A 60 Series Toyota Starlet might be the last ride that you’d expect a key employee of a US muscle car giant to be seen in, but that’s exactly what Alfred Mortel is piloting around the mean streets of Sin City!
Nevada resident, Alfred Mortel, is well aware of the fact that some of his colleagues at Shelby American consider his taste in motors to be out of the ordinary, not least of all because days he spends piecing together US muscle are usually rounded off by a trip home in a vintage 1.3-litre Toyota Starlet. “I’m fortunate enough to work as a mechanic on the Shelby assembly line, meaning that I’m involved in the construction of special edition Mustangs,” he beams, citing the GT500 Super Snake as an example of a model he’s been involved with. “I have a fantastic job, and I love working for such a respected organisation. Even so, I’d be lying if I said that I didn’t look forward to getting home so that I could tinker with modified oriental machinery!” he grins.
Alfred has always been a Japanese car fan at heart, and he can readily recall an adolescence spent in the company of tidy Toyotas. “I grew up in the Filipino city of Manila where East Asian cars are commonplace,” he continues. “In fact, my father gave me a second generation Tercel hatchback when I was just sixteen-years old. He wanted me to use it as a tool to practice my spanner-wielding skills while I studied for a career in automotive engineering. In line with his wishes, I treated the car to lowering springs, aftermarket wheels, an ICE install and an enlarged stainless steel exhaust system,” he says.
A close relative of the Starlet, the Tercel was the first front-wheel drive vehicle produced by Toyota. Both models were in plentiful supply on Manila’s busy highways, a truth that generated surprise when the cars were nowhere to be seen following the Mortel family’s relocation to the United States. “I promised myself that I’d invest in a 60 Series Starlet as soon as we were settled in our new home town of Las Vegas, yet I was staggered to discover only seven examples of the car inhabiting Sin City!” he gasps, acknowledging the challenge he faced when scanning the classifieds of his local rag. Reluctantly admitting that the odds were stacked against him, he busied himself with work and advanced his spanner skills.
As a capable mechanic, Alfred has worked on a number of ambitious restomod projects from the comfort of his residential driveway, though it’s fair to say that none of his cool creations have generated as much recognition as the Lamborghini Orange S2000 hard top that he built a few years ago. His hot Honda takes the form of a highly modified widebody road rocket packing a mountain of carbon-fibre bodywork. It’s a car that generated worldwide attention following its appearance on the Energy Suspension stand at SEMA. Better still, AEM Performance has been using the car as a promotional tool that continues to be fine-tuned with a seemingly endless list of brilliantly executed styling updates and nifty mechanical tweaks.
Alfred’s sister’s Celica ST185 GT-Four has also been fortunate enough to benefit from his love of modifying (an affection for Toyotas clearly runs in the family!), but none of the praise heaped on either car could disguise the fact that there was an empty Starlet-shaped space in the Mortel family garage. Thankfully, the void would be filled at the back end of 2013. “I decided to resume my search for a Starlet by scouring all fifty states in a bid to locate the car that I’d dreamed about owning for so many years. To my surprise, I stumbled across an ad for a low mileage USDM 60 Series that was collecting dust in Arizona. The car had covered fewer than 40,000 miles from new and had undergone a recent engine rebuild,” he explains. Wasting no time in securing his name on the rare hatchback’s logbook, Alfred arranged for the tiny Toyota to be delivered to his home in Nevada.
His one-owner-from-new acquisition was rocking a beige topcoat matched to an equally uninspiring brown cloth interior. Interestingly, the car had spent the majority of its life towed cross-country on the back of an RV. The minimal mileage that the ’82-plater had covered was attributed to the fact that it had only seen action as a runabout whenever the wagon was ‘off duty’ between destinations. Despite this encouraging back story, however, the new arrival wasn’t free of niggles; bodged wiring had resulted in faulty taillights, while the car’s rebuilt single-cam 4K was failing to operate effectively thanks to a major vacuum leak. In contrast, the car’s exterior panels were in stellar condition and provided the perfect platform for Alfred’s radical restomod plans.
