Welcome to Project Starletabusa!

By Alex Vendler

This project really got off the ground in reverse order and perhaps that's why it's going to be great.  When Dave Coleman suggested that I start writing some project articles about the build up of what will hopefully be a really fun street and track whip I was deep in a world of inhaled toxic fumes and thusly wasn't able to document what I was doing at the time.  The fumes have dissipated and now comes a bit of show and tell.

OK let's back up for a moment.  It all started with really bad jet lag.  I went on a trip to Italy a couple of years back and for some reason just could not shake the lag.  I got nearly no sleep for over 2 weeks and while I wandered the streets of some Tuscan town or another at 3 a.m. Tuscan time, I came up with a seriously idiotic and simultaneously brilliant idea.  Wait, let me back up again.  You see I had been playing house with a motorcycle engine powered race car for some time by then and was becoming obsessed with the possibility of making a B.E.C. that could actually do more than terrorize a race track.  Everyone knew that the issue was the bike transmission is really unfriendly for car use and suddenly it struck me.  Don't use a bike transmission!  These are the actual drawings I made back then:



As one may or may not be able to tell from these chicken scratches, the original idea was to produce a part that would plug into the existing clutch basket in the motorcycle engine and have a flange for a car flywheel on that.  Thing is, I had no capacity to design or produce such parts.  So I got some help from the likes of Mr. Coleman as well as super machinist, engineer, and Angry Hamster creator, Tim Taylor.  This is all well covered in the Miatabusa articles to say the least.  Ultimately we pooled our time and resources in the hopes that our efforts would yield at least enough adaptors that we could each build some mad-capped ride for ourselves, and perhaps sell parts to other brain damaged individuals as well.

So now that the dream of a super lightweight, yet powerful engine that can be afforded by the likes of this guy has become a reality, what car should I plug this hot mess into?  Good question.  Great question!  When it comes to a personal use, fun only, hot rod, every person has their ideas of key features their fantastical machine needs to possess.  Mine went a bit like this:


  1. Will work with Miatabusa driveline (north south RWD)
  2. Under 2,000 lbs ready to run.
  3. Rear wheel drive.
  4. Hard top.
  5. Cheap.
  6. Somewhat unusual or vintage.
  7. Has a place for my dog to sit that's not the front seat.


My first solution to this list of prerequisites was the nifty early '70's street fighter, the Datsun 1200.  Cute, super lightweight, simple, sturdy, and rear wheel drive, the little brother to the 510 seemed like the way to go.  Until I started looking for one.  Those suckers are rare and when you find one it's most often in horrendous condition, overpriced, or both.  Another major issue was that the super simple suspension (leaf springs in the back) would need to be seriously re-engineered to get the car halfway into the modern world.  Still not afraid of these stumbling blocks I kept at it.  Speaking of stumbling, it was during this Datsun search that I tripped over this car on the local Craigslist:



All checkboxes checked!!  And less than a 15 minutes drive from my house to boot.  Hell to the yeah!  Well so one would think anyway…



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Wednesday, December 14, 2011 10:05 PM
Loving this project already! Glad to see more old school projects on this website. I'm very interested in future info on the interior restoration please.
Thursday, December 15, 2011 1:33 AM
Great looking project. Keep us updated.
Dr G
Dr Glink
Thursday, December 15, 2011 2:25 AM
Cool car very much; still see a fair few of these in club level rallying and at track days in the UK.
Thursday, December 15, 2011 5:28 AM
Thursday, December 15, 2011 7:07 AM
My Formula team stuck a Powermaster alternator on a CBR600RR engine. We replaced the alternator cover with a block-off plate machined to accept Totyota camshaft seals, and added an aluminum snout to the end of the crank for a small Gilmer pulley. Our accuracy wasn't perfect, so it had a slow leak, but the basic concept was sound, and it held up pretty well. With better manufacturing, the basic concept should work for a whole accessory drive, but hanging the weight of an AC compressor off thin-wall motorcycle castings will be fun.

Keep at it. Can't wait to see the Miatabusa and the Starletabusa autocross.
Thursday, December 15, 2011 8:30 AM
Now this is my kind of project!
Micah McMahan
Micah McMahanlink
Thursday, December 15, 2011 9:13 AM
I would have loved to a 3T_GTE or even just a 3TC engine build for this...but I can't blame you for doing the Busa swap.
I'll certainly be following.
Thursday, December 15, 2011 10:01 AM
Sweet looking car. I like the wheels, have you thought about trying to have them fixed/straightened? I had a set of Momo wheels that came on my 240z that I liked, but one was bent and cracked. Sent it in and for $125 got it returned just like new. Beats spending 4x that on 4 new wheels, but if yours are all bent it may not be worth it unless your in love with the wheels.
Alex Vendler
Alex Vendlerlink
Thursday, December 15, 2011 10:23 AM
I do like the wheels but they are 13" and there are not too many good street tires for those. We'll see what I come up with.

Ockham: Remember that on the Miatabusa setup the pulley will be off the transmission shaft and that will put any belt driven accessories near the engine mount bosses. Ditching the stock stator also shortens the engine by about 4 inches too. Nice for a tight engine compartment.

Thanks for the support and suggestions. This is a project that should bring back memories for some and show new ideas to others.
Thursday, December 15, 2011 11:55 AM
Whats the bolt pattern on the Starlet?

I know what you mean about good street tires for 13 inch wheels. Everything out there is rock hard or silly putty soft. There is no in between. The Toyo R888's would work on this car as a street tire as light as the car is. Looking forward to the next update.
Thursday, December 15, 2011 12:23 PM
I like this project way much, junkyard projects are by far the coolest projects of all!
Thursday, December 15, 2011 12:46 PM
As far as budjet rims go... You can't beat Diamondstarwheels.com... I know it's become trendy but...
ekka decker
ekka deckerlink
Thursday, December 15, 2011 2:30 PM
Awesome project.
If these have a similar cross member to ke70 corolla's a good front upgrade made from oem junkyard bits is
*xt130 corona struts and lca's
*Peguot 604 front disc (have to reduce diameter by 10mm and redrill pcd)
*Hilux LN106/130 front callipers which take the same brake pad as most rx7’s
*bigger master cylinder from a Mitsubishi pajero for better pedal feel
Thursday, December 15, 2011 3:39 PM
Awesome, I am totally psyched to see a Starlet on here! That is number two on my list of cars I will do something awesome with one day (behind the Scion FR-S, of course).
Thursday, December 15, 2011 3:47 PM
You know racing slicks come in a 13" size. Grab some junkyard wheels for the drive over and pop those suckers in the trunk. That would be some serious fun.

I can't wait to get out of school and have the time and money to do crazy crap like this. Looking forward to see how this and the Miatabusa turn out!
Thursday, December 15, 2011 4:42 PM
"Awesome, I am totally psyched to see a Starlet on here! That is number two on my list of cars I will do something awesome with one day (behind the Scion FR-S, of course)."

This is exactly where I'm at.
Dan Barnes
Dan Barneslink
Friday, December 16, 2011 6:59 PM
You guys actually have the ability to make brackets and stuff, which means you can have pretty awesome brakes on this thing. We'll talk long before that matters, I'm sure.
Saturday, December 17, 2011 11:42 AM
Love the fender flares. Somewhere in my stash I still have a 1982 TRD catalog...lots of Starlet racing parts back in the day!
Saturday, December 17, 2011 8:16 PM
For wheels with a more modern size:


Looks like a great project, definitely will be following.
Monday, December 19, 2011 2:25 PM
Awesome project!
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