I guess it's time to be less critical of people who buy cars because of some form of fantasy media, I used to roll my eyes over the people buying AE86's because of their Initial D fandom...but I just bought a car because of Gran Turismo. When I was a bit younger I started playing Gran Turismo 1 and 2, of course for those who played we all remember having to start off with a cheap, usually front wheel drive car, and since I was such a big Toyota fan the Toyota Starlet Glanza V was my weapon of choice for a car to race with my limited credits. What I ended up leaning towards to however after all those years was the EP82 model as opposed to the EP91, something about the quad headlight on the kouki model and the slightly less-rounded interior made me lust after what to some is considered "an ordinary car."
The EP82 Toyota Starlet GT Turbo is far from an ordinary car, some thought was put into following the lineage of previous sporty Starlet models, the pieces that give it away as a sportier model like the hood scoop that feeds the top mounted intercooler are far from the fake vents installed on cars today. The GT Turbo models had more than just stickers that say "turbo", they also have front and rear bumpers that are aggressively styled, air flow is increased by the grill and triple-tiered lower bumper openings, the fog lights are larger up front and out back the taillights feature a red light with a white stripe through the middle. Visual differences do not end there from your standard Starlet, inside the interior is very different in terms of the front seats and the patterns adorning them, there's a very 90's "JDM coolness" about the fabric used that really make me wonder if I'll ever install an aftermarket seat, it's part of what makes the GT Turbo special along with the boost gauge on the cluster.
Unlike the standard Starlet, the GT Turbo features a fire breathing 4EFTE that pushes out a whopping 130 horsepower! Ok... it's not much when you think about it but it is impressive for a 1.3 liter engine with a tiny CT9 snail; not to mention this 3-door weighs just under a ton. For anyone looking to go back to simplicity and a lighter chassis, this is the car if you don't mind driving a front wheel drive car; also while everything is spartan compared to even a bare bones Yaris of today you don't feel like you're in a cheap car. Power windows with an auto up and down button for the driver, A/C and heat with auto settings are a modern touch for such an old car, my favorite comfort related feature would have to be the rear side windows that pop out for ventilation. The EP82 is comfortable as well, driving it home for 4 hours and putting over 1000 kms on it since has been a very normal experience when not testing the limits, road noise is acceptable as is the ride over bumps with the stock suspension, somedays I'm surprised how civil such a light car is at highway speeds.
My personal car however didn't necessarily come road ready, it came on tires older than some of you reading this now that felt like hockey pucks whenever I had to brake above 30 or so miles per hour. The ride I took home was a mixture of avoiding stop and go traffic, taking back roads, and only overtaking trailers in the right lane; this preserved my life as much as it did the new for 2001 front tires that I be my safety on. The lights weren't my favorite either, a mixture of LED city lights, HID and halogen main lights made the front end bleed an array of light temperatures that was surely annoying to anyone in front of me. I spent a couple of weeks also with two problems inside the car...first no music, Japanese market radios only go up to about 89 FM so listening to the radio live was not an option on my way home and Bluetooth wasn't available when this Alpine unit was sold so my two front speakers took a rest until I was provided some period correct CDs until I purchased a new head unit. My other problem inside was this hideous carbon fiber sticker that took over the radio and HVAC control surrounds, it was so strange to see on a car that retained so many stock parts.
Under the hood I didn't find many surprises, some extra grounding cable was provided and it looked like someone took it upon themselves to cut pieces of the lower bumper grill and install an extra set of fog lights; Japan's mountain roads can be dark but this was puzzling as the OEM units still function perfectly. I was glad to see that everything had been well taken care of, the wheels, brakes, suspension, turbo, intake, exhaust, all of the easy things to mod have been left for me to change as well as give my impressions on. Everything else looks good too, the oil isn't black, the brake fluid looks fresh, belts do not squeal even during this fairly cold Florida winter, the brake pads aren't shuddering but they are making a bit of noise until they're warm, overall the car is doing what it's supposed to.
So what's it like to drive so far? Well the EP82 GT Turbo isn't a slow car that's for sure, the power to weight ratio, smart gearing, and eager turbo make normal driving easy and going fast effortless. If I had to compare it to my previous car, the Scion FRS; it is almost as fast in a straight line, I don't feel like I'm at a power disadvantage against cars with slightly larger motors. For a car built in 1995 it handles very well on the tires I installed to replace the fossilized rubber (more on that in another post), it is mostly predictable as torque steer can throw a wrench into things if you try to push it beyond it's limits without understanding how a FWD car reacts. Honestly I don't miss having a RWD vehicle, I still have one in my never ending AE86 project but this fills in that gap left by my old Corolla FX and my small Toyota hatchback fantasy I couldn't legally live after high school.
The Starlet is nothing like what I drive on a more reoccurring basis, it's light, nimble, eager to run, simple, and feels very much like my car. While I'm enjoying the driving experience so far and will elaborate in the future, I'm looking at doing a few upgrades and attending a track day and autocross to learn about it's limits. The EP community is strong overseas and I hope to learn more from fellow enthusiasts about what is the perfect setup to have a fun daily driver. My plans in the near future are an upgrade to some nicer 15 inch wheels and better rubber from the 14 inch steel wheels currently at each corner, this of course will be accompanied by a compliant set of coilovers...no bone rattling rides please. Under the hood I'd like to keep it simple, I'm more likely to keep the top mount intercooler and maybe just get a refreshed turbo and manifold to go with a better breathing downpipe and exhaust. The concept for this car is to have an OEM+ experience that doesn't throw away the basic packaging that the original engineers intended...much more subdued than my AE86. Did I mention it fits a child's car seat so keeping my son safe and comfy will be an important aspect as well, please stay tuned as I slowly upgrade this very fun hot hatch.