Edwin Rodriguez is no n00b when it comes to building cars, or even Toyotas for that matter. He's previously owned some of the west coast's toughest cars; a full race 2JZ-GTE '72 Celica, a mint 20k mileage '75 Corolla, a '69 Corolla, a '67 Mini Cooper, and even a '85 Corolla GTS with a BEAMS motor swap. Like most tuners out there, there's something addictive about high reving naturally-aspirated engines. So for Edwin's latest project, an '81 Starlet, he wanted the best NA 4-cylinder that could fit. The choice was easy, as there aren't too many high performance NA 4-cylinders being made in a longitudinal layout anymore. The swap however was anything but easy.
Previously, the car was owned by TRS in Hollywood, CA, where the chassis was seam-welded, a cage installed and was used in rally racing. Once Edwin purchased the car, he sourced the OG TRD N2 widebody kit, and then the ber-rare JDM small bumpers. The TRD body kit was designed for the N2 series races, where Starlets used a fuel cell. So the TRD kit covers up the factory gas door. After the gas spout was relocated, the car was completely covered in Porsche Guard Red paint. After being painted, the car sat in the garage from '97 until about '04. Over half a decade in hibernation while Edwin built other Toyotas, and looked for a unique power plant for the Starlet. In 2004, when Honda released the F22C, Edwin knew what was to take place. He quickly contacted HAP Recycling in Rancho Cordova. They had a brand new S2000 engine with only 650 miles on the clock. He didn't hesitate to pick it up along with everything he needed to do the swap. Edwin admits, "I used to be one of those purists, that believed in only Toyota engines in Toyota cars. But once you've driven this, you'll know why."
A couple AE86 Corolla owners had already managed to do a F20C swap. And since many Starlet owners have swapped Corolla engines in the Starlet, Edwin figured the F22C would work in the Starlet as well. The Starlet does have a smaller engine compartment than the Corolla, so there was no certainty.
The engine was sent from HAP Recycling to Modified Toys, in San Jose, CA. Once it arrived, the shop's mechanic Charlie, or should I say Dr. Frankenstein, started to work. The swap consisted of several obstacles including cutting the firewall and fabricating a whole new transmission tunnel for the six-speed transmission. Why all the work for a 4-cylinder? Let's not forget that Honda's got engines down to a science. And efficient naturally-aspirated engines are their specialty. "I wanted an old school car with new school technology," Edwin tells us. Having a high-revving engine is always a trade-off for torque. In 2004, Honda redesigned the S2000 and replaced the F20C with the F22C, giving the car more torque. Edwin adds, "I've tried the 4A-G, 20-valve, 2TG and BEAMS. They can't compare to the F22C."
After all the madness and money Edwin says, "it's worth every penny. I would build another one in a heartbeat. The car is so reliable; I drove it twice to Los Angeles. And spanked a couple of V8's along the way."
There you have it, the story of, what's probably, the first F22C in a Starlet. Can you think of a lighter rear-wheel-drive car? I can't. At 1700 pounds, this rear-wheel-drive car is one of the most badass hatchbacks to hit the streets. And with 240 naturally-aspirated horsepower, this must be ridiculously fun to drive. Damn, I shouldn't have sold my Starlet. Mental note: move Starlet up on my Cars to Build list.