The only problem with celebrating a Japan-themed month on Speedhunters is that it’s just another reminder that I don’t live there.
To be fair, most months here could be considered Japan-themed, but that’s more to do with the incredible influence JDM car culture has on the world. It’s a form of car culture that has made its way into every country around the globe, in one form or another.
We are particularly lucky in Ireland to share the same side of the road and car as Japan, so naturally a lot of Japanese used exports made their way onto our shores. At first, it was just run-of-the-mill commuter vehicles, but people quickly started to realise the potential of JDM performance models, too.
While cars like the Supra, GT-R and NSX might have been the Japanese poster cars of the late ’90s and early ’00s, the reality on the ground here was a little different. The streets were filled with more affordable Honda Type Rs, AE86s, and perhaps most of all, the humble turbocharged Toyota Starlet.EP82
Particularly popular in EP82 GT Turbo and EP91 Glanza V variants, the little Toyotas became renowned in Ireland for their tuning potential. At this point in time, motor insurance was normally based on engine size, so with just 1.3-litres, the Starlet turbos were hugely popular with young drivers, as Irish insurance companies weren’t really aware of their performance levels at the time. However, they would become notorious and have since almost been completely blacklisted by the majority of companies here.
Even today, the acronym ‘JDM’ conjures images of S-bodies, RX-7s and the like, but so often we overlook cars like this. They might be niche, but they’re also the unsung heroes of Japan.
One person that ‘gets’ them is a friend of mine, Sean Hennessy, who reckons he’s owned around 27 Toyota Starlets over the years, including both the EP82 and EP71 photographed here.
While there was a time where these were everywhere on Irish roads, it felt almost surreal watching the two cars drive to our shoot location not long after Christmas Day last year.
What was once a common sight, is now a once-in-a-year kind of deal, if you’re lucky.
Sean is just a little infatuated with Toyotas, and these two also share a garage with another one of his cars, a 20-valve AE86 Trueno, which is also black-over-grey. Perhaps the best colour combination on a two-tone Toyota?
The EP82 was my main focus, but seeing as it was easy to bring the EP71 Turbo S along as well, it would have been rude not to include it. Also, it goes some way to support my recent found cause of shining a light on the lesser praised Japanese cars.
The EP82 GT Advance was my focus because I think it’s one of the best examples in Ireland, and it’s been around for many years. It was the first car that Sean insured and drove on the road when he was 17. He had bought the car a few months before getting his licence and has owned it for over 10 years at this point.
It’s a car which evolved considerably during its lifetime, before coming around full circle again to an almost standard engine setup.
When I asked Sean if we could shoot under the bonnet, he was a little hesitant to open it up. “It’s not the cleanest it’s ever been,” he told me before conceding and popping the latch.
Having owned the car for as long as he has, there was a time when a neatly detailed 4E-FTE with a colour-coded rocker cover, a 5E 1.5-litre bottom end and either a CT9, Blitz KKK or TD04 turbocharger sat beneath the carbon bonnet.
After sending that motor to the moon one day, Sean toyed with the idea of swapping a 3S-GTE and 4WD running gear into the EP82. In fact, he went as far as creating custom mounts and installing the 2-litre setup, before changing his mind, buying another 4E-FTE, and putting it back on the road.
“I just wanted to drive it, so kept it fairly simple the second time around, and it’s been good ever since,” Sean mentioned. While it might not be as pretty now, it still works.
The standard 1.3-litre has been treated to a hybrid CT9 turbo mated to a WEPR exhaust manifold with a 38mm TiAL external wastegate, complete with screamer pipe. With an A’PEXi AVC-R boost controller requesting 1bar (14.7psi) of boost, it’s enough for around 170hp. It might not sound a lot, especially by today’s standards, but this is a car that only weighed 890kg (1,962lb) when stock, before it was put on a diet.
The narrow, tight and twisty roads in Ireland tend to favour lightweight cars over anything else, so you don’t even need that much power to enjoy maximum joy of machine, as there’s rarely the opportunity to stretch a car’s legs unless you’re only driving on the motorways. So, something simple, light and relatively powerful like this is the ideal package.
Power is outputted through 15-inch SSR SP1 front wheels via a Corolla G6 6-speed gearbox fitted with an Exedy clutch, which itself is mated to a Fidanza lightweight flywheel.
