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Pre-Owned Performance - Mitsubishi Starion

By Michael Knowling

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This article was first published in 2000.

History

Mitsubishi started a wave of turbocars when it released the Starion in 1982. A couple of turbos were already on the market (namely, the carby turbo Sigma and the high-priced Saab and Porsche 930) but the scorching Starion undoubtedly became the spearhead of the turbocharged push. It featured distinctive styling, a new high-tech engine with EFI and a sports-tuned rear-wheel-drive chassis. Designed as a true racecar, the Starion obliterated the performance of its contemporary market rivals such as the Mazda RX-7, Alfa GTV6 and the Nissan 300ZX. Backed by extensive racing development in Japan, it also went on to great success in the Australian Group E category.

Over the course of the car's five-year life span, there were three Starion models released - the JA, JB and the unleaded JD.

Chassis

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At a time when most Japanese cars were going front-wheel-drive, the Mitsubishi Starion retained the traditionalist's rear-drive set-up. MacPherson struts and swaybars were fitted front and rear. This gave the 1265kg car impressive handling with good balance, and also a comfortable ride. Power assisted recirculating-ball steering was fitted as standard on all Starions, although this was criticised in the media for its vagueness.

Faster point-to-point times were achieved with the updated JB model Starion. This saw the replacement of the JA's open-centre diff with an LSD centre. The LSD (with a different ratio) then became an option in the JD model. Under each model, four-wheel ventilated disc brakes performed very well with no signs of fade. Fourteen inch alloys were fitted to the JA, while the JB and JD moved up to better-looking 15s (with wider and lower profile tyres).

Styling-wise, the Starion was regarded as very high-tech. Now it most certainly isn't - you can pick this as an '80s car a mile away! Mitsubishi quoted the car having a 0.35 Cd (which is now quite poor) and this was attributed to its wedge shape, gutter-less doors, front and rear spoilers and flush door handles. The only running changes to the body were on the JD, which got a revised front spoiler and bumper, a wrap-around rear spoiler and saw the bonnet scoop deleted.

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Inside, the Starion featured comfortable multi-plane adjustable seats (most with leather), comprehensive instruments, a sports steering wheel and a true cockpit feel. Another feature was the front seatbelts that, curiously, were anchored to the doors.

Engine

The Starion was powered by a new-to-Australia G63B 2.0 litre Sirius engine - which was based on a revised Sigma block. Using a SOHC, 2-valves-per-cylinder head, this was the first Mitsubishi engine in this country to receive EFI. The Starion's simple throttle body EFI system incorporated two large injectors firing fuel into a "mixer chamber" before travelling into the combustion chamber. Fuel was not injected directly into each cylinder like in a multi-point injected engine. One advanced feature of the Starion's engine was its sophisticated knock sensor, which retarded ignition timing whenever detonation was detected.

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The leaded JA/JB model Starions were boosted by a TC06 turbo (non-intercooled) and power at the flywheel was rated at 125kW at 5500 rpm. Peak torque of 245Nm was attained at 3500 revs.

The first lot of engine revisions was made in the JB Starion, which sported a revised intake plenum for improved fuel distribution, and a water-cooled turbo bearing.

The Starion lost a lot of its performance after the introduction of unleaded fuel in 1986. In an attempt to compensate for the drop in fuel octane, the JD Starion (the last) received an air-to-air intercooler along with a smaller, more responsive TC06 turbocharger. Power still fell to 110kW - equalling the first 1.8 litre Cordia turbos that were introduced in 1984.

A 5-speed manual gearbox was specified for each Australian-delivered Starion, although automatics were available in the car's Japanese home market. The leaded versions spun a 3.55 differential ratio, while the unleaded car was changed to 3.90.

