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Old Run - KP61 Toyota Starlet

One Man's Junk Is Another Man's Treasure

By Tatsu Tsuchida, Photography by Chris Jue

The orange, red and grey KP61 Toyota Starlet seen here can be found along a desolate strip of Highway 19 in northeast Nagano City, Japan. Sumio Okada's restoration shop, called Old Run, opened its doors in 1998. Its simple mission was to instill automotive nostalgia into modern Japan, which is not easy in a country where humidity results in rust and salt water is usually a mere hour away at most. Ask anyone who has tried to import a Japanese car from before 1995. The average lifespan of a car here is only five years.

Old Run is complete with a bone yard, strewn with decrepit carcasses and a body shop that saves them. Also on duty in the repair and restoration garage is friend, employee and former dairy farmer, Toshio Sakuma. Evidence that Sakuma carries a torch for the past can be found in this 1979 TRD-inspired Starlet. The look is detail-accurate 1979. Sakuma and Okada are members of the Japanese Classic Car Association (JCCA), where credentials are based on how close you can get to historical correctness. Got a BRE, Bellet R6 or GT40 Suzuka special? Yeah, you're cool. Have a 1981 Tercel with a carbon wing? Definitely cheesy.

History comes to life when the JCCA plays host to four major events every year: the New Year meeting, Fuji Jamboree at Fuji circuit during spring, the Tsukuba meeting in July and the Tsukuba endurance meeting in the fall. Entrants' cars range from Aston Martin to Ford and Volvo, but the majority are Japanese. While the New Year Meeting brings out many pristine trailered specimens, prudence for rolling museum pieces is discarded at the three races. Sakuma's '79 included, they're all going flat out.

Sakuma's Starlet has the full period TRD treatment with fender flares, front air dam and wing, giving it the necessary belligerence. Gazing into its front fascia finds a bone yard excavation: a GReddy 10-row oil cooler fends frothing, oven-like oil temps. Respective front and rear Yokohama 205/500-13 and 225/500-13 slicks wrap a set of SSR Mark IIs.

Peering through the undulating sun-battled Lexan, which covers all but the front windshield, there's a modern Safety 21 six-point cage with removable rear clevises, a Bride seat with HPI appointment and the obligatory stitch welding seen in so many Japanese race cars. No doubt items not period-accurate are all in the name of safety and mandated by track officials.

By Tatsu Tsuchida
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