And in keeping up with the kits I built as of late, I invested in yet another Hasegawa kit, and not just any other Hasegawa kit, one of their constant cycles of new tools in the “Historic Cars” series with variations up the wazoo; the Toyota Starlet. Just like last month’s ‘74 Civic, this kit also has a hits-close-to-home value to me, my mother owned a little 1986 Starlet for the better part of four years until wrecking it with me in the passenger seat, though unfortunately it wasn’t this beast of a car with its proud proclamations on the doors calling out its massive 12 valves and its fuel injection.
Holy shit, about that – remember the times when car manufacturers from Asia just decked out the entire exterior of the car with engine size call-outs left, right and center? I prominently remember the early eighties Mitsubishi Lancer 2000 Turbo that had it written in fuckin’ mirrored text so you could read it from in your rear view mirror as it approached. Or the ’84 Nissan Skyline R30 that had the prominent tall-text “Intercooler 4 Valve DOHC RS-Turbo” on the door and rear fender. This was truly a spectacular time to be alive, eh? When a little 3 door Toyota Starlet with a straight four engine that was still measured in cc’s like a moped proudly calling out to its multi-valve engine. Now, I have to be perfectly honest, as much as I wish my mom had the body-kitted Si-Limited model that was available for export, she had the 1.3 12v-S6 DX, also known as the “1.3DX S”, I know, the brain is blown to smithereens with that clever nomenclature.
And in keeping with the times when the UK essentially started a class war with car badging, my mom’s 1.3DX had the “kitted out” version. It had the slightly larger wheels with plastic center caps, it had the plastic door protection trim with the red line and the “12 Valve” badge in there, it had the… well, I’ll be perfectly honest, according to the little booklet, the “S” was just a 1.3 DX with a little “STAR” badge under the Starlet emblem on the tail and quite literally nothing else that would make it distinct from the normal DX or even the 1.3S. But boy that car must’ve done like 250,000km before being forcibly mated with a Seat Ibiza at roughly 50km/h. And despite its un-heroic end, that little car to me was more a “Car of the People” than say the VW Golf or the Honda Civic, or maybe even the Fiat 500.
It came to be in 1973 as a direct competitor to the Datsun Cherry, the Fiat 125, the Austin Mini, the Renault 5, essentially any short-bodied 4 cylinder hatchback from the seventies, Toyota tried to get a slice from. And they did a similar trick to what AMC did with the Gremlin, it was based entirely on a shortened version of the Corolla, sharing parts, engines, wheels, the whole nine yards so production costs were really low and as a result the car’s sale price was also nice and affordable. Strangely enough, Toyota didn’t actually export the Starlet around the world until 1978, even though Datsun/Nissan and Honda were already broadly exporting their vehicles from 1971 and by ’78 had already opened plants in their designated export countries to manufacture locally. Though, even while the Starlet was a decade behind on its competitors, it entered the European market with a fist covered in bricks, they made six to seven models for every market and made sure they were in tune with what each locale preferred the most. And it’s this type of mentality, fine tuning the car for say European roads and engine displacement to run better short curved roads rather than city driving pretty much defined Toyota for the eighties, especially for us Europeans who bought Toyota’s in droves. While the United States can accurate define the stereotype of the ever reliable yet more boring than gray wallpaper Toyota Camry, Europe was in all senses absolutely overloaded with the Starlet.
“What the fuck’s a Starlet?”, I might hear a possibly American person ask. And y’know what, that isn’t a strange thing to ask if you’re of the stars-‘n-stripes persuasion: the Starlet existed in the United States for all of 4 years and it sold, well, poorly. The ’78 model was introduced in the U.S. in 1981 and every variation sold in export markets was made available there until 1985 and even though it sold y’know, at best, okay(it sold poorly in the eyes of Toyota, given their other models’ success), Toyota axed it and never returned the model, only bringing its successor back; the Yaris. But let it be known that just like the Honda Civic, just like the Fiat 127, just like the ever humble Renault 5, this Car of the People, this generous little Starlet too was hoisted by its own petard and had some significant rust issues. While the Toyota 1K, 2K and 3K engines as well as the ’84-onward 1E and 2E engines were legendarily reliable, the car around it would fall apart, and it would do so quickly. I bet every person from Europe’s seen the legendary rear hatch seal rust turn the paint a dull color from the rot growing underneath on a Starlet, or the window wiper on the front growing a cancerous brown spot.
