Sport Chic Tune Wagon: Toyota Caldina
Updated: Feb 1, 2022
Believe it or not but there was a time when wagons ruled the road, you loaded your family and all of your stuff, not into an SUV; but an extended sedan some may call an estate. The station wagon only sells in the U.S. as part of the hidden lineup from some of the most expensive luxury brands, but if you venture to the far east, you can find an affordable version of that experience. In the 1990's there existed quite a few wagon models from all of Japan's automakers, the ST190 Toyota Caldina being one of the more popular options with Celica underpinnings and handsome styling. The Caldina is powered by a 3SFE that produces 128 horsepower and 132 lb-ft of torque going to the front wheels, it seats five, has plenty of space out back, and retains that legendary Toyota reliability and ease of repair. While wagons are a practical choice for most, you don't just go out of your way to purchase a car from another country without some deeper connection, for Matt he was instantly attracted as he described this humble wagon as "the best looking wagon I have ever seen." Beauty may be in the eye of the beholder but it is without a doubt that this car has a "Sport Chic Tune" as declared by its side decals.
In all seriousness, Matt is a true Toyota guy but he really put thought into purchasing this emerald green estate, he compared it to the older Subaru Legacy, Honda Accord, and even the Camry wagon; but while they all served a purpose they couldn't match the perfect proportions of the Caldina. The Caldina had to be able to take his aging dogs to veterinarian visits, but why not do it in style? Matt was a fan of the body lines and how balanced the styling was as the vehicle was designed to only exist in one body style. Matt purchased his new ride from Japanese Classics and had it shipped down from Virginia, but upon arrival he just couldn't resist adding his own flare.
The first order of business was to sort out any deficiencies the car arrived with, an original Caldina grill was installed to replace the aftermarket mesh type grill that was slapped on by the previous owner. The car also came with a very rare set of Enkei Bortex Varese wheels which were later wrapped in Yokohama rubber, and behind the wheels the brakes were refreshed with ST185 Celica rotors, Endless brake pads, and stainless steel braided lines for added feel. Matt enjoys competing in autocross with his other cars as well as making trips to the Tail of the Dragon so handling was addressed with a set of Fortune Auto 500 series coil overs.
A major goal of Matt's was to get rid of the 4 speed automatic and replace it with a proper manual, but parts were hard to find and when he did locate them it took quite a bit of time to receive them from Russia. In the meantime he added the tachometer from a manual Caldina gauge cluster while retaining the PRNDL selector. In the interior he added a period correct Japanese market Pioneer double din radio with an animated equalizer, this was retrofitted with a Bluetooth receiver for modernity's sake. Although the Caldina remained automatic under Matt's ownership, he did fit an APEXi intake from an AE86 for added induction noise and top end power.
With components easily exchangeable from other Toyota products, Matt would've loved to complete a full GT-Four/GT-T conversion from a Celica/Caldina (ST215) if money and time were no object, but unfortunately the day after taking these pictures the car was sold off. After the passing of Matt's beloved dog Megan, it made sense to free up some garage space, and wrenching time (normally on his amazing AE86 and SW20) while providing someone else with an opportunity to complete the manual swap and enjoy this amazing little wagon. His favorite feature was the original green paint, but his driving style is more tuned to high-feedback vehicles, something the Caldina doesn't offer although it's supple ride tolerance was praised by everyone who had a ride in it, including his furrier family members.
The first generation Toyota Caldina is the perfect car someone looking to try a JDM imported vehicle that actually has USDM transferrable parts. Sharing components with the Celica and other vehicles allows the Caldina to either be the perfect A to B vehicle, or a wagon that flies on three wheels while carving corners. Styling-wise the Caldina is handsome, with the right wheels and stance it'll turn heads, for anyone looking to go back in time in an automotive sense, this can be an easy step in the right direction.