There were certain cars in our market which were extremely popular in their times, but faded into history as the time progressed. One such reliable and highly successful car of its class was undoubtedly the Toyota Starlet.
Many might have had this vehicle in the past, as its success in our market spanned for nearly two decades. Let us take a look at this popular car from the past, that once ruled the hearts of our people.
The History & First Generation Starlet
The Toyota Starlet chronicle began in April 1973. The first Starlet model appeared as Publica Starlet coupe that acted as a flagship variant of the third-generation Publica facelift range in Japan. The Publica was known as the Toyota 1000 in export markets.
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Aimed at the young car buyers of that era, the Starlet had a unique fastback-style body that was a size larger than the regular Publica range. It was immediately identified by the kicked-up beltline at the rear quarter window, which wrapped around the C-pillar to reach the bottom of the rear screen.
Since the Starlet was originally spawned from Publica, it always carried a ‘P’ letter in its chassis code. The first generation was called P40/P50 and was produced between 1973 and 1978. The engine and transmission options were picked from the Publica series and the Corolla. It included 1.0 and 1.2 liter K-series engines paired to either a four or five-speed manual gearbox or a two-speed automatic. In February 1976, the first gen Starlet received a facelift.
In February 1978 the Publica and Publica Starlet were consolidated into the new Starlet range, while the longstanding Publica name was officially discontinued.
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The second generation Starlet, identified as P60 chassis code, became Toyota’s new entry-level model, following the two-box hatchback design that had become the global standard for compact cars at that time.
Like most competitors it was available in three- and five-door body configurations, however Starlet differentiated itself by retaining a front-engine, rear-wheel drive layout. Although in international markets the P60 Starlet carried 1.2 and 1.3 liter engines as well, however in our market the 1.0 liter K series engine was found in majority while 1.2 liter versions were available in limited numbers. Transmission choices were chiefly 4-speed manual, however 5-speed manual and 3-speed automatic versions were available with the facelift versions.
Produced between 1978 to 1984, the P60 Starlet received two major facelifts. In 1980 it adapted square headlights replacing the circular ones and a second facelift followed in 1983 to incorporate a slant nose front end, and a lower rear hatch opening.
The P60 offered a number of mechanical advancements. While the front suspension inherited the MacPherson strut and coil spring setup, the rigid rear suspension was switched from leaf springs to a four-link coil spring system. The Starlet P60 was also the first Toyota passenger car to employ highly responsive rack-and-pinion steering, along with the front wheel disc brakes.
The third generation starlet, known as the P70 series was introduced in October 1984. With this generation, the Starlet switched from rear wheel to front wheel drive, the layout that had become a norm by that time. The Starlet was pretty late in adapting front wheel drive as rival cars like the Daihatsu Charade were already front-wheel driven since the late 70s.
The P70 also deployed more modern 12 valve 1E and 2E engines instead of the old K-series units. Primary engine option remained the 1.0 liter, however 1.3 liter naturally aspirated as well as turbocharged 2E engine options were also available.
The P70 was the last Starlet generation to be available in Pakistan and its sales always lagged behind the rivals such as G11 Daihatsu Charade and the MK-I Suzuki Swift which later became Khyber and went on to become a household name among 1000cc hatchbacks in our market. Furthermore the imports were tightened in order to flourish the local industry hence imported cars particularly after the late 80s started to become a rare sight in our country. Though some rare newer generation Starlets can be seen in some road shows and events today, but they were never sold in volumes.
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A 3d animation professional with over 20 years of industry experience having served in leading organizations & production facilities of Pakistan, an avid car enthusiast and petrolhead with an affection to deliver writings to help shape opinions. Formerly written for PakWheels as well as major publications including Dawn. Founder of CarSpiritPK.com