Me and My Car: Sentimental over Toyota Starlet

Mr Iskandar Dzulkhairi Kajai paid $800 for the Toyota Starlet and about $26,000 to renew its certificate of entitlement.
Mr Iskandar Dzulkhairi Kajai paid $800 for the Toyota Starlet and about $26,000 to renew its certificate of entitlement.PHOTOS: SARJEET SINGH

One would not expect the owner of a 31-year-old Toyota Starlet - a humble hatch popular in the 1980s - to be a petrolhead. But Iskandar Dzulkhairi Kajai is an exception.

Mr Iskandar's other car is an Aston Martin Rapide. His previous rides included a Mitsubishi Evo 8 and a Nissan GTR. The 47-year-old operations manager of a funeral services company has driven both Japanese performance cars on the Sepang race circuit.

His family car is a Honda Odyssey multipurpose vehicle (MPV), which is driven mostly by his wife Maslinda, 47. The couple have two daughters, aged 23 and 12, and two sons, aged 22 and 18.

Mr Iskandar's previous MPV was a Mitsubishi Grandis, which clocked 200,000km in four years, helped by frequent trips to Terengganu for family holidays in Pulau Redang.

He bought the 1989-registered third-generation Toyota Starlet XL in February last year from his friend, who is the second owner of the car after buying it from an elderly man who had the car for 28 years.

The owner sold it to a scrap dealer in the third quarter of 2018. But the dealer did not scrap it because the car's certificate of entitlement (COE) still had some months. The dealer contacted Mr Iskandar's friend, who bought it with the intention of renewing its COE and giving the car to his father.

When Mr Iskandar learnt of the car, he told his friend that if he were to sell it, he wanted first right of refusal. The car held a sentimental value to Mr Iskandar, who had a Starlet when his children were young.

His friend had a change of plans and sold the Starlet to Mr Iskandar, who paid $800 for it, and about $26,000 to renew its COE.

Mr Iskandar sent the silver Starlet to a car body shop to be restored as rust had affected 10 to 20 per cent of the body. The car was otherwise in fairly good condition.

"The roof lining was original and in good condition, but I thought it was better to have it removed to check for rust. I wish I had not because the roof was perfect," he says.

Mr Iskandar also got the car resprayed to white, the original colour of the car body.


PHOTOS: SARJEET SINGH

  • What's in the boot?

  • • A box containing spare parts

    • A work bag

    • A football

    • An umbrella

He left the engine untouched despite its 270,000km mileage. "The one-litre engine is surprisingly smooth and quiet," he says, but adds that he changed the air-conditioning compressor and alternator.

He chanced upon an old set of Work Equip 01 wheels, had them refurbished and installed on his Starlet. He says they were once among the most sought-after wheels.

His other modification was to replace the original wing mirrors with fender-mounted ones - a throw-back to cars of the 1970s. He had the idea of replacing the mirrors after coming across on Instagram a photo of a modified Starlet with fender mirrors.

"The original mirrors did not give a good field of view and there were blind spots. I could only see one lane on each side," he adds.

Currently, the manual transmission Starlet is driven by Mr Iskandar and his son Azim.

"My previous Starlet was the first car I bought for my wife when the kids were little. It served the family very well for four years until the end of its COE," Mr Iskandar says. "Now that I get the chance to own another one, I told my children never to sell it - even when I'm gone."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 19, 2020, with the headline 'Sentimental about Starlet '. Print Edition | Subscribe