Last month in this space, we recalled how America pooh-pooh’ed anything made in Japan following WWII—and then showed a Datsun Sports roadster to prove why that resistance was both stupid and futile. That attitude was once just as strong in Europe: while Japanese cars made it to American shores in the late 1950s, it took another decade before Japan made serious inroads on the European continent. The battles were the same: national pride, a skoshe of racism thrown in for good measure, and the Japanese car companies didn’t really try to gain a foothold in continental Europe until after the American market was under way and out of danger. A dribble of models in the ‘60s established the Japanese way of doing things, and European buyers were deluged by a flood of new and improved models during the ‘70s. Countries with established automotive companies and factories like France and Germany were slower to embrace the Japanese onslaught than countries, like Belgium or The Netherlands, which had few homegrown cars of their own to speak of.
Once on European soil, all of the Japanese marques became entrenched the same way they conquered the rest of the world: excellent packaging and build quality, plus enough creature comforts, at a terrific price. The cars themselves weren’t necessarily fun, or powerful, but they were reliable; any issues finding parts mattered less when the damned things didn’t break. In addition, because the cost of fuel was triple what it was in the States, and because Europe was used to small-displacement machines running around, the Europeans got over their culture shock a little more readily and clutched the Japanese marques to their chests as if long-lost kin. So some of the cool machines that never made it to America did get on a boat—but instead of coming here, they went to Europe.
This is one of them. It’s a 1976 Toyota 1000, or model designation KP30. Imagine an early Corolla… but smaller. It never came to the States, which is probably why you’ve never heard of it—the Corolla was small enough, thank you; the KP30 was consigned to Japan and, starting in late 1974, multiple European destinations. Germany came first (the Toyota 1000 name was export-only nomenclature) but it quickly got traction in Switzerland and the Benelux region, where Toyota called it Copain, or “buddy”. Sold in Japan as the Publica, this wasn’t the starchy little ‘60s sedan that shared air-cooled two-cylinder power with the legendary Sports 800, but was an all-new version, introduced in 1970 and based on a shortened E10-generation (earliest) Corolla chassis. (From some angles, it bears more than a passing resemblance to a pre-’74 Corolla as well.) Wagon, pickup and two-door sedan versions were available as well. The KP30 was aimed at first-time buyers, as the Corolla was Toyota’s rapidly-established family car in Japan; there were no hopped-up performance versions, beyond a fastback coupe that appeared mid-‘70s, called Starlet. By 1978 it was done, replaced by the KP61-generation Starlet that was available here.
Most importantly, the KP30 weighed 1,500 pounds full of fluids, and the power (such as it was, about 44 horsepower from the iron 993cc K-series inline-Four) went to the rear wheels. Which makes it prime material to get crazy with.
Witness Greg Sandras, owner of Kamikaze Garage in Belgium. He wanted something that would combine the far-flung aspects of his vision: “My inspiration is from Bosozoku (Japanese street gang), Belgian car culture (clean and lowered) and Mad Max!,” he says. He wanted something that wouldn’t cost a million Euros to build, which meant bang for the buck was essential. Also: he wanted a car from his birth year: 1976.
Voila! Greg turned up an old lady-spec Toyota 1000: bone-stock, untouched, relatively low mileage and in really nice shape. No rot, no dents, clean inside and out. (Easier said than done in a place like Belgium, where the climate is a little more Delaware than Del Mar.) It would warm a purist’s heart to see a vintage machine in such condition.
So of course, he tore its ass up: out came the wheezy 993cc Four and in went a turbocharged Mazda 13B out of a late ‘80s RX7 Turbo II that, as was so often the case Stateside, had a perfectly good engine encased in a rotting shell. As a result, nearly quintupled the Toyota’s stock 45 horsepower and is putting a solid 200hp to the rear wheels. (The intercooler hanging off the front gives it a part-Mad Max, part-bosozoku feel.) A quick diddle of the calculator reveals that this particular Toyota measures in at around 7.5 pounds per horsepower, exactly the same power-to-weight ratio as a Lexus LF-A. Some fabrication had to be introduced into the equation because the last thing you’d want with all of that torque and power are the floor pans folding themselves into a pretzel. A new engine cradle had to be manufactured to hold the low, light 13B in place. The trans tunnel was torn up and replaced with a welded cage, both for strength and clearance. The work is clean, strong and simple, but needed.
The body mods, believe it or not, are minimal: a set of aftermarket AE86 wheel flared trimmed to fit and grafted into place; a hood with a set of vents a rear-engined VW fastback grafted in; a front lip he scored on eBay; a set of TA22 Celica fender mirrors, painted the factory mustard hue to match the rest of the machine he sprayed himself (though we’d prefer to think of it as the sort of golden brown you’d see on a Belgian Waffle, ‘cause we like carbs more than condiments).
Similarly, the stock suspension and brakes are largely left alone: some gas shocks in place of the ancient oil shocks propping up the rear end, new coilovers replacing the factory MacPherson struts in front, and nothing special with the brakes at all. The Delta wheels were sourced from Greg’s brother’s old rotary Mazda and replaced a vintage set of Gottis that had lived there previously.
We know what 7.5 pounds per horsepower feels like, in rough terms, but we wanted to hear Greg describe it. He told us, “Special moment is a meeting with exhaust flame and bang bang song.” OK, then.
Good thing that hot Japanese cars like this refuse to get lost in translation.
1976 Toyota 1000 (KP30)
Owner Greg Sandras
Hometown Jurbise, Belgium
Occupation Auto body painter/restorer
Engine Mazda 13B Turbo II with HKS mushroom air filter, boost controller and fuel regulator
Drivetrain FC-generation Mazda 5-speed with Stage 1 clutch; shortened driveshaft; FB-generation Mazda rear with mixed FB and FC half-shafts; all components balanced
Footwork & Chassis stock front suspension with custom-built coilovers
Wheels & Tires 13x7" front, 13x8" rear Delta wheels; Nanking Super Sport tires
Exterior AE86 flares, front lip from eBay, hood with integrated VW Fastback venting; factory Mustard color applied by owner
Interior pedals and seat sourced from eBay; Blitz turbo timer; Takata harnesses
Thanks You My brother, and the three-colored cat who lives at the shop
Photos courtesy of Kevve.be Media