When I started documenting Eugene’s Curbside Classics in 2009, this particular car was on my mind as one of the first to write up. My older son’s 5th grade teacher was already driving it back in 1993, and I took note of it back then, when it was merely some ten years old. And he’s still driving it twenty-two years later. I finally shot in 2010 and wrote it up at the old site, titled “The Most Reliable Car Ever Built?” Obviously, that’s debatable, but these RWD Starlets were about as simple and rugged as it got, in terms of old-school Toyotas.
And it wasn’t just me; in Germany back at the time, this generation of Starlet jumped to the top of the much-watched ADAC “Pannenstatistik” for three years straight, beating out the long-time winner, the Mercedes W123 diesel. Now that was a bit of a blow to the German collective ego. So when I saw it again the other day, I decided a little follow-up was in order.
I haven’t run into Art, its owner, in a few years, but when I spoke to him in 2010 about his Starlet, it already had 300k miles on it. I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s around 350k now. It had never broken down for Art. The only repair he had to make outside of normal wear items was to replace some valve springs. And why do I still hear comments here not infrequently that suggest that Japanese cars were junky back then? Ok, rust resistance was an issue, one that the Japanese weren’t alone in having to overcome. But basic mechanical quality and durability? It was mostly there from the get-go. It was precisely what attracted folks to them from the beginning.
The Starlet was as simple and straight-forward as it got, with tried and proven components. But when it was effectively replaced with the all-new FWD Tercel, unlike GM’s new FWD X Cars, the Tercel quickly developed a rep for being equally reliable and rugged, including the first year of production. That kind of consistency is how Toyota ended up as the world’s largest manufacturer.
Don’t be surprised if you see another update on this car in 2020.