Project KP61: A New Heart & New Wheels
New Shed, New Heart

A couple of months back I introduced you all to Project KP61, my long term (inadvertently, of course) project build based around a 1981 Toyota Starlet that I’ve owned for a significant period of my life.

Since then life’s been moving forward at a hectic pace. With a full-time day job, media tasks for both Speedhunters and other print media outlets, and the arduous task of purchasing a home, it feels like time spent in the garage tinkering has been minimal at best. But somehow, progress has been steady.

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One of the perks of buying a home is that I’ve now got a garage to call my own; albeit small, ramshackle and without power for now. So Project KP61 has a home too. I also indulged in one of those ‘love it or hate it’ accessories – a personalised license plate. Given the ITB setup should make a bit of a racket, the KP now wears the onomatopoeic tags, DOORT.

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Not long after the shift, the call was made to get the 4A-GE into the hole. With a currently assembled front end, in order to get the engine in with the least amount of hassle and risk of damaging the engine bay paint I elected to dismantle the nose and open things up. Removable slam panels are an old car tinkerer’s best friend – well played Toyota of the ’80s!

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With the help of the requisite hydraulic crane, we lifted the engine from the stand, but not before removing as many of the ancillaries as possible to further the ease of installation.

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By no means a final fitment, the call was made to fit up the Toda lightweight chrome-moly flywheel and old 3-puck clutch that came with the engine as a test fit, and to give the input shaft of the gearbox something to engage with.

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Lining up the clutch friction plate with the input shaft splines of the gearbox is one of those tasks that either goes well or is a massive nuisance to get right; especially if you’re like me and your clutch alignment tool is the handle of a 3/8″ drive ratchet or similar. I really should just plonk down the cash for the right tool one of these days, but then the ‘find something that fits’ method usually works and everyone’s happy. Well, it worked seamlessly enough this time… A few jiggles and the T50 gearbox slid home onto its dowels and the bell-housing bolts were duly tightened.

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With limited space available in the shed, the journey from workbench to the front of car was made gingerly as the whole engine and gearbox combo swung perilously from a chain a few inches from the ground. Yes, the front of the car is resting on blocks of 2×4″ timber, but only because the legs for the crane wouldn’t otherwise slide under the valence or crossmember.

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This was a two man job. I guided the engine into place on the slotted mounts while ‘Sheepers’ manned the release on the hydraulic ram. An exercise in patience, it took several minutes to get it into place, but as shown in this photo, the ‘bolt in’ engine mounts I’d purchased online left the engine canted towards the passenger side at a less than desirable angle. They also prevented the engine from mounting as low as I would have liked.

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This image shows where the engine needs to be. Note the lack of urethane isolator on the driver’s side mount, and the scribed line in the same side’s engine mount. This enabled a quick, simple method to remove and modify the mount to allow the 4A-G to sit exactly where it needed to.

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We’ll just jump forward slightly to a freshly modified mount. Although not in its final form, this is good enough for the first fit as there’s still work to be done to the engine which will require its removal from the bay.

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Add an inlet manifold and ITBs and it all looks right at home. But what of the gearbox crossmember? That’s currently bolted in with a combination of scrap flat bar and angle iron as the car’s going to need to travel to another shed to have that fabricated up in a later update.

Maybe I Should Check Into Rehab
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As my girlfriend routinely says, I have a problem. A wheel problem. With easy access to Yahoo Auctions Japan and contacts to collect and ship products, I’ve long had an ever-changing wheel collection. One of the latest purchases? A full set of Enkei ‘Dish’ wheels measuring 13×7-inch with an offset of +2 on all four corners.

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As the Japanese take on the globally popular ‘slot mag’ type design, these have been a bit of a wishlist item for a while. A quick test fit shows clearance for the 4-pot Wilwood calipers, but the wheels are fairly badly oxidised and in need of a restoration, something I’ll tackle myself over summer.

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Not in need of restoration however, are these. I managed to prise these out of the hands of a friend and fellow wheel hoarder – although at some expense – and landed them in the country just prior to the Christmas break. If I say the name ‘Watanabe’, the first thought that springs to mind is probably the classic 8-spoke RS wheels, right?

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During the 1980s, Watanabe also produced this wheel, the Falcon Turbo. A variant of the popular ‘turbo’ style wheel (think Ronal), these particular wheels are new old stock (NOS). They had never been on a car; the machined finish is unblemished save for light tarnishing, and subsequently they’d never met a curb in their life.

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Not one to hoard things for the sake of it, I had a set of 175/60s fitted up and promptly wheeled the KP out into the sunlight for a fit. Things don’t get much more ’80s than this!

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They also came complete with a set of center caps – a rarity for vintage Japanese wheels. After a brief polish with a fine paste, the deep conical centers gleamed like the day they were boxed up in 1980.

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With the engine mounted, the opportunity to fabricate a set of custom exhaust headers was also seized. After explaining my required application and supplying engine and cam specification (and the car itself), Brendan Duncker of Convert Ltd, himself a revered tinkerer with retro Toyotas and long time stalwart of the Kiwi drift scene, glued together this set of takoashi-styled 4-1 stainless headers for me.

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The attention to detail is second to none. From the beautiful welds to the mild steel flange, the completely scratch-built collector mated to a V-band flange and even the millimetre-perfect facing of the gasket surface, I couldn’t be any happier.

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Featuring a 38.1mm (1.5-inch) primary, the headers are designed to maximise mid-range torque and work in harmony with my chosen cam spec, which I’ll touch on later when the headwork progresses.

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I know it’s incomplete and there are still items like cooling, wiring and a few other odds and ends to add to the bay, but I think the aesthetic is simply incredible. The aim is to keep this as clean as possible, which means a complete de-loom and unfortunately a repaint of some areas in the name of removing holes and smoothing things out.