And my mom’s Starlet was no different, by the time she had blasted it through the ass end of that Seat, it was already a fifteen year old car. Its silver paint job had flaked from the rear all the way around, chipping off and revealing large sections of rust, the whole undercarriage was optimistically described as “intact, still”. The hood latch had snapped from rust and poor metal quality so when she had to open it, my dad had to wrench it open with a metal rod. All of the plastic bits, including the rear view mirror popped loose from their housings at random intervals. Its safe to say that just like damn near every car of its era, that 1986 Starlet wasn’t meant to last into the 2000’s, even though its engine absolutely did. Turns out, even though the radiator had shattered into a million shards of metal in the impact, the engine was totally fine in the mangled front end and actually was responsible for paying off her replacement car just by itself in spare part value.
This is why I really, really enjoy these “Historic Car Series” models from Hasegawa. As a European, my peasant mind loves these little ‘cars of the people’ because they really were cars of the people. Yeah, I get that say, the 1967 Impala SS four door by AMT that was released a few days ago was met with a thousand stories of people far older than me that their parents, their aunts or uncles, their grandparents or someone in their family had driven one of those yachts way back then, fresh from the dealer and I totally get the appeal now. The only difference is that to a lot of people, a ’67 Impala SS is of far more interest to them than a shitty Starlet from the mid-eighties that at best impressed people with its loud-as-balls interior, but someone at Hasegawa looked at these cars and thought that they deserve to be immortalized in model form and be given its total, unadulterated love.
There’s so many of these kits, of these unsung heroes almost from the early seventies through the nineties, that they’re bringing out. From the ’74 BMW 2002 all the way to a ’89 Nissan Skyline and all the weird stuff in between, the ’75 Mitsubishi Gallant, the ’82 Mitsubishi Lancer, the ’87 Toyota Corolla AE92, and it goes on. I recently bought the ’87 Nissan Bluebird SSS-R and I cannot wait to start it, and words cannot describe my utter appreciation for this subject matter being invested in this much. These are daily drivers, racing legends and the weird place in between from the automotive dark ages that no American, not even a European would even remotely consider over anything else when given the choice. But someone over at Hasegawa decided that not only that these cars from those years deserve a fully detailed model, they actually pushed through with it. Granted, their return-of-invested is partially done by making sure these models have model variety, the Starlet is a good example as today there are three types available: this one, the ’86 Starlet Si-Limited EP71, there’s also its earliest release which is the ’87 TurboS EP71 and the recently released TurboS EP71, the pre-facelift edition from 1986.
And you know what, I’m gonna eat my words from the Honda Civic article where I kind of lashed out at Hasegawa from bringing out a kit version of the Civic whose entire identifier aside from badges was its truly unique engine. I recently was paging through a forum thread where people were in essence complaining about the lack of an engine in the ’18 Ford Mustang GT4 by Tamiya, saying it was inexcusable for the money invested and money spent for it to not have one, and by now I can’t help but going full “You know what, fuck you and the high horse you rode in on” at this concept because by this point, especially from Asian manufacturers, western subjects are few and far between and they know their audience better than well, the audience. A loud minority should not sway the desires of the quiet spending majority, and Tamiya flat-out said that including a engine was not in their best interest based on their market research. Hasegawa is pushing out these new tool kits, and when I say new tool, I mean ground up, 3D CAD made, detailed to the last rivet on the chassis, every four to six months. Revell is gradually making new kits at roughly one or two a year post-bankruptcy which is amazing in its own right, Round2 just gave up on making new model kits and is sticking with revamping old ones, albeit in a way that truly only Round2 is capable of: reinventing the wheel and constantly angry at the fact that they’re sanding bumps off the oval shape they’re making.
