The Toyota Starlet was sold in the United States for the 1981 through 1984 model years, though not in large numbers. It was rock-and-stick simple, had rear-wheel drive and an unkillable pushrod engine, and it got a (claimed) 54 highway mpg. But it was tiny and cramped even by Miserable Econobox standards and had to compete with the Corolla Tercel on the very same showroom floors. Since the Tercel was cheaper, roomier, more powerful (everything is relative!), and generally more modern, American Starlets were rare to start with. They have become even more rare today, as generations of wild-eyed engine-swappers tripled Starlet horsepower and stuffed the handful of remaining examples (that didn’t succumb to rust) into concrete abutments and dragstrip K-barriers.
Here’s a Colorado ’82 that is as close to being completely used up as any vehicle I have ever seen in a wrecking yard.
It’s apparent that this car’s final owner didn’t believe in squandering money. When the rear glass broke (probably in one of the many punishing hailstorms we get here on the High Plains), a rectangular piece of Lexan was fitted into the trapezoidal hatch opening with wood framing, scrap metal, tape, and plenty of screws.
This bit of get-it-done-today-for-$1.99 fabrication ranks right up there with drilling hundreds of vent holes in your Tercel’s plastic replacement side glass, securing your Cadillac’s doors with riveted-on padlock hasps, and the emergency Accord trailer hitch in the annals of automotive field expedient engineering.
The 4K-C engine in the Starlet made an incredibly dependable 58 horsepower, come snow, rain, heat, or gloom of night. Since the Starlet’s curb weight was just 1,724 pounds (versus the relatively elephantine ’82 Tercel hatchback’s 1,915 pounds), it wasn’t anywhere near as sluggish as the horsepower figures might suggest. Think about that next time you read some car reviewer trashing the Mitsubishi Mirage for hauling its 2,029 pounds with “only” 74 horses.
I wasn’t able to figure out the reasoning behind this strange repair, which seems to be a flour-and-water-paste-soaked kitchen towel taped over the mangled fender. Perhaps it was supposed to reduce the danger to pedestrians posed by sharp metal edges?
When I first laid eyes on this car, I guessed that I would see at least 400,000 miles on the clock. Nope, just 224,572. The extensive sun-bleaching suggests that it sat outdoors for a couple of decades prior to washing up at my local U-Pull-and-Pay, so it may have been on pace to reach some outlandishly high mileage figure before it got abandoned. Note the corrections for 55 and 65 miles per hour on the speedometer, suggesting that larger-than-stock tires may have reduced the indicated speed.
There’s some rust in the usual Malaise Era Toyota spots, though nothing very serious. Worth restoring? No way. Sad to see the death of a Starlet? Definitely.
More miles per gallon than any other car!
In the Starlet’s homeland, fuel economy was pitched with much greater levels of excitement.
You could get reasonably sporty ’82 Starlets in Japan, too.
We never saw U.S.-market Starlet ads showing EFI-equipped cars snarling around mountain switchbacks. Happy Choice!
OK, so this JDM ad is from a decade later, but it deserves viewing for its amazing levels of tachycardiac frenzy.
One of the main reasons you don’t see too many Starlets on the street today is that so many of them have ended up doing stuff like this.