Some cars are so drop-dead gorgeous in factory form, they don’t need a whole bunch of radical mods to make them stand out. Of course, it helps that the Starion came out of the factory as a widebody bruiser with on-point rims and a shouty turbo…
Urban legends have provided amusing cultural currency for generations. Everyone knows a story that’s clearly untrue but they like to present as fact, simply because sometimes it’s fun to believe that there’s weird stuff going on in the world. History is studded with daft conspiracy theories: for example, that Paul McCartney actually died back in 1966 and no-one’s noticed that the Paul we see is an imposter, that the moon landings were faked, that Princess Diana was assassinated by MI6. There are urban legends about Roswell and JFK, of fluoride in tap water and the death of Tupac, McCarthyism and the Illuminati, 9/11, chemtrails… the madder it is, the more people want to believe it.
Now, you may or may not be aware of the urban legend connected to the Mitsubishi Starion. People always used to scoff and chortle over how the car was meant to be named ‘Stallion’, in response to the Mustang and all the macho animal-based names coming out of Detroit, but it sounded more like ‘Starion’ when pronounced by the Japanese execs at Mitsubishi. This, of course, is kinda racist. There’s a foundation to the idea, given that the brand had also used the name Colt (a young male horse) and Eclipse (named after an unbeaten 18th-century racehorse [seriously]), but still – it’s a bit far-fetched, no? Mitsubishi themselves seemed a bit confused, at first saying it was a contraction of ‘Star of Orion’, then saying it was named after Arion, an immortal horse in Greek mythology. Whatever. The story’s pretty crap, as urban legends go.
What isn’t crap, however, is the Starion itself. It’s a magnificent little turbocharged sports car with oh-so-eighties styling and, with later models, brutal factory widebody styling. And if that segue wasn’t tortured enough for you, try this: there’s a big annual show in Poland for modified cars such as this. It’s called Raceism. And this car is also from Poland. See how this neatly fits together?
Rafal Kotysz is the fella jangling the keys and, as you can imagine, he’s looking pretty chuffed with his low-slung retro creation. “I had to buy myself a Starion because I just fell in love with this sexy wide body, pop-up headlights, and the original edged design,” he enthuses, barely able to tear his eyes away from the thing as it sparkles in the midday sunshine. “It’s a very rare model these days and you don’t see them often at car shows, especially with air-ride. So I had to make it happen.”
Fair enough, really. And Rafal has very strong form with this type of caper; he’s owned around forty cars and quite a lot of them have been racy Japanese playthings.
“I’ve always been interested in cars, and always wanted to have more of them,” he laughs. “Among the highlights, I guess my most interesting ones were a Mitsubishi Colt Mk1, Mitsubishi 3000GT, Fiat 126p, Trabant, Mercedes 190E, Mazda MX-3, S13 Nissan 200SX… I currently have two Starions, two Sapporos, a Cordia Turbo, Mk3 Toyota Supra Turbo, Mazda RX-7 FC3 Turbo, Z31 Nissan 300ZX, and a Jaguar XJ40.” Strewth. And you thought your lifestyle was hectic. The man likes Mitsi metal but evidently has broader aspirations – and none of these cars are remaining stock either.
Naturally it has to be said that a widebody turbo Starion is something that doesn’t really need a lot of modifying, as such. They’re hugely aggressive in production spec, with those blistered folded-paper arches, gorgeous OEM wheels, hilariously whistling turbo, and period-perfect charm in spades. It’s for this reason that Rafal’s worked hard to remain relatively restrained in his mods; augmenting and accentuating rather than radically reworking.
“I bought the car from a private seller in Germany,” he recalls. “It was a good, healthy base for restoration; in a very original state, having been standing for a long time in a shed. The first job was to get the body back up to scratch, so all of the necessary repairs were carried out by a professional bodyshop, with everything carefully painted in the correct original colour, while the undercarriage was cleaned up and sealed. After that I had a full custom stainless steel exhaust made up with retro twin pipes, and got the original wheels refurbed and fitted with some new stretched rubber.”
The lips of the wheels were polished and the centre detail painted with black Harley Davidson paint, which really makes them pop – and, to be fair, so few people know what a Starion is or have seen their stock rims before that Rafal’s always getting asked what they are and where he got them. Indeed, that’s a philosophy that extends to the car overall; bringing this bizarre classic into a young scene full of people who’ve never come across one before means that he’s already winning the game by sheer rarity alone.
“…and then,” says Rafal, affording the moment the gravity it deserves, “it was time for the air-ride.” These are words that we like to hear in any context, but particularly so when it involves a classic car that’s all but extinct, in the certain knowledge that it’ll really irritate the stuffy old purists.
“Obviously the first problem was that you just can’t buy Starion air-ride systems off the shelf,” he explains, “so I had to get custom shocks and brackets fabricated by Modern Air Customs. In the end it took six months to get all the details of the suspension figured out, but it was well worth it.” Damn straight. Name us another bagged Starion you’ve seen recently, go on…
The final flourish was to add the period ‘TURBO’ decals, just to be as in-your-face as possible in true 1980s style, before getting the whole thing thoroughly detailed inside and out. Simple, but effective – the less-is-more philosophy really is key with this build. The car was awesome to begin with, Rafal’s just turned it up to eleven like a Spinal Tap Marshall stack.
“I’ll be honest, I only use it as a show car,” he shrugs. “I get lots of positive feedback to it, lots of people are interested. It gives a great feeling of fulfilment.” Sure, we don’t have a problem here – this car lived out its medallion-man life in the ’80s and then got dumped in a shed for ten years, so why not let it enjoy its retirement strutting manfully through the 21st-century show scene? It’s like an ex-bodybuilder in an old folks’ home, it feels like a boss every day. Besides, Rafal’s got another Starion project on the go: “Yeah, I have a black one,” he says. “I’m turning it into a drift car, it’s got a 1UZ VVTI motor.” And that, folks, is no urban legend. Rafal’s saving these obscure classics one by one, and adding just enough new-wave modifications to blow the show scene apart time and time again. That’s a solid-gold fact.
OEM Mitsubishi widebody, period TURBO decals
4G54 2.6-litre turbo, 5-speed manual, 155bhp
Refurbished Starion wheels with polished rims and detail in black Harley Davidson paint, stretched low-pros, custom air-ride setup by Modern Air Customs
Stock dark velour
“A great big thank you has to definitely go to Pieruszka Performance, Walgorski Car Detailing, and Modern Air Customs. Lots of work done on this car, lots of hours (days and nights) spent in the garage!”
Words Dan Bevis Photography Lukasz Markowski