By Michael Kitchens
Back in 2000, the 7th Generation Celica was Toyota’s attempt to attract the younger market and introduce the new 2ZZ-GE engine that featured the automaker’s Variable Valve Timing and Lift control with intelligence (VVTL-i). It was comparable to Honda’s VTEC system with one small caveat: There really wasn’t a ton of aftermarket parts for the car and the performance suffered because of it. The new Celica was given a write-off as a secretary’s car and sales plummeted.
Fast-forward several years and the car’s aftermarket has finally opened up. I may be biased, but I believe the Celica is one of the best-looking, as well as affordable, modern cars on the market. As a former owner of a 2000 Celica GT-S, I can really appreciate the amount of work Ruben Pacheco has put into this week’s featured ride.
Originally from Jacksonville, Fla., Ruben was an Army brat who grew up with a love for modifying cars. He started off with little plastic models and proceeded to fall deeper into the enthusiast scene. Short on funds, Ruben joined the U.S. Air Force intent on expanding his horizons in life as well as in the car scene. His first ride was a Hyundai Accent, given to him by his sister, which he exorcised his young demons on — Fast & Furious-style.
“I put a Wal-Mart spoiler on it and some LEDs,” says Ruben with a smile.
With Hyundai phase behind him, he moved on to bigger and better cars including his first Celica, a Honda, an Eclipse, and eventually the stealthy black ride he rolls with now.
Ruben wanted to concentrate on performance with this build and his first concern was handling. A plethora of suspension components were added, including D2 Coilovers, Hotchkis Sway Bars and Camber Links, along with front and rear strut bars. With these additions, the Celica’s already nimble handling was improved greatly.
With 180HP stock from the factory, the Celica was definitely in need of some attention in the power department. Ruben tackled it by installing a Garrett GT28RS kit matched with some serious engine management by way of an A’PEXi Power FC. Tuned by Sean Igawa at the well-known Munkywurks Garage, the Celica now sings at around 245HP with 240-foot pounds of torque to play with. That’s quite an improvement for an already lightweight car of 2,500 pounds. In addition, an already installed 75-shot of ZEX Nitrous is awaiting some beefed-up engine internals in the near future.
Let’s not kid ourselves: This car looks sleek and sinister. Ruben chose a select group of exterior modifications that really brought the “wow” factor to the car. The most noticeable is the LSD Lambo-style doors. I’ve seen this mod on a ton of rides, and normally, it doesn’t seem to fit. This Celica, however, looks wicked with them. The car also rides on KOENIG Unknowns fitted at 18×8 with BF Goodrich G-Force 225/35R 18s. Combined with the aggressive Seibon carbon fiber hood, hatch, as well as the rest of the choice mods, it all comes together in a tight and absolutely evil package.
Truthfully, we all have our opinions on modifying our rides — some like it flashy, some like it stealth. Ruben just likes to be different.
“People always say my car looks illegal, just sitting there,” he says. I agree.