Following the Toyota trend from last week, we're continuing this week with the all -reliable Starlet!
What is the Toyota Starlet?
In production from 1973 to 1999, the Starlet is a small, compact car that replaced the Toyota Publica, even thought the Publica’s “P” code and generation numbering was retained. In fact, the first generation starlet was badged and sold as the Publica Starlet in several markets. The Starlet was sold through an exclusive dealer network known as the Corolla Store.
The Starlet had a long and chequered career, but it proved to be hugely popular in many markets because of its excellent fuel economy, low purchase price, reliability, and the ease with which its compact size could be manoeuvred through the narrow Japanese streets.
Starlet 40 Series
First produced in 1973 and sold as the Publica Starlet 40 Series, the first models were fitted with 1000-, and 1 200 cc engines, and in shape strongly resembled a truncated Corolla. Initially, there were only two body styles available- a three-door station wagon, and a two-door sedan. In October of 1973, a four-door sedan was introduced, with trim levels designated as Standard, DeLuxe, Hi-DeLuxe, ST, and SR. Below is a table representing an overview of the 40 Series Starlet.
Starlet 60 Series
While the 40 Series was sold almost exclusively in Japan, the new, upgraded 60 Series that was launched in February of 1978, was sold outside of Japan in large numbers. The 60 Series models were fitted with 993-, 1166-, and 1290 cc engines, which were designated as the KP69-2K, KP62-3K, and KP61-4K models respectively.
The range of body styles was limited to three-, and five-door hatchbacks, but a slightly longer five-door station wagon was later offered in Japan and certain European and Asian markets. This variant, known as a “Van”, became available in October of 1978.
In the Japanese domestic market however, Starlets were only offered with the 1 300 cc engine once it was introduced, with the exception of the Van, in which the smaller and less powerful 1 200 cc 3K-HJ engine was retained. The 60 Series Starlets were also the first Toyota passenger cars to be fitted with rack-and-pinion steering.
Trim levels on the 60 Series included Standard, DeLuxe, (which were sold with “DX” badging in a few markets), GL, XL, S, Sprint, and SE designations. Some of the features on “Sprint” models included a tachometer, 1 290 cc engine mated to the five-speed K50 manual transmission, and a radically different “racing inspired” interior.
Other features included an upgraded, and stiffer suspension known as the “Toyota Sports Handling Suspension”, and badging that clipped onto the body work, as opposed to other models on which the badging was glued into place. Sprint models also used the alloy wheels that were later used on the first AE86 Corolla models.
In the American market, the only Starlet ever sold was the KP61, and then only from 1981 to 1984, when it was replaced by the Corolla FX in 1985. From 1981 to 1982, Starlet models sold in the USA were fitted with only the K50 five-speed transmission and tachometer, which was the equivalent of the “S” trim level of other markets. Models from 1983 to 1984 were also offered with a fuel injected version of the 4K engine, mated to a four speed manual transmission. This variant was the equivalent of the XLi trim level of most other markets.
Reliability of the 60 Series Starlet
In term of mechanical reliability, the 60 series Starlet had no known reliability issues, and few comparable models by other manufactures could match it in this respect. However, 60 series Starlets were known to rust under the seal of the rear hatch, under the doors, and behind the front fenders. This makes it a difficult car to find in reasonable condition, but they are nevertheless hugely popular for conversion into affordable track and rally cars, where they have achieved notable successes, although they were never developed into factory supported competition vehicles.
60 Series Starlets have achieved near iconic status in many parts of the world, including the USA, but they fetch very high prices due to their status as collector’s items. Below is a table representing an overview of the 60 Series Toyota Starlet.
Starlet 70 Series.
In October of 1984, the first front wheel drive Starlet models appeared, dubbed the 70 Series. Body styles were limited to three-, and five-door hatchbacks, supplemented by a three-door enclosed commercial variant.
The 70 Series was also the first to use the new 12-valve, 1E, and 2E engines that replaced the K-series engines. In Japan, the 70 series consisted of an extensive range of trim levels, with designations such as Standard, DX, Soleil, XL, XL Lisse, SE, Si, Si Limited, Ri, Turbo R, Turbo S. The 1000 cc 1E engine was however not sold in Japan, but was available in almost all other markets.
