Introducing My New Parts Runner


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With the SAAB down for repairs, I needed something to get around with. Go on, go ahead and laugh! After you have composed yourself, come back and let me explain my reasoning. On my way home from work the other day, I spotted the silhouette of something unique sitting behind a fence at a used car lot. Naturally, I made a u-turn and went to investigate. The car looked good for its age, but being an econo-box, I headed back to my car. After sitting down and closing the door, I thought for a moment. Where had I heard that name before? Starlet? Hmm. What made it different than any other economy car from the eighties?


I flung the door open and walked back over to the car. This time, I peaked under its backside. What’s this? A differential in the back! This wasn’t just any old econo car, this was an econo car with rear wheel drive! That got me interested, so I gave the owner a call. A test drive was scheduled and I went home to do a little research.


Turns out, Toyota only imported these little guys between 1981 and 1984. They were meant to be a cheap run-about, but with a tachometer, rear defrost, and a radio, I think it is safe to say they were pretty well spec’d. They were simple micro cars that achieved amazing MPGs (38/52). Read more about their history here on Toyoland.


The carbureted 1.3 liter engine may be gutless, but with a curb weight of around 1,600 pounds and a five-speed manual transmission it can still keep up with modern traffic. Dare I say it, it is even fun to hustle around in! The gear shift is surprisingly slick and the handling is great. It is so light that the lack of power steering is never an issue. This Starlet is the second lightest car I have ever owned, coming in second only to my Spitfire. This one has a back seat and a hatchback though!


These cars are popular with the tuner and the rally crowds for obvious reasons. They like to cram newer Toyota four-bangers or rotary engines under the hoods. With such a short wheelbase and low weight, they must be a handful. We even found one that a guy shoved a Hayabusa into one and went hill climbing with it! Although the prospect of doing something like that is amusing, we will probably just leave well enough alone.


Obviously the test drive went well because the car is now sitting in my driveway. The nice guy I bought it from purchased the car about 15 years ago from a neighbor who was the first owner. It has been well cared for mechanically, but is starting to show its age on the outside. I figured $750 was a fair price to pay for an economical car that could get me around until I have the SAAB running better. Then again, I’m having so much fun with the Starlet that maybe the 900 can sit for a little while longer…


Starlet Project Updates:

Auctions Ending Soon


  1. paul

    Well one thing you have to say about these old Toyo’s is you can’t kill them & this one is pretty much all there after all this time.

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  2. Mark E

    Any car that looks that good and runs well is easily worth $750. To get a Starlet is frosting on the cake! You could only do better if you found a Suzuki Swift turbo or a Mazda 323 GTX! Good find!! Unless you need something bigger, I’d vote on dumping the Squab and putting the money towards fixing the Starlet up!! :D

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  3. Dale

    You can find that kind of stuff where they don’t salt the roads. None left in the rust belt.

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  4. Rev Rory

    Really good choice! I’ve always enjoyed those, lightweight rwd is damn hard to find nowadays. I want it when you get the Saab back up if it turns out to be ok.

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  5. David C.

    I thought at first that it was a Rabbit. I don’t think I’ve heard of a Starlet before which of course got me curious to see if I could find one on Craigslist here in Calif. First I searched locally, came up dry. Then I went big city: Los Angeles, Orange County and Las Vegas… I found one, that’s it, in LA for $4K and I don’t think it was as nice as the one you found. Enjoy it!

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  6. Ron

    I would love to buy this from you if you decide to sell it down the road. I had one 20 years ago and wish I never sold it.

    Thank You, Ron

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  7. Robert J

    Rock on with that! I’d be tempted to find another one without a motor, sell the SLAAB andd stuff a Honda S2000 engine in the project while driving this lovely butternut.

    Congrats on a fine purchase.

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  8. Dave

    When you first look at the side view, I too thought it was a VW. I own an ’84 Rabbit GTI and an ”87 Golf GL, both are 2dr and they look the same from the sides. This is a nice looking little car you got.

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  9. Bryan Cohn

    These are great cars, what a find! Keep it up, drive it well and in a few years you’ll get more than you paid. Heck, as noted above its probably worth $4000 in So Cal right now! Think of it, clean it up, drive to LA, party like a rock star for a weekend, sell car on Sunday afternoon and fly home carless, exhausted and with a fat wallet!

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  10. BartTheCat

    I remember a friend had a Starlet, I drove it and was impressed at how quick that thing was!