Wisely, he reasoned that identifying the source of his new Starlet’s under-bonnet airflow complaint should take priority over the multitude of trick aesthetic alterations that he was gagging to crack on with. After locating the leak, he reduced and rerouted the mass of pipework that had been littering his car’s engine bay up until that point. “I ditched at least thirty hoses and took the opportunity to add an Aisin carburettor, a Mr Gasket high-flow air intake and a Carb Performance air filter,” he confirms. He also added a custom stainless steel exhaust system equipped with a performance catalyst.
Uprated ignition components (Accel leads and NGK Platinum spark plugs) were installed with all-new timing and service parts a short while later. All in all, the changes are good for a total of 73bhp and 78lb/ft of torque. Granted, that might not sound like much to pilots of modern performance metal, but Alfred’s simple bolt-on upgrades have resulted in a 25% increase in power over the 4K’s stock output!
The Toyota’s factory air conditioning system – essential equipment for any daily driver cruising about in the intense Nevada heat – remains in situ. Alfred is delighted to report that the car excelled in its role as a shuttle ferrying him to and from his place of work, but it’s safe to assume that at that point in time, its beige bodywork was less than up to the same awe-inspiring standard set by his Lambo-licked Honda.
“I bought a genuine TRD N2 wide arch body kit and a matching rear spoiler before sending the Starlet to the MOB Customs paint shop right here in Las Vegas,” he tells us. “I was undecided on the colour that the car would end up being painted, but a friend suggested an unusual Toyota shade of solid orange. He assured me that it would suit the car, and I knew that he was bang on the money as soon as I laid eyes on a swatch. I immediately instructed the guys at MOB to get busy with their spray guns while I sourced a decent set of wheels!” he says.
The fifteen-inch SRT 513s that his stunning Starlet now sits on fill the TRD kit’s wheel arch extensions perfectly. Combined with an 80mm drop on MR2 coil springs and dampers, the polished rims deliver an aggressive look. Body kit and paint aside, the only other notable exterior changes concern the car’s front end, where Alfred has applied rally-influenced yellow film to headlights and colour-coding to a debadged grille.
With so much time and money lavished on its exterior, an assessment of the Starlet’s cabin space was deemed to be long overdue. Consequently, the car’s rear end has been stripped. Netami carbon-fibre buckets and a MOMO Corse steering wheel have replaced factory furniture, while additional soundproofing has been added throughout. The end result is an interior that blends old and new through the continued use of the car’s factory dashboard, carpets and door cards, not that Alfred plans to keep the OEM trim for much longer. “I’ll be sourcing many more new cabin components during the next phase of the project,” he smiles, shortly before announcing that the main focus of his attention will be on an AE86 4A-GE engine swap. “It should be a fairly straightforward transplant, although I’ll have to find a suitable gearbox – I don’t think the Starlet’s standard cogs are up the job of coping with much more power, let alone double the number of ponies currently being thrown at them!” he smirks.
Alfred’s pet project might not have the power, pull or performance of the fearsome eight-cylinder Blue Ovals that he spends his days building at Shelby, but there’s no denying that his car looks every bit as arresting as a fast Ford. Besides, the fact that his superb 60 Series fulfils his dream of owning a modified Starlet is reason enough to salute him.
Fully rebuilt 1290cc single cam 4K, Aisin 5K carburettor with adjustable air/fuel ratio, Mr Gasket high-flow air intake with Carb Performance high-flow air filter, Accel 8mm ignition leads, NGK Platinum spark plugs, custom stainless steel exhaust system, high-flow catalytic convertor, functional factory air conditioning system, K50 five-speed gearbox, new OE clutch and flywheel
8×15-inch STR 513 wheels with polished lip and painted centres, Mayrun 195/50×15 tyres, Toyota MR2 front dampers, KYB rear dampers, MR2 coil springs, lowered 80mm, all new OE bushes
Full respray in custom shade of OE Toyota Orange, TRD N2 full wide arch body kit with rear spoiler, de-badged and colour coded front grille, yellow headlights, custom registration plates
MOMO Corse leather trimmed steering wheel, MOMO hub, Netami carbon fibre bucket seats, rear bench deletion, factory dashboard and door cards, factory carpets, Pioneer head unit and speakers, additional soundproofing
“Tort Fontanilla, MOB Custom, Boj and Bani Tejada, Omarc Carticiano and Team Hybrid.”
Feature taken from Retro Cars Magazine. Words: Dan Furr. Photos: Grant Buchanen