Tempted to come jump on the bandwagon as it approaches your local stop? The Initial D anime craze has completely saturated the global AE86 “Hachiroku” market, skyrocketing the black market prices of the vehicles. In some cases cars are marked up above $10K, or almost in the general price range where a new car can be acquired. The animation successfully tainted the AE86 market with its over-glorification of a seamless archaic automobile by propagandizing to the youth that it’s a supercar, unbeatable in the mountain roads. But what these bandwagoners don’t know is that there are plenty of other chassis that are similar in configuration and vehicle class to the AE86, and the best part is that these vehicles come without the extra “fanboy tax”. One of the prime examples of such chassis is the Toyota Starlet. The KP61 Starlet had its first breath in 1978 when it first came off the production line, but sadly it wasn’t exactly your “weekend cruiser” or “chick magnet” type of whip.
In the late ’70s and early ’80s domestic muscle cars still roamed and ruled the streets, and these flimsy Japanese go-karts were virtually ignored from the public eye, where the only beneficial aspect for owning one was the great mpg. On the flip side, things were completely different overseas in the Land of the Rising Sun, where these Starlets were more modified than your average plastic surgeon’s wife and were actually pretty quick. There were endless one-make Starlet races taking place, pushing forward the Japanese motorsports technology as large corporations, such as TRD (aka Toyota Technocraft), spent millions producing parts and sanctioning these races. For the current old schoolers, these were the heyday of TRD in terms of motorsports involvement, and the parts that were circulated are pretty much priceless now and cannot be acquired without knowing someone.
The early KP61 Starlets were equipped with a carbureted 1.3L 3K engine, and the later 4K versions in 1983 were transitioned into EFI in Japan. The U.S. versions came equipped with 4K variants that were carbureted or fuel injected depending on its year. Of course, this was one of the great ingenuities that led to the success of the Japanese automaker; they equipped their cars with a smaller displacement engine combined with a lighter chassis compared to their rhinoceros-bodied Detroit counterparts. The automaker’s philosophy for the vehicle was to get the passengers from point A to B by using the least amount of gasoline as possible, and the marketing timing couldn’t be more perfect than the 1979 energy crisis. Currently true aficionados seek the KP61 Toyota Starlet for its extremely short wheelbase and front engine rear-wheel-drive (FR) configuration. The Toyota Corolla FX16, unfortunately, superseded the Starlet in 1985, where the fuel and drivetrain efficient front-wheel-drive vehicles became more practical from a production point of view.
The good news is that die-hard gearheads who appreciate a lightweight FR vehicle of the ’80s, such as Edward Feliciano of Southern California, still exist. Edward spruced up the KP61 after seeing it sit in his cousin’s garage for 15 years. Edward was looking for a project car to work on and pass on to his son, like his father had done for him. Eager to get started, he and his son picked up the wrench and stripped the entire shell, leaving the bare-bones chassis in the hands of none other than the premier old-school autobody expert PJ Bonifacio. Since everything about the factory Starlet lacked speed, looks, and style, plus the fact that nothing was available off the shelf in terms of performance parts, Edward had to custom-fabricate everything.
The 1.3L OHV factory 4K engine produced a substandard 58 hp at 5,200 rpm. It would take tremendous amounts of custom work and finances to even get it up to today’s standards, which is an at least three-digit power figure. The economical and most efficient method for Edward was to obtain a transplant from a second-generation 2.0L MR2 3SGE engine. And since this was previously a non fuel-injected vehicle, everything from the fuel pump to a full chassis wiring harness had to be constructed from scratch. The stainless steel high-rise header and lower center of gravity engine mounts were also fabricated and welded up, as well as the oil pan to clear the KP61 front crossmember. Individual throttle bodies were mated to the head assembly along with a vacuum collector block to accumulate each cylinder vacuum pressure to channel with the MAP sensor. An Electromotive TEC 3 stand-alone ECU with a direct ignition system was artfully tucked away, unnoticeable to a layperson’s eye. Needless to say, the engine internals are still stock, but now there is more than enough power to perhaps wheelie the 1,500-pound go-kart into Jupiter. A 225hp engine in a 1,500-pound machine computes to a 1:6.7 power-to-weight ratio, equivalent to the omnipotent 500-plus horsepower Dodge Viper SRT10. The only thing keeping ample weight in the rear of the vehicle is the FS Racing fuel cell. Tilton Racing master cylinder, brake booster, and calipers are in charge of both stopping and braking chores.
