By on March 16, 2016

1982 Toyota Starlet in Colorado junkyard, RH front view - © 2016 Murilee Martin / The Truth About Cars

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.

1982 Toyota Starlet in Colorado junkyard, field expedient rear window - © 2016 Murilee Martin / The Truth About Cars

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.

1982 Toyota Starlet in Colorado junkyard, field expedient rear window - © 2016 Murilee Martin / The Truth About Cars

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.

1982 Toyota Starlet in Colorado junkyard, engine - © 2016 Murilee Martin / The Truth About Cars

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.

1982 Toyota Starlet in Colorado junkyard, rag fender repair - © 2016 Murilee Martin / The Truth About Cars

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?

1982 Toyota Starlet in Colorado junkyard, speedometer - © 2016 Murilee Martin / The Truth About Cars

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.

1982 Toyota Starlet in Colorado junkyard, rust - © 2016 Murilee Martin / The Truth About Cars

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.

Toyota Starlet in 24 Hours of LeMons race - © 2016 Murilee Martin

There’s a 4AGE-swapped Starlet racing in West Coast 24 Hours of LeMons events, and it’s fairly quick. Not as quick as an FX16 Corolla GT-S with the same engine, maybe, but it has more character.

Get the latest TTAC e-Newsletter!

40 Comments on “Junkyard Find: 1982 Toyota Starlet...”

  • avatar

    Ten, maybe more years back I knew a guy that had one of these and he was turning it into an autocross racer.

  • avatar
    Felis Concolor

    I’m surprised the owner cared enough to factor in the increased tire diameter, although considering how difficult it is today to find any tires for 13″ wheels, it was likely a case of going with whatever was available at the time, then having a friend act as pace car while setting the new speed indicators.

    Or perhaps it was a case of receiving a speeding citation shortly after throwing on some taller rubber and realizing the need for some recalibration.

  • avatar

    Redneck repairs for sure, but there’s a certain level of accomplishment in taking low cost motoring to the ultimate minimum.

    The cost per mile over the 224,000 could be some of the lowest in the USA.

  • avatar

    These little cars remind me of the early Ford Fiesta that the US market got for a couple of years around 78-80…small, RWD, etc.

    I have a friend who is too cheap to fix his Suburban’s dead speedometer so he hangs his cell phone from a windshield bracket and uses the GPS to tell him his speed. Tight ass, won’t spend a nickel on anything.

  • avatar

    Ahhh, the memories. This was my first car, though in white.
    1. A bag of sand in the back and this was equal to any 4wd of the day.
    2.a. I had friends who could squat the rear end off the ground, alone.
    2.b. This led to several cases of finding it “parked” in strange places. e.g. front lawns, baseball fields, 2ft snowdrifts, etc.
    3. I would cry bullshit about that 65mph note except it IS sitting in Colorado. It’s theoretically possible there’s a mountain road somewhere you could drive down, foot to the floor and MAYBE hit 65 by the time you get to the bottom.
    4. I was hoping for a pic of the manual choke knob and a comment about actually needing to know how to start an engine. Not only did Alan Jackson’s plywood boat have an electric choke, it had more horsepower too!
    5. Last but not least, I can verify that payload is well over 1000 lbs. Ignore what those 12″ tires say for max load.

  • avatar

    I saw these Toyota Starlets mostly in the Asian markets where cars needed to be smaller. When I moved to the US, my mom had the larger Tercel. I was surprised to see a Starlet in college with one of my buddies. I thought he got it from overseas. He was unhappy because the dash would not light up and he could not see it very well during night driving. So I told him, “did you try the light adjuster knob?” To which he answered, “what light adjuster knob?” I reached under the steering column, and proceeded to turn up his lights to full. And it blew his mind, like in those commercials. He felt like he had an all new car. He was driving it “dark” for a few years. Not bad for an old beat up family car that was handed down to starving college kids.

  • avatar

    What will racers do when all the small RWD cars are gone?

  • avatar

    Welp, never knew the Starlet was sold here. The little ones in original Gran Turismo way back were so slow!'97.jpg/revision/latest?cb=20120524232927

    Front wheel drive as well.