The interior is a story of two halves, with the front being occupied with OEM option Recaros and rare Toyota parts like the vanity tray and clean box, both featured in the gallery at the bottom of this post. The aforementioned AVC-R and an A’PEXi RSM are mounted on top of the dashboard, with a TRD 280km/h speedometer within the instrument binnacle.
The rear is fully stripped, painted and is now home to a full complement of brace and strut bars, not to forget the Cusco 6-point roll cage, all of which have been colour matched.
By exchanging the convenience of rear seats, sound deadening and a spare wheel for increased chassis rigidity, Sean estimates the car to have dropped to around 850kg (1,874lb) resulting in a power-to-weight figure of 200hp per tonne.
The Starlet is fully poly-bushed, with MeisterR coilovers, a Cusco adjustable Panhard rod and a modified rear beam to allow one or two degrees of negative camber.
Despite having built the Starlet several years ago, the car’s style hasn’t aged at all and still remains fresh looking. Funnily enough, the front bumper is a replica of a TOM’s one, despite the fact that Sean has an original, genuine one at home in his garage. “I got it six years ago, and didn’t even unwrap it,” he told me. The rest of the TOM’s bits are all genuine as well, including the side skirts, rear spats, rear adjustable spoiler and grille.
The mid-spoiler was moulded in FRP (in order to be painted) from a genuine Toyota item, which came as rubber only. The gold badges and wind deflectors are OEM Toyota, too.
For someone who has owned 27 of the things, to have kept this one is testament to it. While it might not be the ultimate show car it once was, I really get the impression that Sean is much happier to be able to get in and drive it a moment’s notice without a care in the world.
On the subject of cars worth keeping…EP71
“I always wanted an EP71 [Turbo S] since I first found out they existed. I used to see this one pass me on the road the odd time, and one day I actually parked behind it in another Starlet GT Advance I had at the time. I remember it being standard height and on Buddy Club P1s,” Sean recalls.
“Years later, I was flicking through DoneDeal [Irish classifieds website] and I saw the car again. I had to have it, so I went out and bought it that day in April 2011.”
Much like the EP82, this EP71 has been a keeper for Sean, and it has also been subtly evolved as well over the better part of the last decade.
The EP71 Turbo S is the genesis of the turbo Starlet, so it’s hardly surprising that it set the tone for things to come. A 1.3-litre turbocharged engine powering the front wheels, although in the guise of a 12-valve 2E-TELU.
Like Sean’s EP82, there’s been light modification here as well with the addition of an upgraded Blitz turbo kit, front-mount intercooler, HKS SSQV, HKS turbo timer and HKS exhaust along with an A’PEXi AVC-R boost controller, this time demanding a little more boost than the EP82 at 1.1bar (16.1psi).
With a kerb weight of around 740kg (1,631lb) and power of 160hp, the older EP71 Turbo S boasts a slightly more impressive power-to-weight ratio of 216hp per tonne. Sean reckons it’s plenty quick, and briefly recalls gapping a B16-powered EG Civic in the unassuming Toyota.
Behind the rare TOM’s C2 wheels are EP91 Glanza front wishbones, hubs, driveshafts and brakes, so it’s a little easier to reliably reign in the boxy hatchback. Sean lowered it on BC Racing coilovers.
The whole interior of the EP71 mimics the front half of the EP82, with an OEM vibe and just the odd piece of technological indulgence. There’s also an optional vanity tray on the dashboard, along with the original (and again, optional) five-piece floor mat set.
I did have some concerns about how enthusiastic Sean was about his floor mats, but I wasn’t going to bring that up.
What I did share Sean’s enthusiasm for was this Blitz Avant Garde turbo box in the boot of the car. From a quick research, it seems that the box was supplied by Blitz to store your original turbocharger parts in after you had upgraded it with the Blitz components. How considerate, and how very Japanese.
I do genuinely love these things, as they remind me of an era of Japanese car culture in Ireland that just seemed a little bit better than today.
There’s almost certainly an element of looking back with rose-tinted glasses, but I enjoyed so many cars like this that were built by people who were still building cars for themselves, and we had yet to be corrupted by the influence of social media.
Maybe it’s time to shift the spotlight back onto these cars?Cutting Room Floor