CC Capsule: 1978 Toyota Starlet – What’s In A Face?

Here’s a face that didn’t make it Stateside; the round-eyed 1978-80 Starlet. And while the square-headlight ’81-’84 model had a pleasant enough face, wasn’t this just friendlier looking?

What a few facial details can do (Image from Details do matter to humans however tiny they may be, particularly in regards to faces. We’re indeed genetically attuned to those; a slightly raised eyebrow, a vaguely slanted smirk, eyelids in open or squinting form, each a detail that reveals whether we’re about to be praised or smacked. In fact, our own survival can depend on such fine points.

Not that life-threatening matters are at play with the 1978 Starlet, regardless of round or square-eyed face. And on this guise, the model’s visage brings a family resemblance to the rather swanky Corolla TE52 Liftback.

To briefly recap; launched in 1973, the Starlet was an optioned-out variant of the subcompact Publica P30, quickly finding better acceptance in Japan’s marketplace. With numbers in its favor, the 1978 P60 Starlet took over the Publica nameplate, delivering options the segment had been asking for: a liftback gate in either 3 or 5 doors, with an extended 5-door wagon version; among other accessories aimed at an active lifestyle.

While mechanically retaining much of the RWD Publica P30, the Starlet did much better internationally than its predecessor ever did, even against the rising FWD hatchback-tide. In square-eyed form it would reach the States in 1981, a chapter already covered at CC.

If kept away from rust, Starlets are truly long-lasting. The model is far from rare in El Salvador, with many ’81-’84 US gray imports easily found (if you haven’t seen one in a while, now you know where they’re). Regarding that ’81-’84 face, the late ’70s square vs. round headlight transition has given automotive fans much to ponder ever since: Double-stacked headlight Monte Carlo or plain round-lens face?

In the case of the Starlet, the little subcompact works well enough with either set of eyes. Squares look a bit more modern and purposeful, while round ones add some character. That said, the ’78-’80 round-eye Starlet has become rather scarce in recent times. It wasn’t until this tired one appeared that I was finally able to capture that fondly remembered visage.

Hope springs eternal in this land. While looking worn out, someone has gone through the trouble of partially covering this little Starlet, undoubtedly to keep rain from seeping in during winter. That someone hasn’t given up on the idea of someday – somehow – bringing this little one back to running condition.

Unlike some of my previous finds, no one approached me as I shot this forlorn vehicle, even though sitting in a busy block surrounded by laborers going to and fro during lunch hour. It was a welcomed novelty.

Talking about said block, City Hall won’t be happy with me sharing shots of this rather soiled street; but we don’t have the luxury to choose our curbside’s settings, do we?

Those who have followed the Publica’s saga know that for Toyota, the model was a slow lesson in marketing throughout the years. By the time the P60 Starlet came around, Toyota’s subcompact had gone from basic transport to pseudo-upscale sedan, to optioned-out practical-lifestyle hauler. The last did the trick, and the Starlet would secure a steady role in Toyota’s lineup for some time to come.

So, what do I see behind this round-eyed little Starlet? A bright-eyed future, with plenty of ambition, ready to take over the world. I know hindsight helps my assessment, but tell me if you see anything else. Don’t be deceived by its current derelict condition; those wide-eye lenses tell the whole story if you look hard enough.

Curbside Classic: 1981 Toyota Starlet – Last Of The Littlest RWD Toyotas

Curbside Classic: ’72-’78 Toyota 1000 (Publica) – Going In Circles