Vintage views: Mitsubishi Starion ESI-R and Chrysler Conquest TSI

David S.
By David S. Wallens
Dec 8, 2021 | Chrysler, Mitsubishi, Starion, Conquest | Posted in Buyer's Guides | From the June 2017 issue | Never miss an article

There’s just something so right about a car sporting box flares from the factory. It’s like its engineers got partway through the design before realizing, “Nope, we need to stretch the car even wider in order to fit in all of this awesomeness.”

It’s a solution perfectly demonstrated by several favorites, including the Porsche 944, Nissan Skyline GT-R and, of course, the original BMW M3. There’s one more to add to that list, though: the Mitsubishi Starion ESI-R and its stateside twin, the Conquest TSI.

The car didn’t start out so beefy. Mitsubishi released the Starion in 1982 as a narrow-bodied, somewhat meek 2+2 sports coupe. Turbo and non-turbo variants were offered in the home market.

American imports started with the 1983 model year, and stateside consumers weren’t limited to shopping at their local Mitsubishi dealer. The exact same car, with the appropriate labels, was also sold as a Plymouth Conquest and, later, a Chrysler Conquest. Either way, all U.S.-market cars received a turbocharged 2.6-liter, single-cam inline-four.

Somewhat meek” doesn’t mean it was a dud, though. Dave Wolin and others turned that original Starion into an endurance race winner, and before he became a Hollywood movie star, Jackie Chan drove one across the silver screen in “Cannonball Run II.”

And then things got serious for 1986: a set of IMSA-worthy box flares for those top-of-the-line Starion ESI-R and Conquest TSI models. Fat, 16-inch wheels–7s up front and 8s in the back–filled those flares. Mitsubishi also added an intercooler, boosting horsepower to 176. (Starting with the 1988 model year, an ECU change helped push that figure to 188 ponies.)

While it was a bit of a niche player in the mass market, the wide wheels, torquey engine and limited-slip differential helped the car dominate the G Stock class in SCCA Solo competition from 1989 to 1993–until competitors figured out the Mazda MX-6, the class’s next superstar.

The Conquest and Starion left our showrooms after the 1989 model year, with Mitsubishi abandoning the rear-drive sport coupe market in favor of the all-wheel-drive 3000GT Enthusiasts, too, seemed to gravitate to options sporting either more power or less weight. As a result, prices have remained kind of flat. A nice 1987 example recently went unsold on Bring a Trailer at $6518.

Still, if you’re looking for the perfect, unique accessory for that Members Only jacket, then a clean Starion might fit the bill.

Practical Guidance

Steve Nelson is president of Top-End Performance and has been working on these cars ever since they were new. In fact, he’s one of the country’s very few parts suppliers–if not the only one–remaining for these cars.

To own one of these cars you need to be a hands-on owner, willing to look for answers and do your own work on the car. Since they require specific knowledge to maintain, you can’t pay your local mechanic to fix something when it goes wrong. Basically, it’s not a car for check writers.

Think you’re up to the task? There are still a couple guidelines you need to follow when shopping. First, never buy one that’s not running. This rule should never be broken unless you plan to engine-swap the car–not an uncommon move these days. There’s a huge amount of vehicle-specific knowledge needed to make a basket case run again.

Next, you’ll want to pick your year. Ideally you want a 1988 or ’89 car. A 1987 car may suffice, but avoid cars from 1985 and ’86. The earlier cars had terrible fuel injection systems, and the computers limited the power output. The 1987 received the upgraded fuel system found in the later cars, but it still ran the earlier computer. Keep in mind, too, that computers from ’88 and ’89 cars are basically unobtainable.

Just as a point of reference, 1988 and ‘89 cars can see boost of up to 18 to 20 psi with the stock ECU. Earlier cars cut out at 10 psi.

Stay far away from any car with electrical problems. It will most likely never run again no matter who you take it to, unless you want to spend more than the car’s value in labor.

Going to standalone engine management cures almost everything wrong with these cars.

Common issues are almost always fuel injection related. If your car is running rough, it’s probably bad fuel injectors or fuel injector connectors. You can get the injectors cleaned and flowed or buy a new set (we offer both options at Top-End Performance), but new injectors are only available for 1987–’89 cars. Mass air-flow sensors are also known to go bad.

Strangely enough, there aren’t really any super-secret special maintenance tips. The normal tune-up–oil, plugs, caps, rotor, etc.–will keep a car running for quite some time.

Once you have your hands on a car that runs well, you can start the fun stuff. A downpipe and exhaust make a good first upgrade. A blow-off valve and boost controller of your choice is also a nice touch. Keep in mind that if you push boost over one bar, you need an upgraded fuel pump.

Turbocharger upgrades are limited, but we offer T3 and T4 kits.

Be cautious with power upgrades unless you’re confident the internals of the engine have been upgraded enough. The heads on these engines are prone to failure when pushed too far.


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View comments on the GRM forums
4cylndrfury MegaDork
7/14/17 7:56 a.m.

Ahh the 80s...Starions, Celicas, Corollas, Turbo Buicks & T-top much quirkiness to love. SWMBO will never understand my affection for the blocky whips of my youth.

