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An All-Trac Legacy

PostPosted: Sat Nov 09, 2013 3:14 am
by jwgt41
My All-Trac holds a special place in my heart! I'm an avid fan of this car, and my love has led me on a strange and exciting journey for over 18 years now. I've probably gone farther and spent more money than any rational person should, but my passion (sickness) is unwavering. Recently, my wife suggested I sell the All-Trac. In return, I could buy the 911 C4 that I've been eyeballing the last few years. Still, a firm "No" was all she received. Nuts I know but I'm just not ready to part with her.

I thought about posting several threads based on the topic but it would be easier to put it all in one place. I'm planning on updating this thread periodically so stay tuned.

I own a black 1990 Celica All-Trac that I bought in 1996 while still in college, and it was the first car that I bought with MY money. I chased this car for over a year before buying it. In 1995, I had just started college in Baltimore and I saw a classified ad in Auto Trader for the car. I knew there was no way I would be able to buy it but I still wanted to see it in person. I remember the conversation well! I called the number and the guy on the other end says the car has been sold. Undeterred, I asked if the new owner had taken delivery of it yet, as I'd like to see it. Strangely enough, the guy says "I bought it!" Confused, I asked how that was. He said the owner of the car is his boss, a proprietor of a glass company in Baltimore. After listing it for her, he decided to buy it himself.

At the time, I was enrolled in the T-Ten (Toyota Technical Education Network) program. For those unfamiliar, it's a two-year program where you learn and work only on Toyota vehicles. You also must be employed by a Toyota dealer throughout the time in the program. When at work, we had a manual that broke down all the car models into codes. In one area of the book, I noticed the code "ST185", though couldn't recall ever having used it. Our shop foreman John Bonebrake, one of the best mechanics and greatest influences I've known, explained to me about the car and how rare they are. He recalled seeing only one come in during his tenure at Toyota. And so it began!

I kept in touch with the All-Trac owner and told him if he ever decided to sell, make sure I was his first call. I didn't know how I'd get the money but somehow I'd work it out. My '87 Celica GTS would have to hold me over in the meantime.
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One day, I received a call from him saying he was going to a car show in Carlisle, PA and wanted to know if I'd like to go. He'd drive the All-Trac and I could check it out there. Without hesitation, I accepted! Below is a picture of the car that I took that day.
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After that day, I just couldn't seem to get it out of my head. It was loaded! A/C, power everything, moonroof, System 10 audio, leather, and of course all wheel drive turbo....it was my Cadillac! But knowing this car is the image of motorsport greatness, the WRC champion several years running in the hands of Carlos Sainz and Juha Kankkunen, it represents what a car can and SHOULD be. If it's rugged enough for the rigors of rally, it would withstand anything I can throw at it. That's the car for me. At least, that was my reasoning. And for some reason, it's obscurity made it that much more appealing! It didn't matter if people knew what it is. They just saw it as something different, and it wasn't another freaking Mustang.

Re: An All-Trac Legacy

PostPosted: Sat Nov 09, 2013 4:37 am
by Rick89GTS
Great story and welcome to the site. I'm more of a ST162/165 guy, so I gotta ask, do you still have the 87GTS?!

Re: An All-Trac Legacy

PostPosted: Sat Nov 09, 2013 6:38 am
by underscore
That's a lot of history with Celicas!

Re: An All-Trac Legacy

PostPosted: Sat Nov 09, 2013 12:28 pm
by jwgt41
Rick89GTS wrote:Great story and welcome to the site. I'm more of a ST162/165 guy, so I gotta ask, do you still have the 87GTS?!


I don't. That was such a great little car! I rebuilt the engine as part of a school project at 125,000 miles and, regrettably, sold the car to a family friend at 220,000 miles in 2001. He subsequently put a rod through the block a short time later and then backed it into a telephone pole. Sadly, this is all that remains.

Re: An All-Trac Legacy

PostPosted: Sat Nov 09, 2013 11:19 pm
by Droptop93
So how did end up getting it? Finally talk him it to sell?