The rest of the machine features a combination of parts used from other Toyotas including a larger cylindrical volume AE86 shock casing/spindles for the front suspension. TRD and Cusco competition components were utilized to make up the front and rear suspension, custom made of course. A full disc-brake setup from an AE86 were adopted, which was a given since there is no way that the stock KP61 solid rear axle could withstand anything over 70 lb-ft of torque. The brake setup was then upgraded to a Tilton Racing master cylinder, brake booster, and calipers to enable explicit stopping power.
The aesthetics of the vehicle exemplify that of the TRD catalog of the ’80s. Most of the components are practically rare artifacts now so they had to be purchased used; extensive restoration practices had to be implemented in order for the parts to look spick-and-span. Starting with the interior, low-back TRD bucket seats with brackets were chosen for the seating option. These seats are a perfect fit for the nostalgic flavor that the machine gives, also perfect considering the vehicle’s era. A Sabelt racing harness holds the driver and passenger in place as the vehicle is steered with yet another TRD product, the leather steering wheel.
An entirely new aero kit was based off the TRD N2 widebody kit by PJ Bonifacio. This includes the hood, front and rear bumper, fender flares, side skirts, rear diffuser, and rear roof spoiler. Staggered 15x10.5 front and 15x11.5 rear Panasport wheels squeezed with 225/45-15 Advan tires were set up to come millimeters away from the fender lip, but by no means making contact. Japanese-spec fender mirrors were bolted down as the final touch to the aggressive exterior, which unmistakably screams “old-school JDM”.
Despite the Starlet being an unpopular choice compared to the Hachiroku, the fanboys will indeed drool and break their necks trying to get a further glimpse of a KP61 of this caliber. The bad thing is that the Toyota Starlet will keep increasing in price as the years go on, but the good thing is that it will probably never have some sort of absurd popularity tax tacked onto its price. Edward invested a total of $30K for this build and taught his son the powerful art of father and son bonding.
Most of the components are practically rare artifacts now so they had to be purchased used; extensive restoration practices had to be implemented in order for the parts to look spick-and-span.
Behind The Build
Collecting old JDM cars, autocross, road racing, motocross
Father and son bonding project
1981 Toyota Starlet
Power: 225 whp
Engine Toyota MR2 2.0L 3SGE engine; custom exhaust manifold; engine/tranny mounts; exhaust; radiator; oil cooler; individual throttle-body system with Weber adapters; FS fuel cell with custom fuel system; Electromotive TEC3 computer
Drivetrain Custom bellhousing for five-speed W-series transmission
Suspension Custom AE86 base TRD coilovers, front and rear sway bar; full disc brake conversion; Tilton Racing billet aluminum brake pedals; Cusco strut tower bar
Wheels/Tires 15x10.5 front and 15x11.5 rear Panasport three-piece wheels; 225/45-15 Yokohama Advan tires
Brakes AE86 disc brake conversion; Tilton front and rear calipers; master cylinder; brake booster; custom brake lines
Exterior Paint and custom aero by PJ Bonifacio; custom hood, fenders, rear spoiler, JDM KP61 front and rear bumper, custom diffuser, carbon side skirts
Interior TRD steering wheel and hub, bucket seats, and rails; shift knob; Sabelt racing harness; custom harness bar
Gratitude “Mon Rivera, PJ Bonifacio, ECPerformance, and my son”