David S. Wallens
David S. Wallens Editorial Director
7/14/17 8:05 a.m.

Cool, glad that you're digging it. Look for some turbo Buicks in the near future.

4cylndrfury MegaDork
7/14/17 8:11 a.m.
David S. Wallens wrote: Look for some turbo Buicks in the near future.

tuna55 MegaDork
7/14/17 8:13 a.m.

I have wanted one of those forever.

David S. Wallens
David S. Wallens Editorial Director
7/14/17 8:53 a.m.

A dude in my high school had a black one--this was back when they were new. I didn't know him, but I remember seeing it out in the parking lot.

NickD SuperDork
7/14/17 9:20 a.m.

A guy I knew in college bought a used Conquest TSi. It blew black smoke like a diesel from the day he got it. Turns out that it had a massive boost leak. He fixed that and it immediately kicked the rods out of the block.

yupididit GRM+ Memberand Dork
7/14/17 10:44 a.m.

I have two black one's sitting in my garage. An 87 and an 88 SHP.

I believe in 85 or 86 they had intercooled flatties. Which were rare. And dont forget the SHP package that were available for the 88 and 89's. It had adjustable shocks, 16x8 front and 16x9 rear wheels, and a stronger 6 bolt rear and axles.

I love these cars, the looks are beautiful and the interior is so 80's. What I dont love about the car, the engine. The 2.6 made lots of torque because its size but it was heavy and was basically a truck/forklift engine. With tbi injection the 2.6 wasnt reliable and didnt get fuel to all the cylinders evenly especially the 4th cylinder. People had a lot of reliablity issues because of the injection system even some cars catching fire. Overseas they got the sohc 4g63 engine with mpi. The aftermarket for these cars is meh at best.

I love my 87 and I'll probably keep it forever. It travels with me when I move across the country, even when it's not running which is always

Joe Gearin
Joe Gearin Associate Publisher
7/14/17 10:58 a.m.

My buddy Vince Kowalski had a very early Starion Turbo when we first got our driver's licenses. (back in 1986) I think his was an 83 or an 84--- before the box flares, and it had an even more ridiculous interior. (like Jackie Chan's car in the first Cannonball Run movie) Digital gadgetry FTW!

I learned how to drive stick in that car. Back then Vince thought it was wasn't. It was cool though, when it was running. I was never sure if it broke so often because Vince beat the everloving E36 M3 out of the car, or because it was flawed to begin with. Turns out, it was a combination of both. I don't think there is car that epitomizes the 80's more than a Starion Turbo. Flashy, funky, cool, and kinda crappy!

yupididit GRM+ Memberand Dork
7/14/17 11:31 a.m.

In reply to Joe Gearin:

The "technica" package had digital gauges and all sorts of talking to you thingy's. I would love to add a technica flatty to my stable!

Trackmouse SuperDork
7/14/17 1:19 p.m.

I believe the common swap for these is a 4G 63 engine with turbo? Either way I love that 80s boxiness. It's one of the reasons I chose my Celica, which also came with a boat anchor open engine. Although I do know of one starion that has a Lexus V eight hint hint

classicJackets HalfDork
7/14/17 1:34 p.m.

These still have some of my favorite factory wheels of anything, ever, on top of being awesome with the widebody.

When I do a 5 lug swap on my Courier, these are the wheels I want it to wear (ideally those 16x8/9 stagger coolness)

NickD SuperDork
7/14/17 2:29 p.m.
Trackmouse wrote: I believe the common swap for these is a 4G 63 engine with turbo? Either way I love that 80s boxiness. It's one of the reasons I chose my Celica, which also came with a boat anchor open engine. Although I do know of one starion that has a Lexus V eight hint hint

I have yet to see a swapped StarQuest that kept it in the family. I have seen 1UZ, all manner of LSx, and both flavors of Toyota JZ.

Grizz UberDork
7/14/17 3:29 p.m.

In reply to NickD:

Here's one.

yupididit GRM+ Memberand Dork
7/14/17 6:33 p.m.

Most swaps are 4g63 or 1/2jz and then LS with lots of cutting.

84FSP Dork
7/14/17 9:01 p.m.

Love these. Was talking with a few local afficanados who hit the conquest club meet in gatlinburg recently. There was something like 12 cars that showed which gave me a sad

Vigo UltimaDork
7/14/17 10:54 p.m.

I haven't owned a Starion (yet) but from everything i've read it seems like a lot of the problems come down to wiring issues and people not understanding how the 2-injector tbi system works or is supposed to work.

I've got a lot of experience with the basic g54b engine (own two in running vehicles currently and dad drove one for the first 14 years of my life with it being probably the first engine i ever turned a bolt on) and while they definitely aren't the MOST reliable out there, again it seems like the main knock on them is that it's not a 'sporty' engine. Or a few people who kept driving with the oil pressure light on because their secondary timing chain failed and engine 'ran fine' so they drove until it seized up.