Re: An All-Trac Legacy

PostPosted: Sun Nov 10, 2013 12:44 am
by jwgt41
A Saturday touring wineries has me tired out on the couch, so I thought I'd add to my story.

After the car show and a face-to-face meeting with the owner, I was certain I convinced him to sell. The occasional email back and forth would keep the fire warm, but still no luck. After about 6 mos., I really just gave up. Then, the phonecall came! The owner says he's ready to sell!

The owner met me at school on the day of the transaction. To ensure everything went smooth, my parents made the trip down. We talked a bit and he said his money was going to buy a pre-'93 turbo Supra, so he needed some extra cash, and I wanted to help him! :D We negotiated price, signed the papers and she was all mine! I couldn't sleep for 2 days I was so excited!

I started gathering information on turbochargers, picking up anything I could find. My teacher at school was kind enough to locate some Toyota manuals on the subject and I did a lot of reading. Back then, the internet was still very basic and there was no YouTube. The sport compact car scene was still in its infancy so finding anything out on 3SGTE's or a rare car like the alltrac was near impossible. One day, I noticed a periodical on the shelf with a white MR2 Turbo on it. Sport Compact Car magazine was writing an ongoing article on this car, taking it from bone stock to a street and track machine. It's commonplace now, but this was a very new direction back then. I had my nose buried issue after issue, pulling whatever I could from it.

Now, I was a professional mechanic for over 12 years. But at the time, I was barely scratching the surface with automotive knowledge and I really didn't know what to do with the car to improve it. I was too inexperienced. But the performance of this car gave me a wild idea! Instead of just learning to "fix" cars, why not learn to make them faster?

Here is where I'll state that I am a self proclaimed "purist", meaning my aim is to improve performance in responsible and measurable ways, but still maintain reliability. Stick with me here, it'll all make sense in a minute. There are a lot of bolt on parts that virtually anyone can install. And they can make a car fast very quickly. But through trial and error, "quick" and "easy" are NOT synonymous with performance. Let me offer some examples. A boost controller can be a great addition, but without strengthening an engine to handle an overzealous driver, you find yourself with a pile of useless parts. Another would be nitrous oxide. Again, tremendous performance gains but the engine is on borrowed time unless properly built. Those of you that remember the older Mitsu GS-T and GS-X probably know exactly where their weak point is. When one comes up for sale, you an almost bet that Diamond Star transmission is trash. That's because while the engine can handle performance upgrades, the transmission cannot. A similar story to the WRX's. Cause and effect. The same holds true with RX-7's. The Wankel engine, though very effective, is a ticking timebomb when upgraded by the wrong person. It comes down to due diligence, quality of work, and being a total cheapskate. If I can read for 2 hours to save myself a $500 part, by all means I'll do it.

Back on track now, performance. I started thinking about where I could learn about performance and reliability. I needed to immerse myself and while Toyota makes a great car, their production lineup isn't exactly known for their performance prowess. For that, I would turn to Ferrari.

Re: An All-Trac Legacy

PostPosted: Sun Nov 10, 2013 1:07 am
by 88st165
I am enjoying this read :)

Re: An All-Trac Legacy

PostPosted: Wed Jan 08, 2014 10:33 pm
by pero
Well,.....we're waiting.
C'mon Stephen King, finish the story.

Re: An All-Trac Legacy

PostPosted: Thu Jan 09, 2014 1:54 am
by jwgt41
Yeah, it’s been awhile. The last couple months have been busy. Traveled to Ohio and Vegas, bought a new car, had a subsequent accident in said car, and ultimately had to chase the guy down. Of course, then the holidays hit. My apologies to those following this post.

