MITSUBISHI STARION

DESPITE SOME UNMET BUYER EXPECTATIONS AND THE 'STALLION' NAME JOKES, THE STARION IS COMPETENT AND TECHNICALLY INTERESTING

Mitsubishi during the 1970s built some of the most competent cars to come out of Japan. In various forms of motor sport and especially rallying, Mitsubishi was the brand to beat and perhaps the Starion just raised too many expectations.

JA model that showed its face in 1982 was Mitsubishiís first serious performance coupe and a very different kind of car from the Mazda RX7 and Nissan 280ZX that led the sales race.

Turbocharging was a newish art-form in automotive terms and the Mitsubishi joined Porsche and Saab as the only brands in Australia selling turbo-engined cars. With 125kW from 2.0 litres, a five-speed gearbox and four-wheel disc brakes, the Starion was a potent package that never sold at anywhere near its potential in this country.

It certainly wasnít too expensive, well not to begin with anyway. The first cars to arrive cost just above $20,000 Ė $1800 more than an RX7 Ė but by 1985 the asking price had soared to almost $30,000.

Making things worse for Mitsubishi, the Starion engine didnít take kindly to the switch in 1986 from leaded to Premium Lead-Free fuel and output shrank to 110kW.

Motor sport helped build the Starionís reputation for toughness and pace. Touring Car racing under international Group A rules pitched the Starion into the same class as Nissanís GTR Skyline however one still managed fifth place outright at the 1987 Bathurst 1000. One driven by Peter Fitzgerald also took that yearís Production Car title, with Starions also filling 4th and 5th places in the point-score.

The Stationís handling balance is outstanding but can be improved and the imprecise steering sharpened by lower-profile tyres on larger than standard rims. The brakes are excellent as well and about all a Starion needs to make it a truly outstanding Grand Tourer is a bit more power.

Finding a decent car to buy is a big issue facing anyone in the market for one of these surprising cars.

Road-going versions appear only occasionally yet the money being asked is still unlikely to exceed $30,000. Looking overseas for comparable cars, the US market offered several at similar money to local versions. However, on top of the A$25,000 asking prices would come freight and import costs.

The UK market wasnít crawling with possibilities either but the money being sought was a lot lower than here and importing one (providing it isnít riddled with rust) is feasible.

SMART BUYERíS Checklist TROUBLESHOOTING

1982 - 1989

BODY & CHASSIS

Crash damage is always an issue with performance cars and Starions arenít immune. Panels need to be inspected for correct alignment, then from above and below look for kinks or repairs to the chassis rails and suspension The luggage platform can collect water due to a damaged hatch seal. Doors may droop due to hinge wear and be hard to close. Used panels are very hard to find and prices if someone does have a collection stashed away will be extreme. Make sure the pop-up headlamps do so within a couple of seconds and in unison.

ENGINE & TRANSMISSION

The 2.0-litre turbo engine is durable and cars that have been properly serviced will exceed 200,000 kilometres without needing any internals replaced. Oil changes every 5000 kilometres or six months are recommended to prevent upper-engine sludge and turbo problems. Any hint of exhaust smoke Ė blue for engine wear, white for a turbo seal leak Ė wonít on its own take a car off the list because there arenít many alternatives. Just factor in an $800012,000 repair budget. Clutch shudder is likely but uprated components are freely available. Listen when coasting downhill in gear for differential rumble. Replacement half-shafts are available at around $1500 per pair.

Vital Stats

NUMBER BUILT - N/A

BODY: all steel, integrated body/ chassis two-door coupe

ENGINE: 1997cc in-line four cylinder with overhead camshaft, fuel injection with turbocharger

POWER & TORQUE: 110kW @ 5500rpm, 222Nm @ 3000rpm (ULP version)

PERFORMANCE: 0-100km/h - 9.5 seconds, 0-400 metres 16.4 seconds (ULP version)

TRANSMISSION: five-speed manual

SUSPENSION: Independent with struts, coil springs and anti-roll bar (f) Independent with multi-link location, coil springs, telescopic shock absorbers and anti-roll bar (r)

BRAKES: disc (f) disc (r) power assisted

WHEELS & TYRES: 195/70R14 radial

MITSUBISHI STARION

SUSPENSION & BRAKES

Starions that have survived since the 1980s are unlikely to be running original brakes and suspension components so donít get too concerned about authenticity. Look for disc scoring and expect hydraulic problems from a car that hasnít seen much use of late but donít dismiss it just on the basis of brake problems as replacement costs arenít too scary. Rear wheel alignment needs to be set to maximize cornering balance and delay tyre wear. Standard shock absorbers would all have been replaced by now and perhaps be ready to go again. Cars showing more than 100,000km should come with receipts for some front-end maintenance including new strut inserts.

INTERIOR & ELECTRICS

Seat bolsters wear and even excellent cars may need some retrimming. Plastic deterioration is unavoidable so be prepared for quite serious dash cracking, warped and discolored consoles and doorcards that are warped and discoloured. The plastic console and even steering column controls might be beginning to disintegrate. Power windows will likely suffer from sticky or nonfunctioning switches but replacements are available. Airconditioning is a bonus but needs careful checking and even if itís working but in need of a service, be prepared for $1500 in maintenance expenses.