Old but fun

Posted on December 2nd, 2013 in AutoSpeed,Opinion,Toyota by Julian Edgar

So the other day I was in Adelaide for three days. Usually, I would hire a car, but this time a friend offered me something to drive.

The car was a 1998 Toyota Starlet, 2-door base model.

How base? No clock, no tacho, wind-up windows, manual (not power) steering. But equipped with a 4E-FE 1.3 litre DOHC EFI engine and 5 speed manual trans. I reckon the car’s worth about $1500.

Within moments of picking it up, I loved it!

What did I love about it?

Firstly, it was – to use an old term – so nippy! It was super responsive to the throttle, and I’d guess most of its city nippiness came from what seemed to be very low gearing. (No tacho, so I couldn’t tell for sure.) So, you see a hole in traffic to lane-change into – and pow!, you could be filling it.

And the car was small! You get so used to the apparently inexorable growth in dimensions of cars that you actually forget what a small car is like. The Starlet was small enough that a Toyota Echo alongside in traffic seemed huge. The Starlet wasn’t a joy to park (the manual steering being quite heavy at low speeds) but in traffic, and for that matter on winding roads, the small size made it a delight.

And the vision! I’ve written before about the stupidly small window area being used in current cars, and the Starlet was simply nothing like that – it showed how it could be done. Big rear glass, large side glass, thinner pillars….good vision everywhere.

I even got the opportunity to punch it along a tight country road – and again I thought it a lot of fun. On its tiny 165/70 tyres it did well, and the steering weight in that situation was perfect.

OK, OK – it sure as hell is a car I wouldn’t want to have crashed in. And its NVH was bloody awful – it was quite wearing to drive long distances.

Would I want to drive an old Starlet all day, every day? Not on your life!

But jumping into an old, basic car startlingly showed strengths that are being lost in current cars: throttle response, size, vision….and maybe just even just the element of fun.



4 Responses to 'Old but fun'

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  1. Ben Powell said,

    on December 3rd, 2013 at 3:12 pm

    The stated reasons are why I chose the new Swift as my first brand new car. It just felt a bit ‘sharper’ than the other cars I test drove (i20, Mazda2, Alto) and was slightly easier to see out of than the others that I didn’t drive. I’ve since discovered that it’s able to be throttle steered a little on roundabouts, making it a little more interesting to drive.

    Incidentally it’s a 2013 model with 1300km on, Julian you are welcome to take it for a review drive next time you are in Cairns.

  2. MC Bodge said,

    on December 7th, 2013 at 8:13 pm

    I totally agree with your post and I think that a lot of other people are coming to similar conclusions.

    Modern regulations are a big factor, though.

  3. Edward said,

    on December 13th, 2013 at 11:03 am

    Agreed, my wifes old tiny underpowered MX-5 is in my opinion the world’s most fun car to drive. On a side note, how is the Legend going Julian? I have very similar commuting requirements as you and am now down to buying either a KB Legend or an early LS430.

  4. Julian Edgar said,

    on December 13th, 2013 at 3:18 pm

    Legend is good. LS430 would be good too I think. Drive both?

    Legend dampers getting perhaps a bit tired from lots of rough roads. But nothing needing to be done to car other than tyres and servicing.

    Legend is an easy car to pigeon-hole as rather boring… then (in an imaginary world, of course) you drive home at 140 – 160 and you realise that the AWD gives another level of certainty on bad, remote roads.