Hot hatches. What on earth ever happened to ‘em? Ever since Nissan Pulsar ETs
and Co. fell off the radar in the late ‘80s, we’ve been stuck with naturally
aspirated shopping trolleys that aren’t a patch on the ol’ turbo hatches.
But the Japanese Toyota Starlet GT turbo is a stand-out exception – it’s the
only affordable late-model model hatch that delivers turbo-fed grunt.
And that’s what attracted Liz Eldridge to this hyper hatch.
"I had a Barina as my first car and the Starlet seemed like a quick little
car that’s good value - cheaper than something like a Nissan 180SX," says Liz.
After handing over AUD$9000 (just over a year ago), Liz became the proud
owner of an EP82 ’91 Starlet GT with less than 100,000 kilometres. The previous owner had
already fitted an ARE front-mount intercooler with mandrel plumbing, TurboSmart
blow-off valve and a 2¼ inch exhaust.
So the 1.3 litre DOHC 4E-FTE engine already made good power. But Liz had
As a member of
www.austarletclub.com she picked up a custom
exhaust manifold kit that mounts an ex-WRX TD04 turbocharger onto the Toyota.
These late-model WRX turbochargers are available very cheaply (Liz bought hers
for AUD$200) and are the perfect size to give the Starlet some top-end grunt
with an acceptable trade-off at the bottom-end. The kit comprises a fabricated
tubular manifold, high-temp water lines, braided oil lines and a suitable
turbine exit flange for the construction of a new dump pipe.
Once the custom manifold and TD04 turbo were installed on her ride, Liz
replaced the existing exhaust system with a locally fabricated 2½ inch mandrel
job featuring a big 3 inch dump pipe and polished rear muffler. On the inlet
side of the turbo you’ll find a K&N pod filter. Fitment of the pod filter
also necessitated a rocker cover breather filter (the breather normally vents
into the factory induction system). Liz says the breather filter is a temporary
measure – an oil catch can is yet to be installed.
With boost pressure adjustable though use of a TurboSmart bleed valve, it was
soon realised that the Toyota runs an over-boost fuel cut at around 12.5 psi.
The solution was to wire in an aftermarket fuel-cut defender. This allows a peak
of 15 psi falling back to about 13 psi at the 7000 rpm redline.
Aside from the fuel cut defender, the Starlet’s engine management remains
untouched. However, the fuel system has been upgraded to cope with the increased
induction airflow. A Nissan S13 fuel pump and Sard rising rate fuel pressure
regulator keep the engine running on the rich side.
An Exedy clutch has replaced the
struggling stocker and an electronic boost controller has also been installed.
Liz hasn’t yet ventured onto the dyno with the latest mods but we can tell you
the car ran 131kW at the wheels (on a Dyno Dynamics chassis dyno) with the
previous boost controller letting boost fall away at high rpm. Liz says the car
is now much smoother and faster through the upper rev range and it seems likely
that power is up.
As part of her hot hatch upgrade, Liz has given her Starlet a set of lowered
King springs (which work with the standard dampers) and slotted discs with
aftermarket pads. The front strut brace seen in our engine bay photos is a
standard Starlet GT item – Toyota obviously recognised the base Starlet chassis
needed some beefing to cope with the grunt of the turbocharged 1.3.
Visually, the Starlet GT is distinguished by its subtle body kit comprising
rear spoiler, bonnet scoop (which normally feeds the factory top-mount
intercooler), sports bumpers and – get this – an illuminated GT garnish between
the taillights. As seen here, Liz’s example has been given the mesh treatment in
the grille and bumper openings. The bare aluminium front-mount intercooler
Top points are awarded for Liz’s wheel selection. The high-quality Lenso Mean
6 17s match the tone and styling of the car perfectly. Tyres are 205/40 17
Falken FK451s, which improve turn-in response and grip while maintaining a
comfortable ride. The words "comfortable" and "hatchback" are rarely used
together but the Japanese Starlet GT is a very well kitted little beast.
Inside, there are stripy sports seats, power windows and mirrors, climate
control and a modern dashboard featuring a digital boost display. Liz’s example
is also fitted with an electric sunroof – a feature normally reserved for ‘fat
cats’ in their top-line luxo saloons. As you can see, Liz has added a Momo
steering wheel alongside the aluminium shift knob and A-pillar mounted boost
gauge. An Alpine single-DIN head unit is powered by high-quality cables, a gold
plated fuse holder and, at present, connects to a pair of 6 x 9s on the rear
With 30,000 trouble-free kilometres behind her and some real performance on
tap, Liz has no plans to trade-in just yet. If anything, she’ll look at a fresh
coat of factory burgundy paint and perhaps a set of semi-slick tyres for another
quarter mile appearance. So far, the car’s best time is a 15.4 seconds – but
that was done before the TD04 conversion and the subsequent changes.
With the bigger turbo we can only imagine the car will run an easy 14 second
pass. And that, ladies and gentlemen, is right up there with some of today’s
popular performance cars.
Hot hatches aren’t completely dead yet!
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