Is this the most reliable car ever built? There are at least two very different but highly reliable sources that suggest it may well be. One is of course its owner. And as we know all too well, one car does not make a proper sample size. But the other source does: ADAC: it has a virtual monopoly on responding to any and all breakdowns in Germany, sort of an Uber-AAA. Starting in 1978, in classic Germanic fashion, it fastidiously compiled Pannenstatistik on every Panne that ever stopped a car in the Vaterland. And the results? Let’s just say that at a time when Mercedes was considered the paragon of unstoppable German solidity and reliability, the Starlet smashed right through that reputation and drove the big-wigs in Stuttgart bonkers.
The very first year, in 1978, the Corolla jumped to the top of the list. But when the tiny RWD Starlet appeared in 1980, it took the top spot the first three years straight, and six firsts in the decade. At a time when the legendary W123 MB Diesel was considered the gold standard, the dirt-cheap Starlet rubbed the Germans’ and Mercedes’ nose in the statistical dirt year after year. And they were not at all happy about it.
It’s not just the RWD Starlet that made such an impact on the ADAC list each year, which is big news in Germany. Its successor FWD model, and numerous other Toyotas as well as Mazdas, Mitsubishis and Nissans that made the list regularly until just the past few years. The whole thirty years of winners and losers are here.
The Starlet was Toyota’s smallest and cheapest car, and it basically was an update of the gen1 Corolla 1200. As such, it had the mechanical robustness and un-complexity a Toyota Hi-Lux pickup. The little OHV four had been made for ages, and the rest of the mechanical components were tried and true. If you needed to pick one car to keep and fix for thirty years, this would be it.
The owner of this car, who was Edward’s fifth grade teacher, has been driving it daily almost twenty years. In addition to being a part-time college instructor now, he also does carpentry work, and manages to fit all his tools in the back, and straps the ladders and lumber on the roof rack. Who says you need a Mega-cab 4×4 pickup to be a builder?
The little hauler now has close to 300k miles on it, and has never let its owner down once with an unexpected Panne. Other than replacing a few of the valve springs, it’s only required the normal maintenance and replacement of wear items. He says its good to go for…who knows how many decades more?
Obviously, the driving dynamics are not what the Starlet, and its early Corolla predecessors were all about. But if the priority was on just getting there, as cheaply as possible, the Starlet was essentially impossible to top or stop.