Denis Bell’s 1978 Celica TA40 Race Ca

Denis Bell is a name many members will recognise from his articles in the TEC topics magazine, and is a stalwart of the Toyota scene in Northern Ireland. Denis was a key member and salesman of the first NI importer Neville Johnston (Garages) Ltd., back in the memorable summer of 1966. Here’s a feature on his recollections from selling this model and his own historical ex-Hughes of Beaconsfield and Martin Brundle TA40 racing car:

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“During a production life of just under seven years Toyota expanded the model range of the first generation 20 Series Celica. A lift back body style was added and a larger 2 – Litre engine was offered in addition to the original 1600c.c. unit. Clearly buoyed by the success of the car world-wide, the second generation car which went into production in August 1977 was from the outset offered with a wide model range. Coupe and liftback body styles with 1600 and 2000c.c. engines in push- rod and higher performance twin- cam variants were available. A wider range of trim levels included an attractive XL option.

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Meantime the first generation TA22 GT was becoming a familiar sight in British Touring Car Championship Races. By 1978 the most successful Celica driver Win Percy was receiving support from the UK Importer Toyota (GB) LTD. For the 1979 season Toyota decided to become more involved in the Championship but decided to sub-contract the running of their team to enthusiastic Toyota dealers Hughes, based in Beaconsfield. Two of the recently introduced second generation TA40 coupes were prepared fitted with the 1588c.c. twin-cam 8 valve engine. Unlike the first generation Celica the TA40 was not offered for retail sale in the UK with this engine in the coupe.

Modifications were carried out under the strict Group One Rules and with careful engine preparation and assembly the standard 124BHP was increased to around 180. Both cars were reported as prepared to identical specification although development undoubtedly took place as the season progressed. Dorset garage owner Win Percy was recruited to lead the team and had first choice from the two cars. Dubliner Alec Poole joined the team and he ran the second car at a number of Championship rounds.

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Win Percy waged a season long battle with Richard Lloyd in the 1600c.c. Class winning the Class on three occasions. His biggest disappointment was to be controversially disqualified for passing under a warning “Yellow Flag” after beating Lloyd in the prestigious race at the British Grand Prix meeting at Silverstone, in front of a crowd of 80,000. Percy and Poole came to N. Ireland two weeks later and scored a one/two at Kirkistown in front of rather less spectators! For the 1980 season Percy joined Mazda and the Hughes team prepared a new TA40 for the Championship, the face-lifted square headlight model, with Chris Hodgetts as driver. However one of the two cars from the 1979 season was retained as a spare and was driven twice that year by its most famous driver and the best known to race any Toyota Touring Car in the UK. That driver a young Martin Brundle who was to go on to be a successful Grand Prix driver and Sports Car World Champion and now heads up ITV’s coverage of Formula One. At the end of the 1980 season the car was sold to Sandy Lawson based in the West of Ireland who rallied it in that area for a number of years.

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 I purchased the car from Sandy in early 1988. The car had been registered KJO 209S in March 1978 and as its competition life started in early 1979 I can only assume it saw little or no road use prior to its preparation for racing. Used by Sandy in Eire it was registered 149 ZIM and when re-imported into the UK became BXI 9757 a N. Ireland number. Its condition when I purchased it was curiously inconsistent. It was scruffy and unloved, painted in pie – ball colours but the body work was very sound and two new front guards had been fitted still in unpainted primer. It was still fitted out with all the equipment from its competition days, the clearly meticulous preparation by Hughes evident in the aluminium petrol tank in the boot complete with quick release filler, built in fire extinguisher system, interior full roll cage and full harness belts. In contrast items like the untidy wiring for additional spot lights were evidence of a more rough and ready life as a Rally car in the west of Ireland. Mechanically the original competition Leda suspension was fitted but the engine sounded tired and mechanically noisy. It was clear from a large file of paper-work that came with the car that it was indeed one of the two Hughes of Beaconsfield cars from the 1979 Championship season but a photograph of a driver with red/white/blue helmet chevrons was puzzling. Didn’t look like team drivers Percy or Poole. Showing it one day to Toyota Dealer Robin Brundle he quickly came back to say that it was his more famous brother Martin driving the car and we traced it to Thruxton 1980.

 So safely back in Belfast in 1988 I clearly had a car with a lot of Toyota Competition history and fundamentally sound and original. Time for a tidy up! Win Percy a lovely guy, supplied photographs of the car and it was re-painted in the correct Ivory (130) with the distinctive Hughes royal blue flanks and red Minilite wheels. Gordon Mayrs who managed the team for Hughes and in turn Toyota (GB) supplied a set of wider Minilites which Dunlop fitted with Racing tyres to set the car off at Shows. Very little was required mechanically but the engine was pronounced “knackered” and an API unit fitted. In standard tune the slightly bigger 45m.m. carbs and four branch exhaust seem to give a useful improvement especially in its ability to rev compared with the same unit in my TA22 GT. The interior really only needed a good clean and the uncarpeted floor a coat of satin black paint. The result is now a tidy and original car and useable if you can live with the exhaust noise and firm ride. I resisted the idea of going for a race engine not really being interested in, or young enough to get involved in Classic Racing but the car attends Club events, Shows and also an occasional semi-competitive Classic Rally.

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I always promote membership of our Club to any prospective owner for the help you get from people like Shaun Davies who supplied some good used parts, while local member Sean Devlin helped to tidy the bonnet and windscreen surrounds after I had carelessly driven off with the bonnet locking pins not in place! Toyota(GB) borrowed the car to represent them at the huge Millennium Motorsport festival at Parliament Buildings Belfast in August 2000 where it completed a demonstration run up the hill, rubbing shoulders with such notables as Jarno Trulli and John Watson in Formula One Jordans and Eddie Irvine in a Jaguar D- type.

Denis Bell, January 2006.

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