Project EP82: How It Started, How It's Going
It's been just a little over a year since I purchased my 1995 Toyota Starlet GT Turbo, so it's about time I give a thorough update on what life is like with this mini hot hatch. Owning a car from Japan that is over 25 years old has both pros and cons which I will outline below, and yes even for a reliable Toyota there are things that must be repaired, and when that happens owning an import during the pandemic can make things difficult. I also want to do a lot more to and with the car; of course like many of you reading, responsibility trumps fun time after time but that's just part of growing up right? Even an aspiring track demon has to make time for work, grocery runs, and catching up with the many unwatched shows on our favorite apps. Regardless, owning this lightweight 3-door has been fun, frustrating, and worth the journey; this is still just the start.
When I picked the car up from the Jacksonville seaport I was made aware of the 14inch 20 year old hockey pucks that were meant to act as tires on my OEM wheels. It was very nerve wrecking to drive a little over 4 hours home on the I-75 on ancient rubber but I did my best and made it home without incident. I then proceeded to buy some new tires as I wasn't quite ready to buy a new set of wheels and rubber, so a set of Federal 595s did the job for a few months. The 595 is a tire I would recommend if price was more important than performance, the 240 tread wear and V speed rating means that for most smaller vehicles, it will do the job on the street. As far as actual performance, I wasn't able to take it to any driving events but I could feel the limits whispering in my ear transitioning through some of the very few twisty roads in my neighboring area. A hard shift from 1st to 2nd gear made for a chirp of the tires and a subsequent loss of traction, it also made the torque steer more apparent, ultimately it's a fine tire to cruise around in but it won't win you an Auto-X trophy unless participation counts.
The Toyota Starlet GT Turbo takes 10W-30 oil, the exact amount couldn't be found at my local auto parts store but in the depths of the internet on one of those things we all used to use... a forum. All joking aside, UK based Starlet forums (like this one:https://www.toyotagtturbo.com/ ) are alive and well, a translated manual from one member gave me the information I needed for all of the fluids required to keep my little Toyota spinning like a top. The problem with changing the oil on this car is not with parts scarcity, I was able to get a Toyota OEM oil filter and my favorite Royal Purple 10W-30, the issue was getting to the filter. The process looks simple when you find the wrong video showing an NA EP91 Starlet receiving an oil change as the fella behind the camera simply reaches down under the header and unscrews the filter; not that easy when you have a turbo. The oil drain is located in a good spot, you remove the engine tray and you can get your drain on without even the use of a jack, but the oil filter is tucked in behind the exhaust manifold. It was a sloppy mess, I wore gloves to prevent from getting burnt as the engine was still a little warm, then I used an oil filter cup to blindly latch on to the filter as I turned my ratchet left to remove the old unit. It was far messier than my Scion FRS which had the filter right in front of you as you popped open the hood, now on that car it was such a convenient process that I designed my own oil filter relocation kit for my 1UZ swapped AE86. The 4EFTE is a tiny engine but it's in a tiny engine bay, so be forewarned, you will need to squeeze your arm in, you'll need a flashlight, and plenty of rags, it's not time consuming but cleaning up the mess with carb cleaner took longer than the oil change itself.
Getting an air filter shouldn't be difficult, expensive, or confusing; but somehow making mistakes along with misinformation proved that all three were true for my EP82. I wanted to fit a K&N filter to my stock airbox, any kind of aftermarket intake solution at this point is a waste, I have learned that the OEMs usually route air the best while reducing intake air temps for stock-ish cars. I went on Amazon to try the Tercel K&N filter which didn't fit, I then did some research and got a different part number, that wasn't in stock anywhere so I kept hunting. I chased some leads on some never opened filters but they ended up wanting too much for a wire mesh and fabric. An OEM filter would work but I know what that looks like already and it's mostly paper so why pay to wait, right? I found a suitable replacement filter on Ebay that came in from Greece, it'll have to do until I find that holy grail discontinued K&N unit.
Hold on... did I blow my engine?:
One day I took a drive up about an hour north to drop off some parts to a friend as he was putting some finishing touches on my AE86, it was a hot and humid day with a lot of stop and go traffic. On the way back I felt a hesitation in the lower rev range along with a strange noise. My Starlet was acting funny as if it had trouble providing minimal amount of low-end torque, but then I saw my gas was extremely low so maybe that was the issue. After filling her up with some sweet 93 octane, I drove off to experience more of the same, I pulled over and immediately checked the spark plug wires to make sure they were properly secured, they were, and temperatures seemed normal as well, with only a few miles left I just coasted home. Accessing the center spark plug wires involves taking off the top mount intercooler, I then proceeded to check each spark plug and when I got to cylinder number 3 I was splashed with some lukewarm liquid. I couldn't tell what the liquid was at first, perhaps it was water but was it actually coolant? It didn't matter, I felt doomed to have to do a rebuild. With water in my spark plug valley, it must've came in from the rain right? My engine isn't acting like it has a blown head gasket but I can't take any chances, so I did what any sane person would do, I ordered a full gasket set from the United Kingdom and spark plug gaskets for the valve cover from my local dealer incase my theory was right. Since I was taking off the valve cover I decided to have it powder coated in green, and because I was getting new spark plug gaskets, I ordered a set of blue NGK spark plug wires with a set of OEM spec Denso plugs. During the removal process for the valve cover I noticed how the valve cover gaskets were dry rotted, when I finally got my valve cover back I installed the new gaskets, wires, and plugs; emergency diverted... and now I have a full gasket set just incase, whoops.
