1974 Toyota Starlet

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One of the most underrated Toyotas

Three years ago, Orly Tapay brought his 1974 Toyota Starlet to Southern California’s Japanese Classic Car Show (JCCS) and not many people paid attention to it. Probably because the KP45 Starlet was only ever available in Japan, and Orly’s car didn’t sport the iconic TOM’S touring car livery yet. However, this past spring at Toyotafest, no one could miss his Starlet as he showed off the newly applied vinyl he set out to do from the beginning, all from using a 1/24-scale toy box as a reference. Get ready for a history lesson.

In 1974, Nobuhide Tachi and Kiyoshi Oiwa (the T and O of TOM’S) established Tachi Oiwa Motor Sport. Just a year later, TOM’S was recognized by Toyota as an authorized partner. To this day, it is one of the most popular race teams and tuners in Japan still competing in Super GT. Perhaps one of its most popular cars was its GT500 champion, 3SG-powered Toyota Supra with Castrol livery. But even before the Supra or its long list of complete car builds, TOM’S started with the Starlet and used the small Toyota to outrun the Datsun Sunny and Honda Civic at the Fuji Grand Champion minor touring class.

The KP47 generation of Starlet was what TOM’S used to develop its legendary 137E race motor, also known as the 3K-R. The engine revved to 9,500 rpm and produced 180 hp, an impressive number for that era, and one of the many reasons why Orly fell in love with the TOM’S and the Starlet in the first place.


Orly was able to import his KP45 Starlet through a broker, and luckily for him, it already wore a TOM’S-style widebody conversion, plus the previous owner had already ditched the factory 1.2-liter 3K motor for a more powerful 1.8-liter 2T-G motor. From there, Orly continued to add rare parts that he had collected over time, such as the TOM’S seatbelts, TRD suspension, racing seats and steering wheel. The last piece of the puzzle was the unmistakable TOM’S livery and Igeta wheels.

Though Orly’s car isn’t the original touring car, nor did TOM’S ever make a KP45 race car, this 1974 Starlet is one of the rarest Toyotas you’ll ever find stateside, a history book on wheels and essentially a love letter to TOM’S racing heritage.

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