An Enigma Parked in a Black Hole: The Mystery of the Toyota Celica GT Star Wars Edition Giveaway Car


Like
all good 1970s California-centric pop-culture phenomena, the near-mythical and oft-repeated
tale of the 1977 Toyota Celica GT Star Wars sweepstakes has all the hallmarks of good
sun-kissed, Me Decade mystery: inspiration, fantasy, airbrushing, a Farrah Fawcett hairdo,
and Hare Krishnas—and that’s before things get really weird. Released with little fanfare over Memorial
Day weekend in 1977, Star Wars (renamed Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope for the 1981
re-release) defied expectations at the box office and launched what is largely considered
to be the most successful movie franchise of all time. Hollywood was taken slightly off guard by
its near-instant success, but the dealmakers wasted little time in revving up the promotional
machine to satisfy the demands of a new generation that was raised in a crossfire of multimedia
marketing. But while the development and release of most
the toys and ephemera inspired by the movie have been chronicled in detail, the Star Wars–edition
1977 Toyota Celica GT remains an enigma parked inside a black hole. Built in 1977 as the grand prize in the Star
Wars Space Fantasy sweepstakes, the car has for the better part of the last 40 years remained
an apparition. (Additional prizes in the contest included
a very-’70s-tastic Club Med vacation, eight-millimeter Star Wars films, soundtrack LPs, T-shirts,
and books.) Numerous media outlets have reported on the
Star Wars Celica’s brief appearance and near-immediate disappearance from the public
eye for more than a decade now, most accounts tracing back to an April 2001 post on Relics
of the Outer Rim, a sub-directory of the comprehensive Star Wars Collectors Archive site. Since then, the same set of about a half a
dozen photographs and illustrations of the Star Wars Celica have been repurposed countless
times but the trail remains cold. Promotional Company Marden-Kane, the very
entity that handled the sweepstakes in 1977, joined the search in 2015, followed by a semi-official
call to arms by Toyota of Great Britain in the same year. While the specifics regarding the creation
of the Star Wars Celica GT are a bit muddied, most sources agree on the following details:
The design was entrusted to John Sladek, chief stylist at Delphi Auto Design in Costa Mesa
(alternately reported as Delthic Auto Design), who also is credited with creating the poster
art for the sweepstakes. The car was then modified with a body kit
similar or identical to those used for the 1977 Celica Pace Car editions. Delphi Auto Design then reportedly hired Edmund
Cano and Skip Villegas to paint the car and airbrush the graphics. The car was at some point delivered to 20th
Century Fox, where the car was photographed with Darth Vader, R2-D2, and C-3PO. This photo would go on to be featured on the
cover of the October 1977 issue of Toyota Today, a dealership-only publication from
which most existing info and images of the SWC have been sourced. The same day, the car was also photographed
on the Hello Dolly set with a Farrah Fawcett–coiffed Delphi Auto Design secretary posing in arguably
the most 1970s California photo of all time. Then things got dark. According to folklore—and as confirmed by
the New York Times—certain Delphi investors and its parent company were up to no good,
the shenanigans allegedly involving mobsters, Hari Krishnas, kidnapping, and ultimately
the murder of legendary drag racer and alleged Delphi employee Steven Bovan. Delphi Auto Design went out of business shortly
thereafter. The contest ended on December 31, 1977, and
the car was reportedly delivered to the winner in early 1978. And that was that, until decades later when
images of the car began to circulate on the internet, triggering pangs of nostalgia and
nerdiness in equal measure. Marden-Kane, the obvious first stop on the
search, didn’t hang onto records that far back. The one semi-solid clue that has emerged over
the decade involves Steve Sansweet, a former Lucasfilm employee, noted Star Wars collectible
expert, and current CEO of the non-profit Rancho Obi-Wan. Sansweet recalls seeing an advertisement for
the “Star Wars Toyota” in an issue of Antique Toy World Magazine in the late ’80s
or early ’90s: “Sometime around the late 1980s or early 1990s I was reading my monthly
issue when my eye was drawn to a small black and white ad at the bottom of a page. There it was—the Star Wars Toyota—being
offered up for sale by the original owner, who said it was in great shape. Here’s the killer: The asking price was
just $1000. I remember being transfixed and started thinking
how I could possibly buy this primo piece of promo history.” Antique Toy World Magazine did not reply to
our inquiries regarding the car or the issue with the advertisement. At that point the trail goes cold.

Daniel Ostrander

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