Paint and Body:
Unlike the many boring shades of black you see on "econoboxes", the Starlet GT Turbo came with a bit of flare in the form of a flake that adds a bit of shine in the Florida sun. The Japanese sun however, has eaten away at some of the clear coat and base coat underneath, leaving an ugly white fade on the roof and wing. For 27 year old car, the paint and body isn't bad but it has seen better days, little dings and dents have popped up with use as the black paint does not allow any imperfection hide itself. There are a few problem spots that I eventually will need to tend to, a crease from a fallen palm branch on the rear quarter panel, two small dents on the hood scoop, the roof of course, and a tiny bubbling rust spot on the rear hatch. My fear at this point isn't the cost of painting my EP82 but getting the paint to look original and not overly shiny or pasted on, I guess I want some part of this car to remain stock.
This may seem like a rant, but here in the United States we only see a handful of right hand drive vehicles on a day to day basis and they all happen to be postal trucks. For non-car people, seeing a small right hand drive car conjures up a bunch of questions, things like "is this car from England?", "Is it hard to drive on the wrong side?", and my favorite "Is that a Nissan?" The conversations seem to pop-up at the most random locations as do the phones recording me as I drive around to run errands. I may finally understand the frustration Kanye West felt (is it Ye now?) with the Paparazzi, people have driven a bit dangerously to snap a picture of my car, being that I'm closer to their driver-side door, it would make sense to just ask me instead and I can pull over and chat if I have time. It's funny really, the amount of people who want to make a comment, honk their horn, or ask me if I want to sell it; for now I'm enjoying the "JDM Life" but maybe my plan of avoiding attention in a small black car isn't entirely working.
If you look closely in the photos, I have a long crack on the side of my windshield courtesy of some road debris that were kicked up by a lifted truck. Things happen, glass can break, but what a process it was to get a replacement. The Starlet is related to the Tercel, Paseo, and Sera; two of those cars were sold here which is why many parts are available but glass is not cross-compatible. Luckily I have Hagerty insurance and they were able to help Lloyd's of Shelton Auto Glass with sourcing a brand new windshield. The incident occurred in July, right in the middle of increased international concerns with COVID-19 which meant that getting anything this large from Japan would take a while. The good thing about getting a new windshield is that I could upgrade it with a green tint to help fight off harsh UV rays, as well as a dark ribbon at the top to help with the sun in my eyes. The bad thing was the wait, the glass didn't arrive until late December, a day after I took these photos; it looked bad from inside the car but luckily it wasn't too apparent from afar.
There are many wheels that fit EP82s, anything with a 4x100 lug pattern from 14 inches to about 17 inches has been made to fit, with 15 inch wheels being the sweet spot. It was difficult to decide on wheels as it has also been slim pickings for affordable, Japanese wheels that fit the look I was going for. Initially I was going to get a set of Weds, but everything in my price range was abused beyond repair, Advan makes some beautiful wheels as well but even used they were double of what I wanted to spend. With a bit of patience and research I found a set of mix-match Toms New Action wheels, two were white and two were black, I couldn't decide which color would look better so I had the centers powder coated by my brother in the same tuxedo motif. To match the 15 inch wheels I decided on a set of 195/50 Yokohama Advan Flevas, this 300 treadwear ultra high performance summer tire has been good in the rain, on spirited drives, and hopefully performs well on an upcoming track day. I really enjoy my wheel setup, by using one color on each side I get two different looks that people rarely catch on to, the lips could use some polishing work but that will have to wait a bit longer.
Overnight parts from Japan do not exist anymore! They didn't really exist outside of the Fast and Furious, but with continued supply chain issues there have been delays on pretty much any car part you could think of from anywhere in the world. It was difficult researching brakes for the Starlet, I really wanted slotted rotors, lines, and better pads; the problem was that if the price was right the shipping costs were extraordinarily high. Some of the better brands like Project Mu and Endless had those dream parts listed but costs rivaled that of a big brake upgrade kit, so I had to pass on that as well. Parts that were cross compatible only existed for the front end here in the states, StopTech makes a very nice kit for the front end but the EP82 GT Turbo does not share it's disc rear brakes with anything sold on this side of the world. I eventually settled on a kit put together by ID-Workz, they started as a small company tuning Starlets in the UK but eventually became distributors for parts for all kinds of tuner cars. The kit includes rotors, pads, lines, and even fluid; the shipping was reasonable and fast but I have yet to install them so that is yet to come.
I truly don't want to come off as if I'm not enjoying the experience with my EP82, it is a lot of fun and I can't see myself getting rid of it anytime soon. It has been reliable even when I almost scared myself to death with the misfire situation, it's good on gas, punchy, fits my son in his front facing car seat, and is comfortable. There's still more however that I'd like to accomplish, along with the brake upgrade I will also perform a transmission oil change to freshen things up, as I'm not sure when or if this was ever service even if the 5-speed has not given me issues. Inside, the only upgrade has been a Pioneer SPH-10BT receiver that features an awesome built-in phone holder that allows me to use an app as if I had Apple CarPlay; in a sense I now do. The rest of the interior can use some work, I'm unsure of what steering wheel and shift knob combination I should aim for; the OEM wheel has cracks from the sun and the Razo knob just looks cheap. Perhaps a setup from Momo is in the works but I'm willing to take any recommendations into consideration. I'm waiting for April to complete my first track day in this car, after that a suspension overhaul needs to take place, if not for better handling at least to cure the serious wheel gap brought on by the stock springs and newly installed 15 inch wheels. Outside of some general maintenance, I'd like to just keep the car functional as a daily while paying attention to the aesthetics and functionality. This car has to be a miniature Swiss Army knife, able to tackle a bit of everything but not expected to outperform anything than my need for a fun drive.