Starlets were typically known for being dependable, though dull automobiles. Debuting in 1973, the Starlet was Toyota's small replacement to the Toyota Publica; the Publica nomenclature continued to be utilized in some of Toyota's export markets. The Starlet retained the Publica's 'P' code and generation numbering. Originally, the vehicle had been launched in April of 1973 as the Publica Starlet 40 series. It was available with 1.0 and 1.2 liter engines. Typically, the Starlet resembled a shortened Corolla. Available variant models were the 2-door sedan and the 3-door wagon, with the 4-door sedan arriving in October of 1973. The grades of the Publica Starlet 40 series were Standard, Deluxe, Hi-Deluxe, ST, and SR. Until 1984, the Starlet/Publica was rear wheel drive.
Introduced in 1978, the Starlet 60 series is a much better known lineup, mainly since it was the first to be extensively sold outside of Japan. Known to a very few American's, the Starlet KP60 was still sold as a Publica in some areas. This model kept the original engines and added a 1.3 liter four-cylinder and both two and four door hatchbacks were sold throughout the world with even a four-door wagon sold in some areas. Available with 993, 1,166 and 1,290 cc engine, both three-door and 5-door hatchbacks were available in export markets, though a very unique 5-door wagon variant was sold in Honk Kong, Germany and Japan. The levels of trim of the Starlet 60 series were Standard, Deluxe, GL, XL, S and SE.
The vehicle was updated in 1980 and now featured square headlight. The grille was updated in 1980 for the de rigeur square headlights that affected nearly every car at the time, despite their lower utility and their higher cost. The new electronic fuel injection system that was started in the 1980's increased both fuel economy and performance. A microcomputer very precisely controlled both fuel flow and featured diagnostic capabilities.
The Starlet was first introduced in the U.S. in 1981 and Road & Track called it the 'commuter car for the 1980's.' Only briefly introduced in the U.S. the rear-wheel-drive, 1.3-liter-engine Starlet liftback was marketed as the 'cheap to keep' vehicle with great gas mileage and strong reliability. It came with electronic ignition, a five-speed stick-shift, comfortable seats, rack and pinion steering and great cargo capacity of 23 cubic feet with the rear seats folded down, aided by a temporary spare. The steel belted radials were standard along with power disc brakes.
Low weight helped the vehicle, and its 1.3 liter engine aided it to high mileage. Cheaper and lighter than chrome, the black urethane bumpers weathered well, and the aerodynamic roof lip kept rain from dripping on passengers when they entered, but presented very little wind noise. The rear window pushed out rather than rolling down; this also kept the price down, and the front fender lines were used to prevent rust. Much like newer cars in 1981, the Starlet utilized an electric fan and it also used visible reservoirs for easy maintenance. Reducing wind resistance was a slight spoiler on the trailing edge of the roof.
On the inside of the Starlet was a high grade of standard equipment that was not usually found in an economy vehicle. In 1983 the cloth seat inserts became standard, and plush carpeting extended into the luggage/cargo area. Newly available were AM/FM/MPX stereo radio or AM/FM with cassette. The AC was optional and featured a unique dual stage selection that allowed to the driver to tailor cooling needs to power requirements and also the temperature outside of the vehicle. The driver could select the Economy setting when maximum AC was not required and it operated the AC compressor for a shorter period of time and provided the cooling that was required but used less engine power and gasoline.
The Starlet had featured reclining bucket seats even as early as 1981, along with front and side defoggers, a three-spoke steering wheel, an optional rear wiper , tachometer, trip odometer, padded dash and sun visors, door armrests, plush carpets, automatic locking rear seatbelts, folded-down rear seats, and an aluminum-trimmed gauge panel. Beginning in 1982, standard features in the interior included an electric rear defogger, tinted glass, and a day/night rear-view mirror, along with an optional all-weather package that included new rear-seat heating ducts.
The 4K-C engine was used in the 1981 and 1982 American models, and in 1983 through 1894 the similar 4K-E was used. Three years later the model received a slant nose front end and lower hatch opening. From 1981 through 1984, the only Starlet ever sold in the USA was the KP61 until the Corolla FX took its place in 1985. From 1981 through 1982, Starlet models came equipped with standard 5-speed manual transmission and tachometer, and were equivalent to other markets' S model.
