December 10, 2021 By Francis G. Pallarco Photos by Joey Yepez

Running Tens: Check out this 10-second Starlet that’s stuffed with a boosted rotary engine

What happens when you take a lightweight Toyota Starlet and stuff in a race-prepped rotary engine? A straight-line runner specifically bred for the quarter-mile.

While Toyota has an impressive array of highly tunable engines from inline fours to turbocharged inline sixes, the deciding factor here is weight and power output. Something, which the minuscule Mazda rotary engine is notoriously known for. With fewer internal engine parts than a normal combustion engine, this greatly explains why it weighs significantly less. In terms of power, its capability cannot be underestimated, especially if done right with a proper port job and a massive turbocharger.

Seeing his brothers drag race their modded Lancer greatly rubbed off on Patrick Tan who recalls, “Growing up, I used to join my older brothers who were drag racing at Greenhills where it naturally became my passion and as they say drag racing is in my blood.”

As proof, Patrick still has their championship-winning ’76 Mitsubishi Lancer (T&T feature Jul ‘13) that won its class during the legal drag races back in the day. A lightened body shell, Saturn full-race engine with C-3 internals, and twin Weber 45 carburetors made it a formidable drag car. Fast forward to the present and his penchant for drag racing and going fast hasn’t changed one bit.

In fact, it even led him to build a tube frame drag car using a Starlet body. “We’re not kids anymore so I decided to put together a serious, old school, rear-wheel drive, drag car using modern technology and the best parts available. I took the advice of my good friend Willy Chua who’s an expert in building race engines who told me to use a rotary engine. It’s affordable and lightweight with fewer moving parts. What’s more, it’s already been tried and tested to produce enormous amounts of horsepower.”

Fortunately, Ramil Benedicto of Ponjap racing is very familiar with modifying rotary engines and building serious drag cars. “It doesn’t have pistons, cams, valves, and so on. One firing piston is equivalent to three strokes for the rotary which explains why it is capable of running high rpm,” he says.

As far as porting is concerned, Ramil enumerates the different kinds of ports, which are street port, bridge port, peripheral port and goes on to point out that the Starlet runs a street ported engine and uses a Garrett TA45 turbo charger using a custom manifold. Exhaust gases howl through a sewer-sized, side-exit pipe. Something that spits flames and makes a distinct raspy and sweet-sounding brap-brap-brap that can only come from a rotary engine.

A custom fuel rail was fabricated that houses a set of primary and secondary fuel injectors that activates once serious boost levels are reached. Power-wise, Ramil notes that there’s plenty more left, but they’re still dialing in the four-link rear suspension and observing how the car reacts during hard launches and on the top end. This proves that it’s not always about max power. Getting enough traction from the massive drag slicks to put all that power to the track should be the primary goal.

Tasked to hurtle the econo box down the quarter-mile is noted drag racer Ricky Fallorina who also runs an auto shop that also does engine tuning. “I am truly blessed with the opportunity to be back on the track again driving an old school car with a powerful engine.” After doing initial shakedown runs that saw handling issues, they made changes with regards to the rear suspension and making extra mods as Ricky recalls, “We altered the angle of the four-link and added two lateral links to increase differential lateral movement rigidity while the roll cage was further reinforced to improve chassis stability.”

Once all the improvements were done, they were back on the drag strip again as Ricky explains, “This time I observed how much it improved from how it launched until the top end. With the car’s overall performance, I gained the confidence to push it to its limit. Launching it as hard as I can, I power shifted and did my best to make the car run fast as it could. The engine is really powerful especially once you hit 3rd gear. It feels like the car has too much power but you just continue stepping on it and feel the boost. Something I don’t want to end as it pulls my back to the seat. I really love the feeling that you’re about to fly with the car.” And that’s how a ten-second quarter-mile run feels like as Ricky adds, “For now, I am very happy with the car’s new personal record of 10 seconds. But we are still working towards making the car reach the nines. We already have several plans on the bucket to achieve this goal.”

While most old school builds can be classified either as restored or resto-mod builds, this Starlet goes against the grain as it has become a quarter-mile warrior. After all, there’s something way wicked and bad about a seriously built, stock-bodied drag car that makes it ultimately way cooler.

SPECIFICATIONS

’80 Toyota Starlet (KP61)

Owner: Patrick Tan

Driver: Ricky Fallorina

Engine: Mazda 13B

Engine Mods

  • Street ported, dowelled and drilled, (2mm) Power Seals,
  • Atkins Corner and Side Seals, Turbosmart BOV,
  • Custom turbo manifold with a 4-inch exhaust system,
  • Garrett TA45 Turbocharger, 44mm TIAL external wastegate,
  • Rotary Works Throttle Body, Apexi Custom FMIC,
  • 850cc (x2) Primary Fuel Injectors, Custom Fuel rail,
  • 1700cc (x2) Secondary Fuel Injectors, Cusco Oil Catch can,
  • Weldon Fuel Pump, Holley Fuel regulator,
  • Aluminum radiator, Samco Silicone Hoses,

Transmission

  • 5-speed manual (Toyota Supra W-55)
  • 6-Puck metal clutch, Exedy Pressure Plate,
  • Driveline Mods: 4.1 Final Drive Gears w LSD, Strange Axles (32 Spline),
  • Engine Mgmt: Adaptronic E420D Fully Programmable ECU,
  • Horsepower: 490 whp (Pump Gas)
  • 565 whp (E85)

Quarter Mile E.T.

  • 10 seconds @ Clark International Speedway

Suspension Mods

  • Front Coilover Shocks, Front camber plate,
  • 4-Link Rear Suspension with Coilover Shocks,
  • Rollers : Front/Bogart Mach 1 Drag Wheels, F-15×4.5,
  • Rear/Bogart Force 2 Drag Wheels, R-15×11.5
  • Front Tires/Mickey Thompson M/T ET Front, F-22.5/4.5-15
  • Rear Slicks/M&H Racemaster Drag Slicks, R-

Interior Mods

  • Sparco Bucket Seats, Takata Safety Harness,
  • Auto Meter Monster Tach, Auto Meter Gauges,
  • Hurst Line Lock, MOMO Steering wheel, Battery Box,
  • Electric Cut-Off switch (Int & Ext), Custom Alum Dash,
  • Custom Roll Cage, Neomatic Fire Extinguisher
  • Fuel Cell, 2.5-Liter Surge Tank, Plexiglas Windows,

Exterior

  • Fiberglass body Panels, Aluminum Rear Drag Wing,

Kudos To

  • Gina Nubla Tan, Mr Ceasar Wongchuking, Willy Chua
  • Ricky Fallorina, Ramil Benedicto of Ponjap Racing,

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