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What's in a Name?

Let's get that name out of the way for starters. While the cynical might think "Starion" is an unfortunate mispronunciation of the English word for a male horse, back in the day Mitsubishi said it was a shortened form of "Star of Orion". Whatever that meant. Star Wars and Battlestar Galactica were recent memories in 1982, so it at least sounded futuristic.

In Australia, the Starion Turbo represented a stunning announcement that Mitsubishi Motors had arrived as a maker of performance cars. Remember this was long before Evo Lancers, and the V8 Commodore of the day produced just as much power from 5.0-litres as the Starion did from its turbocharged 2.0-litre engine. The Starion not only looked like it had landed from outer space, it was high-tech too.

Different versions existed around the world. In North America, where bigger is always seen to be better, the Starion got a 2.6-litre turbo engine. There was also a "wide-body" version with extended wheel arches and a wider track, and even an all-wheel-drive version that was used in rallying.

Australia never got these, but speaking of motor sport, the Starion enjoyed plenty of success including winning the Australian Production Car Championship in 1987, while in 1986 David "Dinta" Officer came second in the Australian Rally Championship in a Starion.

The Starion bowed out of the Australian market in 1987 as a JD model (there was a JB but strangely, never a JC) with an official price tag of $28,587. It was later replaced by the twin-turbo V6, all-wheel drive, all-wheel steer 3000 GT coupe. But just because it is gone, doesn't mean the Starion is ever forgotten.

Robert Sebek and his 1982 Mitsubishi Starion Turbo

The ad on the car classified website stood out like a penguin in the Sahara. Partly because of the car - a luscious red 1982 Mitsubishi Starion Turbo - but mainly because of the asking price.

While owners of Starions of a similar vintage reckoned something in the region of $3000 to $4000 was a good place to start for their pride and joy, this particular car had a sticker price of no less than $49,950 attached to it.

"Genuine buyers only," the ad read, but still worth a call for the curious.

Did that price include a gold-plated steering wheel? A racing pedigree including a Le Mans 24-hour win? Perhaps previous ownership by Scarlett Johansson? None of the above, actually. According to owner Robert Sebek, what makes his Starion different is the love he has lavished upon it.

"The ad was a bit of a joke really," he said. "I've had the car since 1987 and don't really want to sell it, hence the price.

"It came as a bit of a surprise when someone from Queensland actually offered me $30,000 but I had to say no. My daughters said, ‘there's no way you're selling the Starion!' "

For those who don't know, the Starion was an audacious sports coupe produced by Mitsubishi Motors in the early 1980s at a time when the latest fuel crisis seemed to have run its course and car makers were tentatively getting back into the performance field.

Turbocharging engines for extra power looked like the way of the future and the Starion didn't pull any punches. Its 2.0-litre four cylinder engine featured a turbo and electronic fuel injection, was good for 125kW of power and, together with low overall weight, a five-speed gearbox and rear-drive handling made the Starion weapons-grade material.

When it arrived in Australia in May 1982 costing $20,277 the Starion pretty much smoked its rivals, which were either limp-wristed but nice-looking Japanese coupes or expensive but fragile Europeans. On top of that, the Starion's wedge-shaped, three-door liftback body, bonnet scoop and pop-up headlights were the duck's guts of early '80s automotive design.

That first JA model actually had a little more chutzpah than those that succeeded it: Australia's move to unleaded petrol in 1985 may have been good for the environment but the weaker brew of fuel meant later Starions had a little less engine power.

So it's 1987 and a fresh faced young Robert Sebek is looking to replace his old banger with something a bit tastier, so together with his Mum he spies the cherry red 1982 JA Starion in a car yard in the Melbourne suburb of Cheltenham.

"The previous owner was a genuine little old lady apparently and it looked fabulous, so we snapped it up."

Many miles down the track the Starion has been serviced religiously every 5000km, modified with bigger alloy wheels and low profile tyres, been given a new stereo (no CD players back in those days, and an MP3 was a Canberra sex scandal) and even had an engine transplant.

It spends most of its time stored in Mum's garage while Robert gets about in an equally impressive - perhaps more so - twin-turbo Mitsubishi GTO coupe. But will he ever actually be able to part with the Starion?

"My daughters have got their eyes on it further down the track so it doesn't look likely," he said. "It really is part of the family."


End

Eclipse Magazine  /  Winter  /  2012

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