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Japanese legends on wheels: the Toyota Starlet

A small, unforgettable cult that thousands of drivers have enjoyed carrying around in Japan and around the world.

by Giacomo Donati

The second generation of the Toyota Starlet, released by Toyota in 1978, is a small unforgettable cult, also because it was a very popular model even outside of Japan.

Introduced on February 3, 1978, the second generation of the Toyota Starlet is a rear-wheel drive vehicle with a vertically mounted 1.3-liter engine and is the first Toyota to employ higly responsive rack-and-pinion steering: this latter characteristic, combined with the fact that only few chassis have held up so long against rust, still make the Starlet a sought after rarity among enthusiasts, who often use it as a base on which to elaborate exciting drift or rally cars.

The dashboard

The rear

Designed with a strong emphasis on the efficiency of space and of the transfer of energy to the ground, it has a mechanical layout that would not seem possible in an ultra-compact car just 3745 mm long.

As a consequence, the Starlet was a really fun car to drive: although equipped with a single carburetor, it was very powerful, up to 72 HP, almost sporty for the category. Produced until 1984, the third generation car had a large and luxurious bodywork, but the shifting of the traction from rear to front changed its maneuverability forever, disappointing admirers and thus marking the end of an era.
Despite the somewhat clumsy style, the more streamlined front endowed it with a discreet charm, highlighted by the touch of the rear-view mirrors mounted on the hood - a detail that soon vanished. It was still an era of no-frills cars, where the substance under the bodywork really shone.