The development of the seventh generation Celica followed a standard path. Starting from an unsophisticated yet enjoyable original, Toyota built generation after generation of cars, gradually going further upmarket and getting heavier and more powerful. The ST185 series probably marked the Celica's competition zenith, winning two World Rally Championships in 1993 and 1994, but the follow up car was viewed by many as a disappointment, taking the sporty Celica into lazy cruising territory. The same was indeed said of Toyota's MR2 range, being developed in parallel.
The design team at Toyota's Calty Research division in California looked at this philosophy and went to work with the red pen on it. Espousing a doctrine of light weight, edgy styling and a wheel at each corner for exceptional agility, the seventh generation Celica looked a winner before it ever turned a wheel, and crowds at the 1999 Frankfurt Motor Show realised that Toyota was onto something. With only 140bhp from the VVT-i engine, it wasn't a fire breathing super coupe but nevertheless the pared down approach promised driver satisfaction, and so it proved.
So good was the Celica's chassis that it was an open secret that a more powerful model was being developed. Rather than unleash a turbocharged, four-wheel drive GT4 version, as it had with the three previous Celicas, Toyota instead did something of a Honda. The Celica 190 offered variable valve timing and variable valve lift to punch out 190bhp at a dizzying 6800rpm. Were it a Honda model, it would undoubtedly have worn a Type-R badge, but the latest Celica merely sported a tiny red badge on its angular rump to differentiate it. With a specific output of 106.7bhp per litre, the Celica 190's credentials as a masterpiece of the engine making art were put into perspective compared to the McLaren F1 (103.3bhp/litre) and the BMW M3 (106bhp/litre). The round of price-cutting that took place in 2000 made the two Celica models great value for money, although used values took a while to reflect this. Helping to restore profit margins was the Celica T-Sport, a model launched in 2001 which was mechanically similar to the Celica 190 but commanded a £3,000 price premium for a bodykit, leather interior and other accoutrements.