Neils 81 KP61 – Toyota Starlet

One can’t deny the continuous and steady increase in gas prices.  No one can overlook the continuous decline of huge SUVs and trucks roaming on freeways.  More compact vehicles zig-zag through traffic and rule the city streets today.  It may be a cliché but likely “History is just repeating itself”; where smaller vehicles are just making a comeback run.   Honda Fits and Civics, Toyota Yaris and Corollas, Nissan Versa and Sentras, Mazda 1 and 3s are obviously the daily working-class commuters.  Even American manufactures joined the fray with such – Ford Fiesta and Chevy Sonics.  Japanese luxury manufacturers such as Lexus and Acura wanted a piece of the pie by introducing the CT200h and ILX.   You may have noticed that these vehicles mentioned have something in common.  These commuters are all front wheel drive daily commuters.

Turning history some 30 years back exist a front engine rear drive compact vehicle – the Toyota Starlet. Originally sold as the Publica 40 outside of US in 1973, it carried a 1.0 and 1.2 liter engine.  By 1978, the “60 series” or “KP60 ” (keeping the “P” code for Publica) was launched. This was a model that a few Americans knew about.  First introduced in the United States in 1981, the Starlet was described by Road & Track as the “commuter car of the ‘80s”.  The Starlet liftback was said to be “cheap to keep” because of its remarkable gas mileage of 38 / 52 (surface street / freeway) with its rear-wheel drive, 1.3 liter engine.   Although it had a brief stint in the US from 1981-84, the demise of the Starlet was due to the introduction of a front wheel drive platform line up of the Toyota Tercel.

In the midst of the uniquely styled cars gathered up at one auto show held at Anaheim Convention Center last year, I found the forgotten Toyota Starlet (KP60 series).  For some reason, I had sudden flashbacks and nostalgic vibes of the times watching Toyota Starlets rule short course slalom races in the Philippines.    However, I did not get to meet the owner at the event.  Luckily this year, I found the owner, Neil De La Cruz, through our DaYUUM’s Facebook page.  It still amazes me how social media works its wonders; after a few PMs and emails we’re set to do a shoot.

Neil’s KP is equipped with a 20-valve 4A-GE 1.6 liter inline 4 engine.  Due to its reliability and performance, the 4A-GE is a popular choice for an engine swap.  Aside from the swap, the Starlet’s engine modifications include Carbon-fiber valve covers, Walbro fuel pump, Volkswagen Scirroco radiator, wide band O2 sensor, relocated clutch master cylinder, stainless waterflow tank.  To complete the driving pleasures with engine notes – Techno Toy Tuning velocity stacks were installed as well as custom headers and exhausts fulfill the tuner’s ear sensation.  The engine management of choice to handle the KP’s load is a Megasquirt 2 ECU.  Delivering the power of the 4A-GE to the pavement is a T50 AE86 Corolla GTS transmission and custom driveshaft.

Dialing in the perfect ride height of the Starlet was not an easy task, Techno Toy Tuning KP61 coilovers and Eibach springs were used upfront while the rear suspension; TRD Springs, KYB short shocks and Cusco Camper plates were put together to achieve the ideal ride feel.  Affix in each corner are period-correct 13×8 TRD alloys that complemented the Starlet’s styling.  These were mounted on some 215/50/13 Sumitomos.


 The interior was furnished with authentic TRD bucket seats, Takata harnesses, Autopower 4 point rollbar, Momo deep dish steering wheel, 5” Bride Tachometer, Pinas’ third brake light kit, reupholstered dash, reconditioned weather strips and custom carpeting/headliner by Ernie’s upholstery.


Of course the whole KP build will not be complete without the exterior tidbits such as TRD fender flares and rear wing; JDM skinny bumpers for the front and rear.  KP61 Starlet S grille, Hella H4 headlights and the Porsche GT3 green paint by MGM Autobody in Compton, CA. will leave a lasting impression to anyone that catch sight of the Starlet.


After 4 years of ownership, having the first 2 years allotted to do the build -which started from a rusty red shell, Neil is now enjoying the fruits of his labor.  Having an older brother that worked on TE’s and AE86’s as a hobby, Neil’s driving experience on a Starlet 17 years ago definitely is a match made to happen… as Neil mentioned “I’ll be owning one and building one… the right way.

And I won’t disagree, Neil – you definitely did it… the right way.

Until the next one… Peace!


Here is an awesome video by Photo M.D.

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