunk lid.

    As to why the Merc and K-Car were so high on the votes. They were the best runners. The Ford was beat to crap, the Saab was great yet needed a lot of work.

    The K-Car probably won due to the most complete and read to jump in and drive. The Merc was close second only because is needed a few repairs. I would take either one for that price.

  4. I don’t think I want either. The Subaru if I have to, I guess.

    As for last week, I would have entirely picked the Saab, but I’m not skilled enough to get it in the shape it deserves. The New Yorker was entirely for the interior. That’s a place to be.

  5. All I’m gonna say is that I ACTUALLY OWN a Toyota Celica. Now mine is an ’85 and is far cooler, but still, we exist.

    Voting for the Celica because prejudice and passing smog in CA is a big deal.

    1. I’m afraid I’m one of the “I knew someone” crowd. Kid I’d know for years almost killed us one morning in a ’78ish Celica, the rather goofy looking ones.

      Only other experience i have is pulling a 22re out of one (after I pulled it from its home of many years at the bottom of a nasty hill with a $150 ’89 Aerostar with a slowly failing transmission) of the last RWDs to put in a nightmare 1st generation 4Runner.

    2. You win comment of the day from my pov if only b/c Celicas from that age are amazing, esp. the (I dunno exactly what they’re called but…) pop out (?) headlights.

      Coupe or hatch? And it’s killing me no picture posting yet.

  6. I choose the XT6 just because it’s more interesting. I will now officially age myself. My first brand new car was a 1976 Toyota Celica GT Liftback. It had a 5 speed manual which was very unusual back then. When some people saw the “5-Speed” badge on the back a few asked me, “Are they counting reverse?” My right hand to God.

  7. Had every intention of voting Celica, then I saw that steering wheel and shifter and was sold. Sidenote, I’ve had not one but 2 Celicas. Both 95s. One was a convertible, the other was a GT-Four. Convertible was a good car, nothing amazing but it was fun. The GT-Four was a giant piece of garbage that nearly bankrupted me just to keep the damn thing on the road. Luckily prices went up significantly during the year I had it so in the end I didn’t lose a ton on it.

  8. XT6 all day. So many great wrenching memories. When I graduated college and set out to drive from UP Michigan to Upstate NY, the u-joint failed in the rear section of the driveshaft. No worries just unbolt at the center bearing and removed the rear section. Drove 500 miles with the center diff locked without issue. At 270,000 miles on a trip back home, the ball stud broke clean through the worn out clutch fork. Drove over 400 miles with no clutch. Fixed it in my buddy’s garage the next day with a stick welder. Once my alternator failed in the middle of nowhere. Pulled fuses for everything I didn’t need (including that giant power steering pump), accelerate up to about 75, then turn it off and cost back to 15 mph and bump start it…repeated until home with battery so dead the injectors were misfiring. Always broken but never stranded…ever.

  9. I had an XT6 (and an ’86 Celica GT-S oddly enough). Absolutely give me the XT6! They were great to drive and had pretty good power for their day. The worst part about them was the air suspension, and that can be adapted to conventional Legacy struts. Even the Cybrid power steering is fairly simple. It’s just an electric motor connected to a fairly conventional power steering pump. It is important to use its special fluid or it damages the seals (which is probably what happened to that one). Despite their looks, they are fairly simple and pretty easy to work on. I would love to have another one!

  10. Absolutely the XT. You never see those anymore. In fact, I don’t think I’ve ever seen one. Worth it just for the rarity factor alone. Although I kind of wish it had the earlier model’s digital dash, even if that would be even more difficult to fix.

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