Toyota Celica SS III - The Forgotten Rival to the Integra Type-R
Why didn’t the Celica SS III get the popularity of the Integra?by Dim Angelov, on LISTEN 07:41
JDM cars have one of the largest cult followings of all cars and for a good reason. In particular, the cars from the 1990s seem to have the most substantial fan base. That said, for one reason or another, some cars have are more iconic than others that have similar performance. When we talk about front-wheel-drive cars, one of the most iconic models is the Honda Integra Type-R. However, many have forgotten that Toyota had a similar car that has been largely overlooked – the Celica SS III – and there are many reasons why it’s as good as the Type-R.
The sixth-generation Toyota Celica had many variants, some of which sold only in certain regions. The Celica SS began as a package, offering sportier suspension and stiffer chassis, but in time, there were different power outputs. The SS III is the most powerful of the three SS versions. All of them used a different version of the normally-aspirated 2.0-liter 3S inline-four engine. The SS I had a not so impressive 140 horsepower (103 kilowatts) at 6,000 RPM and 137 pound-feet (186 Nm) at 4,400 RPM, from the 3S-FE engine.
|Engine||normally-aspirated 2.0-liter 3S inline-four|
|Horsepower||140 HP @ 6,000 RPM|
|Torque||137 L-FT @ 4,400 RPM|
The SS-II was equipped with a 3S-GE engine, which produced 181 horsepower (133 kilowatts) at 7,000 RPM and 141 pound-feet (191 Nm) at 4,800 RPM, which allowed for a 0 to 60 mph (97 km/h) time of around 7.0 seconds.
|Engine||normally-aspirated 2.0-liter 3S-GE inline-four|
|Horsepower||181 HP @ 7,000 RPM|
|Torque||141 L-FT @ 4,800 RPM|
|0 to 60 mph||7.0 seconds|
The SS III used the fourth generation of the 3S-GE engine. Introduced in 1997, the engine featured BEAMS – Breakthrough Engine with Advanced Mechanism System. Because of this, the engine was also known as the “Redtop BEAMS 3S-GE”. In addition, the engine also featured Toyota’s VVT-I – basically Toyota’s equivalent to the V-Tec. The results were 200 horsepower (147 kilowatts) at 7,000 RPM and 152 pound-feet (206 Nm) at 6,000 RPM. With the five-speed manual, the car was able to hit 60 mph (97 km/h) in around 6.5 seconds.
|Engine||normally-aspirated 2.0-liter 3S-GE inline-four|
|Horsepower||200 HP @ 7,000 RPM|
|Torque||152 L-FT @ 6,000 RPM|
|0 to 60 mph||6.5 seconds|
To put things in perspective, the Honda Integra Type-R (DC2), often revered as one of the ultimate front-wheel-drive Japanese cars, has a 1.8-liter B18C1 normally-aspirated inline-four, producing 200 horsepower (147 kilowatts) at 8,000 RPM and 133 pound-feet (181 Nm) at 7,300 RPM. With a close-ratio five-speed manual and a helical LSD, it managed a 6.4-second time to 60 mph (97 km/h). Whilst the Celie SS III has a more powerful engine, the Integra Type-R has more revs to play with, as well as a lower curb weight of 2,336 pounds (1,060 kg) vs 2,667 pounds (1,210 kg).
|Engine||1.8-liter B18C1 normally-aspirated inline-four|
|Horsepower||200 HP @ 8,000 RPM|
|Torque||133 LB-FT @ 7,300 RPM|
|0 to 60 mph||6.4 seconds|
Why is the Celica SS III largely forgotten?
Although there’s no clear definitive answer to that, there are various reasons why the Celica SS III hadn’t gotten the attention it probably deserved. The first one has something to do with Toyota’s image. In the 1990s, both Honda and Toyota were churning out mass-produced, affordable economy cars. Needless to say, the Japanese automotive industry was thriving.
That said, Honda – a brand initially known for its motorcycles – has established itself as a company, whose lineup was a bit sportier than some of the others. Toyota’s cars, on the other hand, had an image for being reliable but somewhat boring, even though they had success in rallying – more on that in a bit. Yes, in the 1990s, they had the A80 Supra, but as awesome as that car is, the truth is, it wasn’t selling, because it was too expensive. In the 1990s, no one wanted to spend Porsche 911 money on a Toyota. Of course, things changed once people watched Fast and Furious, but that is a different story.
The Integra Type-R came out two years before the Celica SS III and quickly established itself as the ultimate Japanese FWD performance coupe. The point is, Honda had a sportier lineup and the Integra Type-R was the pinnacle of Honda performance vehicles, as far as front-wheel-drive cars went.
Overshadowed by its bigger brother
Another reason why the 1997 Toyota Celica SS III did not gain as much popularity has to do with the rally-inspired Toyota Celica GT-Four. Whenever a car comes out, enthusiasts tend to remember the ultimate version of it. The Nissan Skyline is a perfect example. Everyone talks about the GTR version, even though there are other versions of it, each good in its own way.
In the case of the sixth-generation Toyota Celica, that was the GT-Four. It came out in 1994 and was produced until 1999, which was the last production yea for that generation. As mentioned, the SS III came out in 1997, by which time all lights were on the homologated rally car that was the GT-Four (GT4).
More importantly, it was (and still is) the fastest Celica you can get. It used a turbocharged version of the same 2.0-liter engine (3S-GTE), which made up to 251 horsepower (188 kilowatts) at 6,000 RPM and 223 pound-feet (302 Nm) at 4,000 RPM.
The Celica GT4 sends power to all four wheels through an E154F five-speed manual transmission. This allowed for a 0 to 60 mph (97 km/h) time of around 6.0 seconds.
|Engine||2.0-liter engine (3S-GTE)|
|Horsepower||251 HP @ 6,000 RPM|
|Torque||223 LB-FT @ 4,000 RPM|
|0 to 60 mph||6.0 seconds|
Moreover, motorsports were always good marketing. Toyota had some success, but in 1995 they were the reason for one of WRC’s most blatant scandals. At the time, Toyota entered WRC with the Celica and found a way to bypass the boost restrictor, mandatory for all competing cars. Basically, Toyota came up with special springs and clips that would move the restrictor plate from the intake, essentially negating the effect of the restrictor.
Even though there was negative publicity towards Toyota, this shined even more light on the GT-Four streetcar. In turn, the Celica SS III became an unappreciated Japanese performance car.
Not all is bad
Some good came out of all that, especially for those, on the market for an attainable Japanese normally-aspirated performance car. The Honda/Acura Integra Type-R has significantly risen in price, over the last decade. Pristine low-mileage examples can now fetch close to $100,000. If you are lucky, you might find a decent example for around $30,000.
Even the all-wheel-drive Celica GT-Four is now fetching at least $20,000. What most of you probably didn’t know is that you can get a Celica SS III for as little as $6,000. This is pretty much one/sixth of the current asking price of an Integra Type-R and a staggering one/twentieth if you are looking at a showroom condition car. Considering the similar performance of the two cars, the 1997-1999 Toyota Celica SS III might be the ultimate bargain Japanese sports car, you never knew about.