  • avatar
    Car Ramrod

    Wow, somebody got every dollar out of this one.

    Do you ever see any late 70s Coronas at the yards? My family had one as a loaner for our shop when I was very young (maybe 1986-87), but I haven’t seen one in at least 15 years.

    • 0 avatar
      Roberto Esponja

      Car Ramrod:

  • avatar

    That Saab 9000 next to it makes me incredibly sad…

  • avatar

    Out of the 30 cars I have owned, this Starlet is in my top 5. A tossable, loud, bombproof RWD car that was so fun to drive but super practical also. It had a manual choke! Screw valve adjusters! Two-tone vinyl seats! I traded it to a friend for his van and I have regretted doing so ever since.

    • 0 avatar

      This describes my love for Fiat-based RWD Ladas. Brutally simple, the essence of an automobile distilled. Fun to drive with their manual steering, RWD, and very satisfying shifters. Not as reliable in a day-to-day sense as this Starlet (when new), but impressively durable as far as being driven offroad on a daily basis and swallowing up potholes without complaint.

  • avatar
    April S

    In 2002 I picked up a mint condition, one owner, low mileage 83′ two door hatch off of eBay. Tan with matching two-tone vinyl seats. Fun little car but sadly an idiot made a left turn into it (hit right at the fender/doorjamb). By that point in time it was almost impossible to find replacement body parts so I sold it to a speed shop that specialized in Japanese cars. They planned on doing a Mazda rotary swap.

  • avatar

    RWD Starlets tend to be pretty expensive nowadays (at least in northern Europe). Most have been used up in racing, and the last remaining ones are highly sought after.

  • avatar
    MRF 95 T-Bird

    Every now and then I’ll see one usually with some mods like the early 80’s alloy wheels from the RWD Corolla and a tuner exhaust. Sometimes you can hear the high pitched Mazda rotary as it accelerates.

  • avatar
    Big Al From 'Murica

    Best thing about this car is that it has probably already been crushed. Somebody is always extolling the virtues of cars like this in the comment section when they pop up. You aren’t fooling anybody. This is a piece of crap, penalty box, fart car and my only regret upon seeing it pictured here was that it didn’t meet the crusher 20 years ago.

  • avatar

    Dad bought one of these new in 1981 to replace the 74 Pontiac that mom took in the divorce. It was the first Toyota I had ever seen, I had never even heard of them. This car and the 82 GMC truck were the reasons he never again bought an American made car. We put 190k miles on it and it would have gotten a bunch more if my step-sister hadn’t rear ended somebody.Surprisingly fun car to drive and dead reliable, 190k miles and only replaced a clutch (step sister, again) and an alternator.

  • avatar

    A horrible malaise era Toyoduh product – and likely just as the Tercel was a killer of drivers in accidents, this tin can Toyoduh was a death trap. A problem that was found with many lightly built Japanese products from this era. You got great gas mileage, but it cost you your life.

  • avatar

    When I think think of sub 1800 lb cars with indestructible pushrod motors, ’77-’80 Fiesta. It had 66 hp, more room, and better looks than this little sad sack. Yes the Starlet had RWD, but very poor packaging. The Tercel on the other hand was neat little car.

  • avatar

    Oh man, I loved the Starlet. Also, check out the photobombing of the last picture by Tim Odell’s Los Huevos Ranchero, which has since met its demise. But, another one is in the works.

Read all comments

Back to TopLeave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.

Recent Comments

  • Jeff S: I have mentioned the pitfalls of EVs with range, cost, and infrastructure before. Those are givens and those...
  • sumgai1986: If you take this car for what it is, and try not to make it too much more, it is an absolutely wonderful...
  • jalop1991: “The lefty environmental advocates are really stuck on them being “good for the environment” with...
  • ravenuer: “Somewhere” is the important issue in my case. I would need an awful long cord. Hopefully the...
  • jalop1991: “But, a long distance road trip takes far more planning and may be out of the question if you want...

New Car Research

Get a Free Dealer Quote

Who We Are

  • Adam Tonge
  • Bozi Tatarevic
  • Corey Lewis
  • Jo Borras
  • Mark Baruth
  • Ronnie Schreiber