So yeah, it's a truck engine with some known foibles in a sports car with wiring that doesn't age gracefully that runs a 2-injector TBI system that you have to understand to effectively modify. I guess that's bad enough but it still seems like the popular opinion of Starions can mostly be characterized as people that don't know enough to keep up with them letting them break and then calling them junk.

Boost_Crazy HalfDork
7/15/17 12:23 a.m.

I've got one as a Lemon's car. My expirience with it makes me really want a nice street version. The cars are actually very well built, interiors that used much better materials than many cars of their time. Which was also kind of the problem, as there is lots of extra weight thought the car. The engine itself was a pleasant surprise. Not a sporty feeling engine, but torque for days. It was the muscle car of '80's Japanese cars.

I think Mitsubishi is really missing the boat by not introducing a modern version of the Starion.

Brett_Murphy GRM+ Memberand PowerDork
7/15/17 12:26 a.m.

Apropos of nothing, I know where one of these is for sale. It has some sort of coil-overs on it, too.

Zomby Woof
Zomby Woof PowerDork
7/15/17 8:39 a.m.

Vintage views was always my favourite part of the magazine.

Mitsu had it going on in the 80's. It was a good time to be an enthusiast. The cars were crude, but fast and fun. And they looked great!

Dbussey1 Reader
7/15/17 10:19 a.m.

I had a silver '86 in college. Bought it with 56k miles, not running, with a dented flare and a stuck window. Fixed the problems in an afternoon and drove it for two years - still my favorite car.

The G54B is a heavy and quirky, with balance shafts, jet valves and all. But its a solid enough engine by 1980's standards. I agree that most of the issues come down to wiring and a misunderstanding of the fueling system. Maintained properly in stock form, they're just fine and make for a fun little car.

Appleseed MegaDork
7/15/17 2:41 p.m.

Those might be the best looking stock wheels ever to grace any car from the 80s.

Sine_Qua_Non Dork
7/15/17 2:54 p.m.

Prices for these are all over the place. It's really a hassle to sort through.....not but really, $5k for one without an engine or trans, or $2k for one with all the windows broken/damaged or $500 for a stripped car with clear title but needs EVERYTHING.

yupididit GRM+ Memberand Dork
7/15/17 3:14 p.m.

In reply to Sine_Qua_Non:

You can get a pretty decent one for 5k. Just have to know where to look.

Advan046 UltraDork
7/15/17 3:51 p.m.

I raced a Quest-Star when my Merkur XR4ti had a wiring harness short mid race. So I asked my cousin if I could borrow his for a couple of weeks and managed to score points in it on the frozen michigan lakes.

I told my cousin I would take the car when he was ready to move on several times. But he forgot when it wouldn't start one day and sold it. I was fully prepared to do the 4g63 swap with a standalone computer running the show. It would probably still be with me.

Trackmouse SuperDork
7/15/17 5:19 p.m.

Really surprised they didn't make a transformers toy from this car. It's got all the angles and vents and flares you need!

Vigo UltimaDork
7/15/17 9:22 p.m.

I honestly think the widebody Starion is one of the THE best epitomies of 80's car styling. It's TOTALLY in the 80's. I mean, there are some really damn flashy 80's cars like the 288GTO and Countach that seem at least halfway 70's even after all the add-ons, full 80s cars like the Testarossa that just don't look as good, and cars like the F40 that manage to look newer than they are even though they came out in the 80s (Miata is another). There were a ton of cool looking cars made in the 80s, but the Starion is probably the MOST 80's out of all of them, and i love that.

davbro New Reader
7/19/17 3:57 p.m.

Great Article David! One of our CMC members is finishing up one right now. You should see it at the 2018 skid pad challenge.

DirtyBird222 UberDork
4/29/20 10:10 a.m.

I can't not think of clown guy at the GRM Challenge circa mid-to-late 2000s with these things. 

Feedyurhed UltraDork
4/30/20 10:07 a.m.

I have probably mentioned this here before but I had a RX7 back then that I competed in (AutoX) C stock with. There was a local guy that had one of these Mitsus that was in the same class. When he showed up I could never win, no matter what I did. To make matters worse his wife would compete in CSL with the same car and she would beat me (time wise) also. Ha! Brings back fond memories. They just always out drove me! Ahhhhhh, Mitsubishi what happened to you?

pinchvalve (Forum Supporter)
pinchvalve (Forum Supporter) GRM+ Memberand MegaDork
5/11/21 8:44 a.m.

I loved them back in the day, the look was so awesome. The box flares, the fat deep-dish wheels, the angular body lines. I had no idea they had good power and an LSD! Its sad that Mitsu has nothing to offer in the US anymore.

78CobraII New Reader
5/11/21 10:15 p.m.

I rebuilt a 2.6 in '78 or so Plymouth Sapporo for my girlfriend at the time.  That second chain for the oil pump kind of blew mind, but I did manage to get it all back together and it ran a couple more years for her after we broke up. I believe the Sapporo was the basis for the later Conquest.  Nice car, but it needed more horsepower though.

drock25too Reader
5/11/21 10:24 p.m.

I have always liked these cars. There was one parked behind a repair shop for years, I finally saved a few bucks and drove over there and it was gone. 

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