On all turbo-charged models, the engine was an adapted 2E engine, known as the 2E-TELU engine, and was always used in conjunction with Toyota’s proprietary active suspension, commonly known as TEMS. Two models, the Ri and Turbo R, were lightweight variants that were developed specifically for motor sport applications.
Models for export to foreign markets were badged as 1.0 Standard, 1.0 DX, 1.0 XL, 1.0 XL Lisse, 1.3 DX, 1.3 XL, 1.3 S, 1.3 SE, and all were fitted with the 1L 1E engine. One export model, the Si Limited, was nothing more than a standard XL or 1.3 S that had been given a facelift with spoilers in the front and rear, and “sporty” black and red interior, and two-tone exterior color schemes in black and white, or black and silver. It did however, also receive multi-point fuel injection.
The first Starlets to be assembled outside of Japan were 1985 1.0 XL’s, in a plant in Indonesia, where a 1.3 litre model was added to the model line-up a year later. In 1987, Japanese models received a minor cosmetic facelift with a revamped nose, redesigned interior, new tail lights, and slightly bigger bumpers. Below is a table representing an overview of the 70 Series Starlet.
Starlet 90 Series
The basic three-, and five-door hatchback body style was carried over into the 90 Series that appeared in 1996. In Japan the model line-up consisted of the Reflet, with three sub models badge as Base, F, and X, the Glanza, with sporty handling characteristics, and the Carat. Both the Glanza and Carat variants were fitted with the gutsy 4E-FE engine, while the 1N diesel engine was offered in the Base variant.
One variant based on the Reflet sported styling in the SUV tradition with flared wheel arches, a roof rack, body cladding, and a spare tyre mounted on the hatch.
The 90 Series in Europe and Elsewhere.
In 1996, the Starlet EP91 became available in much of Europe, and although they were nothing more than 1.3 XLi’s, the model achieved a moderate level of success and popularity. In the UK, it was marketed as the 1.3 Sportif, and an somewhat upgraded 1.3 CD, with the “CD” referring to the CD player that came as standard equipment. In 1998, the UK model range was expanded with the inclusion of the 1.3 S, the substantially upgraded 1.3 SR that sported a lowered suspension, spoiler, and high performance exhaust system. A few months later the 1.3 GLS was added to line-up.
Other markets in Europe included France, where the 1.3 XLi was marketed as the Base, GL, and GLS. In Switzerland it was sold as the 1.3 Crystal, while in Norway is was badged SLi. Except for the Base and GL models sold in France, all other European variants were fitted with rear head rests, power windows on the front doors, airbags, tachometers, and color coded bumpers. Additional feature like sunroofs and ABS brakes were available as options.
Only one model, the EP91, was ever sold in Australia, where it was sold as the entry level three-door LIFE, a sportier version dubbed GROUP X, and a substantially upgraded version known as the STYLE. 1997 saw the introduction of a five-door version of the LIFE variant that sported a driver’s air bag as standard equipment, and shortly after, in 1998, both the GROUP X and STYLE versions were withdrawn from the Australian market.
1998 saw the last facelift for the Starlet, with new interior fabrics, redesigned front bumpers, revised grille, and new tail lights. These improvements were however restricted to the Japanese domestic market, where production of the Starlet ceased in July of 1999, shortly after the release of the new Toyota Yaris range.
Reliability of the 90 Series Starlet.
The 90 Series Starlet is without doubt one of the best, and most reliable small cars ever produced by Toyota. With no known reliability issues, this series achieved near cult status in many countries due to their low running costs, ease of operation and maintenance, and their high resale value in markets like South Africa, where they are known as the Toyota Tazz.
Apart from the 60 Series’ proneness to rust, none of the other series had serious, known reliability issues, provided their maintenance schedules were followed, just like with any other car. However, personal experience over three decades has shown that almost any Starlet can survive a lack of proper care and maintenance in ways that no other small car can.
Starlets have been described as “dull”, “boring”, “uninspired”, and even “years behind the times”, but their legendary reliability, popularity, and ease of maintenance have ensured a place for the Starlet in motoring history.