Tadashi Nakagawa, chief engineer for the Toyota Celica, was given the task of taking a car that had strayed from its roots and turning it into a sports car once again. He discussed the challenge with Staff Reporter Mark Rechtin at the Celica's introduction in Carlsbad, Calif. Edited excerpts of their conversation follow.
What was the mission of the new Celica?
For the GTS model, we wanted to have a six-speed manual transmission that had good shifter feel. We also wanted to have an e-shift like the Lexus GS sedans, but with no time lag during the shifts. And we wanted the new automatic transmission for the GT to have better performance and light weight.
Why bring in Yamaha for the GTS engine?
We asked them to make it. We've had a relationship with Yamaha since the 2000GT James Bond car. So Toyota made the engine block, but Yamaha did the rest.
Customers wanted more performance but not more displacement. So we had to make the engine very light. I think that is better than using a supercharger. Plus, this engine is very versatile and has a lot of potential. We're already asking Yamaha to make a higher-powered version.
What were some of the benchmarks you set for the Celica?
For the GTS performance, we wanted to beat the Integra Type R, but we also wanted more ride comfort than the Acura. I don't mean a soft suspension, but just shocks that are less harsh when hitting bumps. But we liked the Acura's steering performance.
For the GT, there was no direct competitor, so it was to be a new feeling. We wanted it to be an extension of the GTS, but with perhaps a little more comfort, so we gave it a little less steering and suspension responsiveness. I am fond of the European tastes for sports cars, but they have a little older feeling and seem out of date. I wanted a new feeling for the 21st century.
What sort of parts sharing is involved with Celica?
Basically, this is the same platform as the Japan-market Camry, but with quite different front and rear overhangs. Ours has a 50-millimeter-shorter wheelbase and an inclined radiator. So, really, only the main frame is the same.
What sacrifices were made during development?
We have to clear Japanese and European noise regulations, which aren't as easy as in the U.S., so the exhaust note isn't as good as we wanted. It also meant we couldn't have a lower gear ratio.
Is it a true sports car once again?
I think 180 horsepower is enough to do that. But any more than that is not so good for the environment. I'd say doing the quarter-mile in 15 seconds is a very good figure.