They Say You Have To Break  A Few Eggs…
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The final step, and bringing this project completely up to date, is the dismantling of the interior to facilitate some more bespoke fab work. I’m not a huge fan of removing old interiors; the plastic and fabrics are usually brittle and as a result fragile, meaning high potential to damage irreplaceable parts in the process.

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Nevertheless, it had to be done. So I soldiered on, sweating profusely under the New Zealand summer heat while cramped up inside the compact Toyota glasshouse. At this stage I’d just figured out how the main dashboard frame was removed from the jigsaw puzzle…

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Then, all of a sudden the cupboard was bare. After about five hours work I’d carefully removed, well, everything, leaving nothing more than a barren firewall and steering column.

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Which then left me with this ungodly mess of succulent maroon interior panels – all ripe for a thorough clean before reinstall. As you can see, I also clearly bagged and labelled the fasteners in the hope that when it all goes back together, things will go smoothly with little swearing.

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So for update #2 this is where we say goodbye. With the cabin stripped, the next step is to fabricate a mounting frame for the Wilwood reverse-swing pedal box I’ve had stashed away for months now, as well as thinning out the chassis loom to the bare essentials before re-wiring the car to suit the 4A-G and fuel injection.

They say you have to break a few eggs to make an omelette; well, after smashing through the whole box, I sure as hell hope this is going to be a tasty one!

Richard Opie
Instagram: snoozinrichy



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Really cool car and build but I can't get past the idea of a car that is too small and to cheap to take me all that time spent in it. Not many people would appreciate it. But I can. Good luck! PS - really nice rims.


Those rims are gorgeous!


Serious engine bay porn on the way..


Little ray of sun right there! Love it.


Overall nice kp but dislike on the whel choic..


Thanks for letting us follow you on this DIY. Looking forward to see whats next and I'm hoping we get more stories similar to this!


Love it, reminds me of my TE72 build!


You need a Watanabe Falcon steering wheel to match those wheels! Awesome build, looks great!


looks good, love the wheels, both sets, my only question is why leave a wiring loom in the engine bay when it was being painted? that screams cowboy job to me.

As for the clutch lining tool you should be able to pick one up for less than $10 these days


@mememe easy answer - when the bay was painted, the plan then was to bung the 4K back in and carry on - sadly things got carried away. I don't think it's to the detriment of the engine bay paint however. But the firewall is going to need repainting now anyway (at bare minimum) due to the change of plans involving the 4AGE, booster delete, and otherwise redundant brackets and holes the 4K would have used had I gone ahead with it.


MikeDonnelly I wish! I'd need a second mortgage to fund one too :(


greenroadster I understand what you mean - this is what happens when the appeal of a 'thing' transcends it's actual value I guess. It's quite special to me now!


sotosaccord I've got all sorts of options at least!


Love your work as always Richie, and you have a nicely trimmed bush (pic 2). Now, I'm not a Toyota fan but shouldn't this be Project AP61? ;)


Speedhunters OMG U0001f60d


Love your work as always Richie, and you have a nicely trimmed bush (pic 2). Now, I'm not a Toyota fan but shouldn't this be Project AP61?


CJC_Matty Nah that designation reminds me too much of smelly old Valiants!


Great work! I'm eager to see the next chapter. Absolutely gorgeous wheel choices too!


It seemed a little familiar till I got to the wheel photos, then I recognised it from the retrorides/oldschool threads. Always a fan of your wheel choice(s) and excellent photos!


Sweet! I often wonder how you would get replacement interior parts for old Japanese cars.


My favourite SH project! Those headers are a thing of beauty, can't wait to hear them sing.

dan shroedingernog

one of the cheaper, yet best cars this website has seen in years.

yes, years.


@James That's an awesome build!




I have such a soft spot in my heart for this car. One of my favorite SH Projects, for sure. that an Ice Cube air freshener?


IRONWOLF RD Thanks a lot! And yes... that's Ice Cube, you can get one of him from among other sweet air fresheners. Although this ones been in there for over a year and doesn't freshen much anymore.


SnoozinRichy IRONWOLF RD He does serve as a very potent reminder that if you didn't even need to use your AK, today was a good day!


wow those wheels look amazing


Killer Ice Cube pun U0001f44d


ahhh slot mags. Such a beautiful sight.


Damn.. Well done on the engine bay. The combo of ITB's and those custom headers can not be beaten.


Diesel Dude I'm hoping to keep it clean once it's wired and the cooling bits go in too. I'll have to make a few concessions but it should stay looking the part!


@dan shroedingernog Hah I'm flattered, thanks.


Smiggins More often than not, I have bought an entire rusty old car to wreck for a couple of hard to get parts. These are drying up now however.


@James Nice, we never got the 2-door sedan E7 chassis here. I like the way you're going about things, keeping it clean!


Speedhunters_Bryn Every week or two, the ray of sunshine gets a little bit brighter too. I reckon you'll agree it's been way too long since I actually drove this thing.


@MyLifeAsLouis I'll change my mind and buy some more next month or something, no doubt. Something about having a few beers and browsing Yahoo Auctions...


Blake Jones You and I both. The goal is to make me giggle every time I mash the loud pedal.




SnoozinRichy There are a couple floating around, presumably imported though!


Awesome project! =)

Mind to fix the missing picture at the headers part? It's too beautiful to be missed. ;)


So freakin badass!  And those Falcon Turbo's...OMFG is an understatement


it looks great man keep it up


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the car was very good 
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George Wilfred Ayoti

Hi Richard.Thanks for your wonderful job,I have learn a lot from you.I have a quick question please.Which market did you mostly rely on as source of rebuild supplies.I have a 1983 KP61 that I want to rebuild.Thank you!