“What is that stupid-looking thing?!” I asked. The year was 2002. I was a student who needed a reliable car for the long daily commute to university. I had recently received an insurance payout for my previous car (a solid 1982 Toyota Celica) and was trawling the car yards with my dad looking for something a bit more low maintenance and economical.
Dad’s eyes lit up. “That,” he said “is a Mitsubishi Starion. I wanted one of those back when they came out!”
This was the point where he was probably supposed to steer me towards the Toyota Camry sitting next door. However, at that particular point in time, I believe we were both teenagers (me literally and my dad figuratively), powerless to resist the urge of throwing sensible in the gutter for a taste of recklessness. Next thing I knew, the salesman was removing the giant “Sporty” sign from the windscreen and we were off on a test drive.
From the moment my foot first went down on the accelerator, I was hooked. Okay, maybe that’s a small white lie – I omitted the two seconds of turbo lag between my foot going down and getting hooked – it is an 1980s turbocharged car after all! The shove in the back of the seat when coming on boost was addictive, and enough to make me overlook the “BRAKE” warning light on the dashboard, along with the weird angular ’80s styling. Needless to say, I was now the proud owner of a 1983 Mitsubishi Starion.
Luckily, the brake warning light was due to a very small leak in the master cylinder – easily fixed with a replacement seal kit that was readily available – and the rest of the car was mechanically sound. The air-conditioning even worked, which was a godsend on the odd 40-degree summer's day. I doubt anyone will be as lucky today, unless they are willing to pay top dollar for a lovingly restored example.
Let’s get down to the important bits. The Starion was a proper car – front engined, rear-wheel drive and built to compete in motorsports with a 52/48 front/rear weight distribution. It was powered by an early version of Mitsubishi’s famous 4G63 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder engine (later variants were used in Galant and Evo world rally cars).
That said, it was not a simple car to drive. If just thrown into a corner, it would tend to mild understeer, which could then very quickly turn into snap oversteer with clumsy throttle application, due in part to turbo lag. But spend some time with the car, learn how to balance the front end on corner entry, and with careful use of the accelerator, the Mitsubishi could mix it with the best of the sports cars from its era.
It was a joy to drive around a winding mountain road, with plenty of power for the climbs and great stopping power from the disc brakes on the way down. The firm suspension allowed for quick changes of direction with minimal body roll, but after a few decades of enthusiastic motoring, it did translate into quite a few permanent rattles and buzzes from the interior.
It was also well equipped for its time. Air-conditioning, power windows and pop-up headlights with washer jets were all standard, and the leather seats featured an abundance of adjustment options, including adjustable side bolstering. While the leather is long past its use-by date, the bolstering was good quality and will typically do well with a good re-trim.
I should point out that Starion ownership wasn’t all rosy. For some reason, Mitsubishi decided to use a recirculating ball steering system, instead of the more conventional rack and pinion. This resulted in the car having terrible steering feel, with a dead spot in the steering between about 10 and two on the wheel.
Another odd design choice was mounting the seatbelts into the doors. While this made the belts easier to reach (handy in a two-door coupe), it also meant that you would be choked whenever the door was opened with the seatbelt still on. I embarrassingly admit this happened to me a few times (and then a few more, once my mates realised what was going on)!
One amusing aspect of Starion ownership is that 95 per cent of the population don’t have a clue what it is. I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve been called “Inspector Gadget”, “Marty McFly” or “Knight Rider”. Every so often, though, this is counterbalanced by a comment such as “A Starion! It’s been years since I’ve seen one of those. I used to love watching them race around Bathurst”.
Sadly for me, life has moved on, and with full-time work and a young family, I no longer have the time nor space to look after the Starion. It now lives at my parents' farm, awaiting a mythical future version of me with ample free time to give it the care and attention it deserves. Dad still sneaks out for the occasional tinker...