Junkyard Find: 1982 Toyota Starlet

Murilee Martin
by Murilee Martin
junkyard find 1982 toyota starlet

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.

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.

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  • Shawnski Shawnski on Mar 18, 2016

    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.

  • Dukeisduke Dukeisduke on Mar 31, 2016

    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.

  • MaintenanceCosts This is now our fourth 20th Anniversary GTI, and the third of those four that had major structural modifications for purely aesthetic reasons. I didn't picture Tim as the type to want to join the STANCE YO crowd, but here we are?
  • JMII This is why I don't watch NASCAR, it just a crash fest. Normally due the nature of open-wheel cars you don't see such risky behavior during Indy car events. You can't trade paint and bump draft with an Indy car. I thought it was a sad ending for a 500. While everyone wants a green flag finish at some point (3 laps? 5 laps?) red flagging it is just tempting people too much like a reset button in a game.The overall problem is the 500 is not a "normal" race. Many one-off competitors enter it and for almost every driver they are willing to throw away the entire season championship just to win the "500". It sure pays way more then winning the championship. This would be like making a regular season NFL game worth more then the Super Bowl. This encourages risky behavior.I am not sure what the fix is, but Indy's restart procedures have been a mess for years. If I was in charge the rule would be pit speed limiter until the green flag drops at a certain place on the track - like NASCARs restart "zone". Currently the leader can pace the field however they wish and accelerate whenever they choose. This leads to multiple false and jumped starts with no penalty for the behavior. Officals rarely wave off such restarts, but that did happened once on Sunday so they tried to make driver behave. The situation almost didn't happen as there were two strategies in the end with some conserving fuel and running old tires, driving slower with others racing ahead. However the last caution put everyone on even terms so nobody had advantage. It always gets crazy in the last few laps but bunching up the field with a yellow or red flag is just asking for trouble.
  • Tim Healey Lol it's simply that VWVortex is fertile ground for interesting used cars!
  • Jalop1991 I say, install gun racks.Let the games begin!
  • EBFlex For those keeping track, Ford is up to 24 recalls this year and is still leading the industry. But hey, they just build some Super Dutys that are error free. Ford even sent out a self congratulatory press release saying they built Super Duty’s with zero defects. What an accomplishment!