My tenure at Ferrari began in an exciting and unexpected way. Overcome by boredom one day in class, the instructor decided to take a break and show a film called ‘Rendezvous’ by Claude Lelouch. If you’ve never seen it, as a car enthusiast you really ought to. There was always speculation what type of car he was driving through Paris, but my teacher said it was a Ferrari, and that was enough for me. That video eventually led to what would be my future career at Ferrari. It’s amazing where people get inspiration! Later that week, I looked up the nearest Ferrari dealer and called. I asked if they were ever looking for help. She said they aren’t currently hiring. However the receptionist, Danielle, was kind enough to transfer me to the service manager. When he picked up, I introduced myself and began explaining the program I was enrolled in. I asked if there were open positions but, unfortunately, he expressed how selective they are when choosing help. However, he said there may be an alternative. “We have a race shop.” A noticeable pause followed. He explained what are known as “gentlemen racers” compete in the Ferrari Challenge events, often support races for Formula One, IMSA, Grand Am, etc. These are the races that few people watch when at a venue like Montreal, Sebring or Daytona. Sort of like a band where the only audience is their girlfriends. In better terms, these are rich guys with enough dough to buy a Ferrari and turn it into a race car. The role of the race team is to get the cars in fighting shape, transport them to the track, and fix anything and everything that goes wrong. Simple. But they have few staff. To keep costs low, they employ volunteers to act as crew. The service manager, Joe, asked if that was something I’d be interested in. I had excitement pulsing through me, but remained calm. I told him I was very interested, but would like some more information. He agreed to leave a message for the crew chief, Glenn, as he was currently traveling on a race weekend.

A torturous week went by, having not heard anything. I resisted the urge to call, fearing I’d seem impatient. Finally, I got the call! Glenn said they were having a small get together at the dealership on Saturday to discuss the upcoming race season, and would like to know if I’d attend. Somehow, a simple “yes” was too difficult and I began babbling incessantly. But ultimately, I squeezed a “yes” in there. When Saturday came, I was eager to get to the dealership. Having never stood next to a Ferrari and the prospect of actually working on them, composure was difficult. We arrived and I met the sweet face of Danielle, the receptionist I’d spoken to on the phone. A beautiful brunette, slim, about 5’3” and lovely short hair, she had an unmistakable yet pleasant raspy voice. She made my girlfriend and I feel very welcome, taking us on a tour of the dealership and describing the Ferrari heritage. There were cars everywhere, but of particular interest was their service area. They considered the shop and extension of the showroom, and it was immaculate! No drain pans lying around or grease marks on the wall. Everything was pristine! I was then greeted by Glenn, the crew chief. He took me through the building to the race shop. At that time, the 348 was the current car used in the challenge series, though the F355 was about to hit stateside en masse, becoming the latest car of choice. He showed me their facilities and, though small, they had just about every necessary resource. Next, he showed me the race trailer. This massive Hi-Tech trailer could transport 7 cars, toolboxes, supplies and hospitality equipment. A small race operation by current standards, but big stuff to me! And I wanted in!

I met with some other folks that were there from the year before. They all had regular jobs but their passion was at the track. One guy, Randy, was a business analyst in VA but used his vacation time to volunteer at the track. The others had similar stories. So when Glenn pulled me aside, he asked what I could do. I was honest in my answer. I’m not terribly knowledgeable but I’m a hard worker and a fast learner. In the working world, that’s good news! With that he said he would need me to come in on Saturdays and maybe some Sundays to prepare the cars for the next race. There was no real guarantee that I would be attending the races, as they had plenty of help already. But if I performed well and they were satisfied with me, I might be able to attend one this season. Of course, it was all free labor to them, but it was an experience I couldn’t pass up. With that, I agreed.

A couple weeks had passed since our meet and greet, and I was eager to get started. I learned how intricate and complex Ferrari was, but no expense was spared when doing maintenance. If you ask any Ferrari owner, they’ll tell you it takes a small fortune to buy one and another small fortune to maintain it. But an experience like no other. After several weeks of work, the cars were ready to leave. Unfortunately, I wasn’t invited to go along. But it didn’t get me down. I soldiered on until I got an invite, this time to a test session in Savanna, GA. We would leave early in the morning and make the drive in a 15-passenger van that was uncomfortable as hell. Those of you that know the track in Savannah, Roebeling Road, is a popular track for Motorweek to test cars. Prior to departure, the crew chief handed me an envelope with $400 cash, saying it was per diem for the trip. I could live on that. The only shitty part was sharing a room with a total stranger. But there are worse things in life.