Performance

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Straight-line performance was what really set the Starion apart for the competition. However, the 125kW leaded cars were notably faster than the unleaded JD. The best of the leaded Starions leapt from standstill to 100 km/h in 8.9 seconds and stretched its legs over the quarter mile in 15.9 seconds. Back in 1982, that sort of acceleration from a 2-litre was nothing short of amazing. As expected, the unleaded car - despite having a shorter diff ratio and an intercooler - took a more leisurely 9.3 seconds to reach 100 km/h and the quarter mile time stretched to 16.5 seconds. Both leaded and unleaded Starions had a top speed ranging from 200-210 km/h and fuel consumption averaged around 12-13 litres/100km.

Mods

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The Sirius engine can make serious power with enough development. However, the main limitations are its 2 valves per cylinder head and throttle-body injection with its vortex airflow meter.

Good performance gains for a road-going Starions can be achieved by upgrading to a 3-inch exhaust with straight-through mufflers (no cat converter is required in the JA/JB). The huge factory airbox can also be modified for more flow by enlarging its intake pipe and running a cold air pick-up. These two modifications should yield around 15% more power (if the engine is in sound condition) at a total cost should be approximately $800-1000. Given the falling quality of leaded fuels in Australia, we wouldn't recommend increasing boost pressure until an intercooler is fitted.

The unleaded cars already come with a reasonably sized air-to-air intercooler, but the earlier models can easily have ex-Supra intercoolers (or similar) mounted in front of the engine radiator. With a cooled intake charge, boost can be increase via a simple pneumatic wastegate bleed. To ensure reasonable reliability, we wouldn't recommend pushing in more than around 14 psi. With all of the above mods, expect around 25-30% more power than standard.

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Where extreme power is required, a good idea is to start off with a Dash version of the Sirius engine. Available second-hand from Japanese import wreckers, these 3 valves per cylinder engines make an impressive 149kW in standard form. With a hi-po rebuild, aftermarket management, decent breathing and intercooling these engines can make a realistic 250-300kW. And that's conservative given that the old Group E racers used to develop 330kW on racing fuel - and using '80s technology.

Another adventurous route is to place the Mitsubishi Galant VR4 head on top of the Starion's block. With the VR4's DOHCs, 16 valves and multi-point injection, there would be absolutely huge potential for power!

Buyers' Guide

Released in May 1982, the JA Starion sold for a substantial $20,900. The introduction of the updated JB model in 1985 brought a small increase in price, while the JD Starion was the most expensive. This retailed new for $27,900.

The leaded models represent greatest percentage of Starions sold in Australia. This is mainly because by the time the (slower) JD was released, there were already many other turbocars to rival its performance - and at a much cheaper cost. Cars such as the Laser TX3 turbo, 300ZX turbo, VL turbo and Mitsubishi's own Cordia all stole the majority of the Starion's spotlight.

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Today, Starions are largely forgotten. A good JA/JB model with moderate kilometres (but remember, they're up to 18 years old now!) sells for about $5000, while a low kilometre JD might cost $9000.

Note, though, they are expensive to fix and parts are very rare - here are just two examples. A common item requiring attention on the front spoiler on a Starion is the front spoiler - they're invariably torn off. New or used replacements are literally impossible to find, meaning many people now chose to make their own. The leather interior fitted to most Starions is also prone to getting ratty. A leather re-trim might cost $2000 alone; so many owners elect to conceal them with seat covers.

Mechanically, the cars are quite strong, however there are numerous points to inspect with close attention. The list of common faults includes cracked exhaust manifolds and turbine housings, a worn turbo, a slipping clutch and deteriorated rings and bearings. Each item on this list will take between $450 and $1500 to fix - so make sure you look closely before buying.

We'd strongly advise a thorough inspection before purchasing any Starion, as repair costs (especially in contrast to the cost of the whole car) can be horrendous.

Summary

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The Starion remains a relatively quick car to this day. It has handling and traction advantages over the Cordia turbo and it will, undoubtedly, become more collectable. For those on a moderate budget, it represents a good - but potentially expensive to maintain! - performance purchase.

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