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  11. cory

    shhh…. don’t go telling everyone about this kind of stuff! now is the time to be buying up stupid little Japanese econoboxes. they are rock bottom cheap, loads of fun and likely will be collectible. (don’t believe me? lets go 510 shopping) stuff a 22r in it, a header, some sidedrafts and lets go play.

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  12. Leon P

    probably best to run non ethanol fuel in it

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  13. Jim-Bob

    What a great deal! These things are big bucks in certain parts of the country because they make good little drag cars. In my area, you mostly see them run by people of a certain ethnicity. Usually you see them with about a foot of air under the front wheels, launching on the limiter with a built Mazda 13B under the hood. As far as just running it? Sure, why not? It’s an old Toyota so it’s impervious to anything but rust. Plus, tiny cars are a blast to drive without killing your wallet.

    As for a good swap… how about a 4A-GE with a T-50 5 speed to make a mini hachi roku? Without the sound of a crazed rotary under the hood, who would suspect it? Add a mildly wider set of tires (175-70 13, for example) and you will be surprised how well it handles.

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  14. Rob K

    These were the staple in UK oval racing in all classes from National Hot Rods, down to Stock Rods and stock cars for most of the 80’s and 90’s. With the 2 litre pinto engine on board and some lightened bodywork, they were very very fast and handled well.

    Here’s the 1987 world final at Ipswich

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  15. erikj

    I bought an 81, starlet for a girlfriend back in around 1990. We loved that car and had fun with it and I remember it getting crazy good gas mpg. For a small car, it was fun to drive as well. Only downfall was taking it on a trip with 4 of us total and some baggage. I don’t think we ever got over 40 mph in it, but what a great little ride that was. A very simple car, just the way I like life, simple!!!!!!!!!!

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  16. jim s

    great buy, you should be able to turn and earn on this one when you deside to sell. i would leave it stock and just drive it. it would be fun to autocross.

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  17. Mark H

    I just scored a 83 Corolla RWD. 80s Japanese cars are indestructible! Nice find

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  18. Paul B

    This is why the Japanese killed the European makes in America. Their cars ran and ran. The Euro cars sat and sat, waiting for expensive and difficult repairs. These little Toyotas will surprise a lot of people. The shifters are great, brakes and steering generally excellent, they’re fun and convenient to drive, the economy is tremendous, and they actually run! Congratulations on finding a car that will stay with you as daily transport while you play with other enjoyable but less reliable creations!

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  19. DT

    Toyota’s rule

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  20. Mark F

    I bought one of these new in 1981. It was a blast to drive, and I’ve never had a car since that could match its fuel economy.

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  21. Charlie Huntington
    • maserati

      he has one 0 to much in the price………

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  22. BTG88

    What would you rather get hit in – the Starlet or the Saab? …Exactly. Get the Saab running again.

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    • jim s

      yes you are right.

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    • DT

      A Chevy 3/4 ton 4wd pick up

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    • Jesse Jesse MortensenAuthor

      Good point…

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  23. Steve

    I remember seeing one of these at the drag strip tubbed with a rotory stuffed under the hood. Every time he would launch you could see the car twisting with the front wheels in the air.

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  24. Ian @ Jewel or Jalopy

    My mom drove a 1978 Chevette when I was in high school. Light, stick, RWD. Needless to say we did lots of donuts in the highschool parking lot. Most of my friends were shocked that it was RWD. And with the hatch it could swallow a double bass. :)

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  25. RickyM

    These were mostly bought by Grandads over here in England. Starlets did not like our salted roads though so few and far between now……

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  26. DT

    salted roads,and deep fried snickers bars,Im staying here

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  27. Bruce

    I live in the Seattle/Tacoma area so I thought I would check on craigslist…. $4500.
    You made a good investment, ha!

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  28. MarkA

    Here’s a better Idea, convert the Saab Turbo engine to rear wheel drive & throw it in the Starlet & keep the Sleeper Look! The Saab engine is a Variation of the Old 16V Triumph Engine so it came from a RWD car originally! I’d like to see that on the Traffic light GP!

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  29. Chris

    Count me as jealous, had one of these as a teen and have been looking for another for ages. Even in SoCal they are rare and those that are around are pretty crapped out!

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  30. Wil

    Those cars are “Gold” in Puerto Rico. Many are available for sale and parts are vast!!!

    Like 0

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