skip to content
Driving Line Mark Logo

Family First with this 1981 Toyota Starlet

Starlet_Feature The Toyota Starlet wasn’t sold in the US market for more than a few years, so it’s easily forgotten in the shuffle of Toyota family models – but from that short lifespan this car has turned into something of a “cult-classic” classic. Beginning as a Toyota Publica in Japanese markets during the early 70s, it was named the Starlet for US sales from 1981 to 1984 when it was replaced by the Corolla - all the while considered a "family car." I first spotted this 1981 Starlet during our coverage at JCCS 2013, and was impressed with owner Neil De La Cruz’s transformation of this classic family car into a show stopper. Winning awards for almost 5 years now, including People’s Choice Award most recently at Auto Enthusiast Day, Neil will soon be moving forward with a new build – but I wanted to share this car’s story with you first. 1981-Toyota-Starlet-green-01 This Starlet is no longer a family car, but just talking to Neil you get the sense that he put his family first in this build. Growing up in the Philippines, Neil was surrounded by a family in love with cars; old schools were his father and four older brother’s main calling. In fact, his oldest brother is one of his biggest influencers in being an old school enthusiast – as well as the main reason he wanted to build a Toyota Starlet. 1981-Toyota-Starlet-green-11 In younger years, Neil’s oldest brother took him under his spoiler - teaching him everything from modifying cars to racing them. Maybe not the safest way to raise a child, but Neil told me that after school his brothers used to take him along to street races. He was even in the back, without a seatbelt - holding onto the chair in front of him to stay put as his brothers raced against opponents! It was clearly an adrenaline rush that went directly to the bloodstream from then on. You wouldn’t want to spill your juice box in this car, and Neil doesn’t go racing with his kids in the back either. This build is Neil’s pride and joy, and the completely redone interior is one his favorite parts. Upon buying the car, Neil notes that the interior was in really bad condition -from dust and dirt, rips and tears, and even animal droppings. It was a big task, the original interior had to be completely ripped out in order to start anew. 1981-Toyota-Starlet-green-12 Starting from scratch enabled Neil to do the build right – first covering the interior surface with sound deadening material, commonly known as Dynamat, and then the custom carpeting and headliner completed efforts to reduce noise and vibrations inside. The dash was reupholstered and added to with a Bride 5" tachometer and Momo deep-dish steering wheel. 1981-Toyota-Starlet-green-13 With a rollcage for safety, Neil added authentic TRD bucket seats with Takata harnesses, which he babies ever so dearly. He said the feel of the fabric on authentic seats are unmatched by any knock-offs out there. Doing his best to preserve it, Neil puts a towel over the seat before he gets in to drive it. 1981-Toyota-Starlet-green-14 The original exterior was just as bad as the inside, the sun had taken its toll – fading the original red paint to a pink color. When I asked him what the original color was, he paused for a moment before answering, “matte light red” - which is as good of an answer as any to avoid saying “pink!” 1981-Toyota-Starlet-green-16 In addition to the sun damage, the original owner had cut the fenders to add flares, but didn’t seal the gap, resulting in water damage to the body. With a good team helping him, it took a good 3 months to get all the bodywork done right before anything else could be installed. The new exterior includes authentic TRD fender flares and rear wing, JDM skinny bumpers, original Starlet ‘S’ grille, and fender mirrors. All sitting pretty on some super rare 13x7.0 +0 Toms Igetta wheels. 1981-Toyota-Starlet-green-05 Under the hood is a completely rebuilt engine, a 4AGE 20-valve 1.6-liter to be exact. From carbon fiber and yellow valve covers with matching gold velocity stack intake trumpets, to the wire tuck and battery relocation, this engine bay is the epitome of clean. 1981-Toyota-Starlet-green-06 Suspension-wise, the Starlet currently has Techno Toy Tuning coilovers in the front and TRD springs in the rear, as well as a shiny Cusco strut bar sitting in the bay. Neil’s plan in the near future is to make this beast a trackstar; a full coilover suspension and some engine mods are the only things left to knock out on the checklist. 1981-Toyota-Starlet-green-07 Luckily for him, Neil was able to get a lot of parts for the Starlet from his oldest brother  - who has owned 7 to 8 Starlets in the past, not all at once, and held on to their authentic parts over all these years. It’s not like they keep making new old school parts for these cars – someone looking to find them would basically need to wait and hope to find another old school enthusiast willing to sell some of their stash. Neil prides himself on using only the best authentic parts for his build and he is always quick to point that out to people. Neil is a true enthusiast who doesn’t mind taking the extra steps necessary to build an eye-catching old school the right way. Oh and of course, who can miss the fresh green paint covering all of Neil’s fine work? 1981-Toyota-Starlet-green-18 The green came from a person of special interest to the build, Neil’s son. When I said Neil really put his family first in this build, I wasn’t only talking about his childhood. Sticking with the car’s original intended color, Neil was initially planning on a Ferrari red paint scheme – but instead chose to base it on his son’s favorite drink, popular in the Philippines, a Nestle product called Milo. To make a long story short, the Starlet’s Porsche GT3 green is a perfect match to the color of Milo’s packaging. Most people scrutinize over the color they put on a build, and Neil’s quick decision to go with his son’s interest speaks volumes on his wholehearted trust and love for his family. So in a sense, this family-car-turned-old-school-project-build actually is sticking with its family car roots. And just for his son, the Starlet has been dubbed “Milo.” id  11609  

Return to beginning of article

Recommended For You

Loading ...