We hit the track before dawn the next morning and set up. The rig was parked in pit lane and we began unloading the cars. Being very tall, it’s a challenge finessing your way into a race trailer. Ceiling height of @ 4 feet and having enough room to climb into a car General Lee-style takes some work. But I did. And I found myself in a zen moment, finally behind the wheel of a thoroughbred. It was a test in self-control, but I dutifully unloaded all the cars and lined them up on pit road. I had the chance to meet some of the drivers/owners and this was the first time out for many of them too.

It was a soggy two-day test, but there was nowhere else I wanted to be. There was little drama on the track and the cars needed nothing other than tire changes and windshield cleanings. I even got to ride around the track on a four wheeler! The crew chief and the dealership owner made it apparent they were very happy with my work. This trip was sort of a trial run to see how I’d do, and it turned out to be a great success!

I have a few more pictures of that weekend that I’d like to post, but need to scan them first so bear with me.

Re: An All-Trac Legacy

PostPosted: Thu Jan 09, 2014 4:20 am
by gt4tified
Damn dood, you ARE tall! Nice story....though I have no allegiance with Ferrari...kinda disappointed as i secretly hoped the story would end with mention of a Lexus LFA (my dream supercar). lol

Glad for you mate! Carry on...

Re: An All-Trac Legacy

PostPosted: Thu Jan 09, 2014 2:14 pm
by pero
Ha, nice ass shot........of the car, that is!
So, you're a purist, a mechanic, an All-trac owner, a Ferrari crewman, and a fine storyteller to boot.
Add in avid beer drinker and you sound like our kind of guy.
Carry on, please.
I'm quite interested to hear more details of working for a race team, if the girlfriend that went to the dealer with you became your wife, and how the performance knowledge you gained trickled down to your Celica.
BTW, one day you'll get to have that All-trac + 911 in your garage.
It took me 7 years, but my wife finally gave in and let me buy another motorcycle.
Of course, I did have to buy her a bigger house, but it all worked out in the end because I got the 3-car garage I wanted.

Re: An All-Trac Legacy

PostPosted: Fri Jan 10, 2014 3:09 am
by jwgt41
I appreciate the comments. Thanks! I'll have another update next week. It's just been tough finding the time to write but I'm glad you're enjoying it. I've replied to this thread twice before but the system timed out before I could finish, and wiped my story. I used my head this time and did it on MS Word.

Re: An All-Trac Legacy

PostPosted: Sun Jan 19, 2014 3:59 pm
by jwgt41
I had this picture taken just before we left for the trip to GA. Our shitty van is in the background.

Re: An All-Trac Legacy

PostPosted: Sun Jan 19, 2014 4:03 pm
by jwgt41
A pair of 333SP's in the back of the trailer. The lower one is the 1998 24 Hours of Daytona winner by Giampiero Moretti (owner of Momo).

Re: An All-Trac Legacy

PostPosted: Sun Jan 19, 2014 4:05 pm
by jwgt41
Some fun at the racetrack! In his travels to the track, the cars' owner complained of a horrible odor while braking. Not a common problem by any means, but it was worth an inquiry. Those small inlets on either side of the grille are air ducts to help cool the brakes. Behind the bumper are narrow tubes that terminate at a bracket just behind the rotor. There is an 1/8" gap between the bracket and the rotor. After removing the LF wheel, we found the problem. The left air duct had swallowed a bird, eventually causing it to split that small gap between between bracket and rotor, causing one hell of a mess. Nobody was too anxious to cleaning bird carcass out of the wheel/brake assy so it fell to the FNG.