The Toyota Starlet you’re looking at might look pretty much like a stocker but, believe us, this is one of the hottest hatches in the land. This truly incredible machine puts out a stunning 355hp (265kW) at the front wheels from an engine of just 1.3 litres – and there’s scope for more!
picked your jaw off the floor yet?
Chris Murdoch bought his Japanese import Starlet GT Turbo in 2001 after seeing the little Toyota’s immense tuning potential explored in a go-fast magazine. Chris says he really liked the idea of buying something that’s not a Skyline or Silvia and he loved their chuckable feel. The example Chris picked up is typical of many Japanese imports – it was stock aside from lowered springs, an aftermarket steering wheel and a fuel cut defender to allow some more boost.
Chris’ Starlet relationship went great-guns from the start – that is, until an oil pressure relief valve failed, causing a spun bottom-end bearing... At this point Chris decided to treat the car to forged pistons and an assortment of bolt-ons. Auto-Tech of Toowoomba was called upon to rebuild the motor with forgies, a custom manifold with a Skyline R33 turbocharger, CA18DET injectors, MicroTech LT8 programmable management, modified inlet manifold, big exhaust and a custom intercooler. These mods proved their worth with 242hp (181kW) at the wheels on a mild 12 psi boost.
At this point, the Starlet started breaking CV joints and really needed some assistance in the traction department. The answer was the installation of a TRD clutch-type LSD. Unfortunately, the brakes were left largely untouched at this point and Chris ended up giving another car a bit of a biff-o. And that’s when he decided to get serious.
Chris’ philosophy; if you’re gonna upgrade the brakes, you might as well make damn sure you’ve got the performance to justify ‘em!
The Toyota engine was once again rebuilt using HPC’d Ross pistons (giving a factory-spec 8.2:1 compression ratio), Crower rods, ARP 12mm head studs, a polished oil pump and a balanced and crack-tested crank. The head has received extensive porting, a five-angle valve job and custom Tighe camshafts with upgrade valve springs.
Supporting this seriously built engine is a custom PWR radiator (which is approximately twice the standard thickness but half the width to accommodate the large frame turbocharger), custom aluminium header tank and a single thermo fan. The oil system benefits from a Peterson remote oil filter mount combined with a forward-mount remote oil cooler.
The previous R33 turbocharger was a bit laggy so Chris went for a GT25 Garrett rated up to 400hp (298kW). This turbo uses a T2-type flange, so yet another custom exhaust manifold had to be fabricated from stainless piping. The turbo exhales through a 3 inch mandrel stainless exhaust and inhales through a large filter mounted on the turbo. The existing aftermarket intercooler was also replaced with a PWR cored unit that measures 600 x 260 x 75mm. A TurboSmart Type 2 Z port blow-off valve is integrated with the polished mandrel bent intercooler plumbing.
While the original modified intake manifold was built around the standard inlet runners, an all-new manifold can now be found under the bonnet. The new manifold is home to a set of HKS 550cc injectors, a custom rail and a Mallory fuel pressure regulator. At the opposite end of the fuel system you’ll find a Walbro lift pump feeding a surge tank (mounted in the hatch area) and a Bosch Motorsport pump.
Controlling fuel and ignition is a new MicroTech LT10S management system with an X4 ignition box. This allows the standard single-coil ignition system to be upgraded with direct-fire coils – there are four MSD Blaster coils with 8.5mm MSD leads and Bosch Racing plugs. Boost pressure is controlled by a TurboSmart e-Boost 2.
With boost pressure maxing at a relatively mild 20 – 21 psi and the rev limiter set to 8600 rpm (though the engine can handle more), Chris’s Starlet has made power and torque levels that are just insane for a 1.3-litre engine. Peter from Auto-Tech says the recorded tractive effort is comparable to a Nissan SR20DET with some bolt-ons... As seen in this graph, peak power is 355hp (265kW) at the wheels, though note that the engine was staring to run lean and the dyno operator had to lift off the throttle at around 7900 rpm... Power is still climbing at that point!
Amazingly, the Toyota five-speed gearbox remains standard and is showing no signs of failure. Chris says he doesn’t needlessly thrash it and finds that the LSD prevents tramping and rampant one-wheel burnouts. The clutch is a four-puck job with a 3000lb pressure plate and the standard flywheel is lightened by around 30 percent. An aluminium crank pulley further contributes to reduced parasitic drag.
So what about those brakes which were the whole motivation for this second round of mods?
Well, Chris has installed a pair of Wilwood 4-pot front calipers which are designed to suit a 20 – 22mm thick disc. This posed a problem because the standard Starlet discs are just 18mm thick; the solution was to bolt on some Toyota MR-2 Spyder discs. Rear brakes are slotted DBA discs designed for the Paseo. A TRD braided brake line is the final touch to the substantially improved anchor system.
The Starlet GT is a fun car to drive hard – even in standard form. Chris’ example is even more so thanks to GAB adjustable coil-overs, Whiteline swaybars (adjustable at the rear), Whiteline anti-lift kit and rear strut brace. The factory front strut brace remains in place. At each corner you’ll find a Starcorp 16 x 7 alloy wheel wearing Falken ST115 205/45 rubber. Chris points out these aftermarket rims are particularly lightweight at just 5.5 kilograms each.
Traffic light suckers are easily fooled into a duel by this car’s near-stock appearance. Sure, there are the big rims, a cut-out for the intercooler and a polished muffler out the back but nothing indicates this machine might run as quick as a low/mid 12 second quarter mile (traction permitting).
The interior is a similar story. Toyota endowed the Starlet GT with a pretty high level of equipment and sports trim so all Chris has done is fit a Momo wheel, gearknob and pedals. The A pillar is also equipped with an AutoMeter air-fuel ratio and oil pressure gauge while the nearby e-Boost 2 unit is used to display boost pressure. Interestingly, Chris has also converted the car to a two-seater and added RPM harnesses to help improve safety.
Understandably, Chris doesn’t feel the need to chase any more performance – let’s face it, 355hp ATW in a car weighing around 870kg is pretty damn spectacular! Nope, he won’t be fitting a bigger turbocharger or adding a nitrous boost. The only thing left in store for this little hatch is a whole lot of driving.