From 1983 through 1984, models featured Electronic Fuel Injection with the 4K engine but with 4-speed manual transmission, which was similar to other markets' Xli model. The American version of the Starlet increased its already high EPA city mileage ratings in 1983 by more than 10 percent due to its restyled aerodynamic front end, new 4-speed transmission, fuel injection and its hatch was lowered for easier cargo loading. Newly standard was the new 4-speed manual transmission and provided improved torque and acceleration in second and third gears. The Starlet earned an EPA estimated city mileage that was rated at 42 mpg and an estimated highway mileage rating of 54 mpg.
In October of 1984, the 70 Series was introduced and the Starlet finally switched to front wheel drive. Following the trend of the time, the Starlet moved to front wheel drive that allowed for greater interior room with less weight and better snow traction. Both 3-door and 5-door hatchbacks were available and the 12 valve 1E and 2E replaced the K-series. The Japanese lineup was quite lengthy and included Standard, DX, Soleil, XL, XL Lisse, SE, Si, Si Limited, Ri, Turbo R, and Turbo S. Lightweight models, the Ri and Turbo R models were designed for motorsports and the 2E-TELU engine was placed in the turbo models. The wagon left the lineup, and the line remained the two and four door hatchbacks and the new 12 valve engine was used. The UK received a special 16 valve engine and the Japanese received turbocharged engines, the Turbo R and the Turbo S. Several Starlet models moved up to supermini status, while exports were restricted to the carbureted 1.0 and 1.3 engines.
The Starlet 70 series was available for export models as 1.0 Standard, 1.0 DX, 1.0 CL, 1.0 CL Lisse, 1.3 CL, 1.3 FE, 1.3 S and 1.3 SE. Basically an XL or 1.3 S, the export version Si Limited came with front and rear spoilers, a zesty red and black interior, special exterior color 2-tone black-silver, or white, and multi-point fuel injection. The 1985 1.0 XL was the first Starlet that was assembled outside of Japan and was constructed in Indonesia. The following year, the 1.3-liter model was also manufactured. In 1987, minor updates to the Japanese models included a new nose, larger bumpers, an updated interior and new taillights.
In December of 1989, the Starlet 80 series debuted and featured a much more rounded body style and interior, very similar to the Tercel. New Twincam engines were featured in Japanese models and these included 4E-F, $E-FE, and 4E, FTE with CT9 turbocharger. Models that were exported kept the 1E and 2E engines and only UK and Hong Kong models received the special version 4E-FE. Japanese and Indonesian Starlets received a rear center garnish, so their license plates had to be mounted on the bumper. Other models exported to various destinations featured their number plates mounted on the hatch center panel.
Once again, in Japan the 80 Series Starlet was available in a variety of models' Soleil, Soleil L, S, X, X Limited, Si, Canvas Top, Gi and GT Turbo. Sport models came with different bumpers, taillights and headlights than the regular models. Standard on the Gi and GT were sports bucket front seats and a rear spoiler. The GT model featured 2-mode; low and high turbo. Only full-time 4WD models EP85 were available in Soleil, L, S, and X Limited grades in Japan. In Japan, canvas top and convertibles were available, and a sports model boasted different interior and exterior trim.
In January of 1992 a slight revision was made throughout the line and all Japanese models received fuel injection. Also this year, only minor trim changes were made, and for the first time, the canvas top model was sold in Hong Kong and Germany. At the same time the X variant was deleted. Newly added to the vehicle was a front bumper and an updated interior. Another addition to the '92 models was a safety beam inside the doors for all models. An all-new rear center garnish was added to the S, X Limited, Gi and GT models. The SE-G replaced the SE Limited in Indonesia and the SE-G featured an up-market interior that was very similar to the Japanese X Limited. It also shared the new taillights with the Gi and the GT. In both Hong Kong and Germany the Canvas Top was available in small numbers.
At the 1990 Geneva Auto Show the Starlet debuted in the European market. In Switzerland the very sporty 1.3 Si was available and came with standard sports front seats, sunroof, rear spoiler and 3-spoke steering wheel. In the UK the 1.0 GL was replaced by the 1.3 GLi 3-door model for the 1993 model. The following years the UK edition models were the 1.3 Xli 3-door and the 1.3 GLi 5-door, and all GLi models came with a sunroof.By Jessica Donaldson