New Images Show Us The Cancelled Road Version Of Mitsubishi's Group B Starion

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Enjoy this Creative Commons image of a Starion 4WD Rally prototype since no official ones appear to exist.
Enjoy this Creative Commons image of a Starion 4WD Rally prototype since no official ones appear to exist.
Photo: Mitsupicture via Wikipedia

Group B was such a popular class for rallying in the ’80s that everyone seemed to be entering or at least considering entering a vehicle of their own into the mix. Besides the cars that tend to get brought up, like the Lancia 037 and Delta S4, Audi Quattro, Peugeot 205 T16 and MG Metro 6R4, there were the ones that didn’t quite make it, like the Ferrari GTO, Porsche 959, Toyota 222D and the Lada Samara EVA.

Count the Mitsubishi Starion 4WD in that second group. Mitsubishi wasn’t able to complete development of a Group B version of its sports coupe before the class was canceled in 1986. However, the Japanese automaker did build a prototype, validating its progress at a few events along the way, like the 1984 Mille Pistes Rally in France.

To be eligible for Group B contention, Mitsubishi would have had to manufacture 200 road-going homologation specials. The company planned to do that but ultimately never got around to it in time, so we were robbed the opportunity to see what that production Starion 4WD might’ve looked like. Until today, that is.

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Auto Express has published four official sketches of a production-trimmed Starion with the 4WD Rally’s quad-circular headlights and flared arches. I can’t publish the images here, but any old-school rally fan should absolutely check them out if for no other reason than to admire a retro rally rocket that never was.

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According to Auto Express, these artist renderings “were sent as part of internal correspondence at Mitsubishi’s UK importer in 1984.”

The most obvious difference between the Starion 4WD and its conventional rear-drive production stablemates is at the front, where the regular car’s pop-up headlights have been replaced by a conventional quad-lamp arrangement. This, in turn, allowed [Ralliart’s Andrew] Cowan and his engineers to drastically shorten the Starion’s front overhang, helping to improve its weight distribution, while also squeezing in a larger radiator.

A letter accompanying the images suggests that Mitsubishi was planning to put numbered plaques on all of the Starion 4WDs, and says that the car was being lined up to make its debut at the 1984 British motor show. This would tally with the development rally car’s appearance on that summer’s Mille Pistes Rally, a notoriously rough event held on the huge Canjuers military base in southern France, where it finished sixth in the hands of Mitsubishi test driver Lasse Lampi.

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This is what the boring non-4WD Starion looked like, just for context.
This is what the boring non-4WD Starion looked like, just for context.
Photo: Mitsubishi

Unfortunately by the time Mitsubishi began testing the Starion in actual rallies, other constructors, like Peugeot, Renault and Ford, had started moving toward mid engine designs. The Starion was seen as behind the curve. While Mitsubishi did everything it could to make the most of its front-engine proposal, the Group B party was over before it had the chance. Group S, the intended successor to Group B, was also canned before it ever got going, essentially cementing the Starion’s fate. Don’t shed too many tears for Mitsubishi, though — the ’90s were far friendlier to its rallying efforts.