The Mitsubishi Starion 4WD Rally Missed Group B but Spawned the Lancer Evo

The Ralliart division’s return signals that Mitsubishi is refocusing at least some attention back to racing. That’s good news for the brand’s fans, who still fondly remember its rallying successes with cars like the Lancer Evolution. However, the Lancer Evo wasn’t the only high-performance Mitsubishi—and it didn’t spring up out of nowhere. Years before the Evo drifted through the dirt, the Mitsubishi Starion 4WD Rally was gearing up for a Group B debut that never came.

With help from an Audi Ur-Quattro tech, the Mitsubishi Starion 4WD Rally was supposed to take on Group B

A yellow Mitsubishi Starion 4WD Rally prototype at the Mitsubishi Museum in Japan
Mitsubishi Starion 4WD Rally prototype | Wikimedia

The mid-1980s saw the World Rally Championship fielding some truly insane cars. This was the era of Group B, where intense competitive pressure and little-to-no restrictions led to machines like the Ford RS200. And one of the prospective competitors was the Mitsubishi Starion 4WD Rally.

As standard, the Mitsubishi Starion is RWD. But with the Audi Ur-Quattro’s arrival, RWD cars were no longer viable. Thus, the UK division of Ralliart needed to give the Starion four driven wheels. And, somewhat ironically, it received some technical assistance from former Ur-Quattro technician Alan Wilkinson, AutoExpress reports. The result was a true 4WD car designed to resolve some of the Quattro’s limitations.

A red 1987 Mitsubishi Starion on a stone bridge among rolling mossy hills
1987 Mitsubishi Starion | National Motor Museum/Heritage Images via Getty Images

For example, the Mitsubishi Starion 4WD Rally’s engine and five-speed transmission are mounted longitudinally, rather than transversely, The Drive explains. The engine is also tilted slightly so the front axle could fit underneath, reducing nose heaviness. Plus, instead of pop-up headlights, the Starion 4WD Rally has fixed ones. That let the Ralliart team shorten the front end to improve weight distribution and fit a larger radiator.

But the Mitsubishi Starion 4WD Rally’s special features go even further. Its driveshafts, skid plate, lower control arms, and seat are made from carbon fiber. The body panels are made of carbon fiber and Kevlar, while the windows are polycarbonate. All that adds up to an estimated 2115-lb dry curb weight.

The Mitsubishi Starion 4WD Rally was also more powerful than the standard car. Under the hood is a turbocharged four-cylinder engine; some sources claim a 2.0-liter engine, others suggest a 2.1-liter one. Regardless, the Starion 4WD Rally reportedly made as much as 355 hp and 325 lb-ft of torque, The Drive says.

The Mitsubishi Starion 4WD Rally missed the Group B boat, but it did eventually lead to the Lancer Evo

In short, the Mitsubishi Starion 4WD Rally had the necessary specs to be a genuine Group B competitor. Unfortunately, the car never got the chance to race.

Mitsubishi initially wanted to start racing the Starion 4WD Rally prototype in summer 1984, The Drive reports. But the car’s debut was subsequently pushed back to the November 1984 RAC Rally, known today as the Wales Rally GB. And after testing it on rally courses, Mitsubishi would have officially entered it in the 1985 WRC season. This would’ve given the automaker time to release the homologation version, tentatively called the Starion 4WD Sport.

But while the prototype Starion 4WD Rally did compete in the 1984 RAC Rally, it didn’t race in the 1985 season. And the homologation car wasn’t ready until early 1986. By that point, rising fatalities meant the end of Group B, leaving the Starion without a racing series. At which point, Mitsubishi killed it.

However, Mitsubishi didn’t let the Starion 4WD Rally’s development go to waste. The knowledge gained led to the AWD Galant VR-4, which won its first two WRC races in 1989. And after rally stages started favoring smaller cars, the Galant VR-4’s AWD system and powertrain were installed in the smaller Lancer. The result was the first Lancer Evo.

Do any original examples still exist?

Although the Mitsubishi Starion 4WD Rally is an oft-forgotten rally car, it has a small cult following, The Drive notes. A few enthusiasts have even created homages, though with RWD rather than 4WD.

However, a handful of prototypes still exist. Of the original five prototypes, three survive in storage. Perhaps someday soon, Mitsubishi will let one of them loose on a rally stage.

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