So if having no engine means that you get a very high detailed, excellent quality, truly unique model car kit that is not only all of those things, but also cheaper at retail and shipping fees from fuckin’ Asia than it is to get a 44 year old Pinto kit from AMT? Then I would just about sacrifice Round2 and their goddamn Coke Company licensing to Satan if it were to mean Hasegawa can keep going with this, engine or not. Go figure, we’re nine paragraphs down and I’ve yelled at three groups of people and said nothing of the model in question yet. Let’s change that!
Beginning with the engine, or well, lack thereof. These “HC Series” kits all have several things in common; their body quality itself is staggeringly high, the small details are actually separate pieces like the door handles, the grips for the hatch, antenna housing, such things and the chassis is where the other third of the quality and attention went. The Civic I did last had this as well, the suspension on the front and back are wonderfully detailed and not overly complex so attaching the wheels still is a possibility without tearing the whole thing off at once. But what always blows me away is the sheer detail on the chassis, the weld lines, the brake lines, the bolts and nuts, the engine that is there molded in is also supremely detailed, as well as the transmission case. Like, while there isn’t a engine, the detail underneath the thing is something to truly behold. I love a good engine in my kit as much as the next guy but this approach of ‘hidden details’ is fine by me. All of the suspension goes really well together and it feels structurally solid, although my one complaint with this particular kit’s suspension get-up is that the ride height is a wee bit too high.
The interior is where this kit shines, and so do the other two Starlet kits available. Unlike the flat doorcard detail of the Civic, this one has plenty of raised detail and holy shit it has some decals to compliment them. The 1980s had some lovely, loud and obscenely ugly interior choices and the Starlet had some legendarily nasty looking ones too and this particular Si-Limited model had the angled red-line interior that is very well copied onto a decal sheet by Hasegawa. Speaking of which, nearly all of these “HC Series” kits have a outrageous decal sheet that make my own works look like child-like attempts at best, the quality is extremely high and it carries color options for the all-white Starlet as well as the two-tone one.
Speaking of which, I bet you’ll have noticed my wobbly fucking attempt at getting the two-tone paint job like on the box. Part of that is my damn hands not functioning anywhere near what I want ’em to do and the other part is me using a metallic clear coat making the silver paint I laid down droop a bit down cause I’m a clever clogs who didn’t base-coat the model cause I was enamored by the high quality plastic. So it looks rather wobbly, but I’m a mere mortal so it’ll have to do. I did print out some ’86 year Maryland plates to compliment the empty license plate holders with something real world but I totally forgot to add the damn year expiry sticker, so now it looks like a ’85 plate, whoops! All in all, the only real complaint I have with this kit is a small one. The front fascia is… complex, to put it mildly. Get this, the headlights snap into the very thin, fragile plastic face and they’re supposed to ‘snap’ in place, but this guarantees the headlight surround itself will break first, and on top of that, it’s supposed to slot in perfectly on the already established headlight buckets and lower fascia. Essentially what this means is that you’ll either break the extremely fragile pieces, have one or both headlights have a bit of a droop to ’em or that the hood will not sit correctly above it.
But, as I’m coming to an end on this article, the bottom line is – it may be a simple, crappy Starlet that relies on ‘looking’ mean with all the graphics and the two tone, combined with the bark of a wheezing chihuahua but as a time-piece and just a fun, fun kit to build that hangs the perfect balance of difficult and interesting to put together with supremely well laid out instructions, this and just about any of the Hasegawa HC Series kits are definite recommendations and I genuinely hope Hasegawa keeps on producing these new tools as often as they do right now. I cannot wait to get the ’87 Bluebird SSS-R, until then, a ’70 Dodge Charger 440 in yellow with a vinyl top is coming up next, until then!
’86 Toyota Starlet Si-Limited EP71 specifications:
Kit: HC Series # 20425
Skill Level: N/A
Molded in: White, Gray and Black