Surviving Toyota Starlets are likely to be spotted in suburbia but owner Kieran Carpenter thinks his rally-liveried daily driver is more suited to back roads and rugged terrain. Here he tells Charlotte Vowden why it’s the best £500 he’s ever spent on a car.
A car of Japanese descent that was plainly appointed and easy to drive, the Toyota Starlet was an everyday car that dominated Britain’s driveways in the eighties and nineties. Today, it’s estimated that less than 100 GL’s (the only trim level offered in the UK) are registered as fit for the road, and 28-year-old Kieran Carpenter paid £500 to make one of them his own…
“My eyes were instantly drawn to the Starlet because it stood out to me as a blank canvas. I wanted something that I could rally livery and being white it meant I could start afresh. I’ve also got a thing for white cars. I use the Starlet to plough across the backroads to work on a daily basis so it’s never that clean, but I also don’t make a point of cleaning it that often. I think it adds to the look of being ready to rally.
My Toyota Starlet is a 1992 car and had been taken care of by the same family its whole life until I bought it for £500 two and a half years ago. The gentleman that had originally owned it was an incredible record keeper, he definitely liked to write things down because everything was there for me to read in black and white; receipts, notes on what had been fixed and how it had been fixed, the types of oil that had been used, all sorts of things. The Starlet was hiding no secrets, not even rust. Completely original and mechanically sound, with about 68,000 miles on the clock, it felt too good to be true, and at that price, I was enthusiastic to say the least.
You could argue that my Starlet has an eighties engine in a nineties shaft because [as a UK model] it’s a 12-valve, 1.0-litre GL, which is typical of the older cars. I’d been driving a 2004 Volvo V40 estate turbo diesel which picked up well when you put your foot down so it was a reality check to put my foot down on my first drive in the Starlet for nothing to really happen. It felt cool to be cruising along though, and very comfortable; soft and boat-like.
After I brought the car home I kept in touch with the guy who sold it to me for a little while; he was interested in where I was going and what I was doing with it. I had a plan, but his grandfather had kept it so original for so long that what the family would think of it definitely went through my mind. Thankfully, he said they were happy that the car was in good hands and it felt good to know that I got their approval. I’ve had the car a while now so it’s feeling more and more like it’s my own. It’s nice to look back on its history, but making new memories is better than reliving old ones.
Before doing any modifications I wanted the Starlet to look as good as it could so I touched up the scuffed bumpers and repainted the red pinstripe. I then added alloy wheels, mud flaps and spot lamps. The key words I’d use to describe the interior are retro, brown and Japanese, but aside from adding a suede deep dish steering wheel, I’ve kept it pretty much the same. It’s, shall we say, minimalistic, but it doesn’t feel cheap. The polaroid picture on the dash was taken by an anonymous stranger at a car show, t left it underneath the Starlet’s windscreen wiper which was a nice surprise to come back to.
I’m 28 now, I’ve been driving for 11 years, and this is the most reliable car I’ve ever owned. It’s not really been pushed, (the period correct RAC rally stickers make me feel like it’s faster than it is), but the less power the engine has, the more reliable cars tend to be. If something starts sounding a bit iffy, I’ll take a look because it’s best to try and fix issues sooner rather than later, but I don’t check the car over all the time.
I’ve had to replace the clutch, brake pads and discs, just general wear and tear stuff, but the day the Starlet’s rear suspension got stuck was pretty comical. I piled four of my work mates into the car to make a half-mile journey to the pub for lunch, but it was a lot of weight for a small car and when we hit a bump in the road the car went down and didn’t come back up. We sorted it by hitting the suspension arm with a mallet, and it’s been fine ever since.
By profession, I’m in the composites industry and make carbon fibre parts for anything from F1 cars to concept cars, hypercars and supercars, so it’s pretty much non-stop cars with me. At the moment, my dad and I spend a lot of weekends at our unit where we’re building cars side by side. A day can go one of two ways. We either put down the tools and spend our time chatting, which highlights how cars can bring you together, or we really crack on. Dad’s got the mechanical knowledge and I’m the engineer so we don’t always see eye-to-eye because we’ve got a different approach to problem solving. I like to stop, take a step back and think, whereas dad will be unplugging everything and plugging it back in as fast as he can. I often just wait for him to leave and then I’ll do it my way.
One of the most vivid memories I’ve got from when I was a kid was when dad took me to Wales to watch a WRC [World Rally Championship] special stage at night. I was probably about eight or nine and I remember there being so many lights. The sounds, the smells, the people, it was all so amazing, that’s the kind of experience that sparked my passion for motorsport. The Starlet is my daily so I can’t go tearing it round a rallycross track – I have a Sierra for that – but I’d like to have a go at some non-contact, non car-destroying events in it, something like Rally for the Ages could be fun.
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