Friday, 28 March 2008

Classic - Mitsubishi Starion

Linguistic misunderstandings are hilarious. This is true without exception; if you’ve visited you’ll know what I mean – any English speaking holidaymaker will have a rather more perilous journey in Japan if they’re unaware of the likelihood of ordering a 'salad of tofu and steaming cock' or being instructed by an advert to 'feel new, feel moist'. This linguistic hoopla works in both directions of course; there are no specific statistics on the number of people in the UK with oriental tattoos that actually read 'I slept with my cat' or 'death to the English', but I’m sure the numbers are significant.

Giant international conglomerates are by no means immune to this kind of wonky translation. The story behind the etymology of the Mitsubishi Starion is purely speculative and apocryphal, but I prefer to present it as fact because it’s more fun that way (and can’t prove it either way, so let’s just accept it). The story goes that the suits at Mitsubishi wanted a strong, powerful name for their new coupe, one that would evoke similar imagery to Ford’s Mustang or their own Colt. So they decided upon Stallion… and Japanese phonetics did the rest.

Alright, it’s probably cobblers, but let us not forget that this is the same company that named one of their models Pajero - which, as we’re all aware, is a Spanish term for a person who excessively masturbates. And anyway, they wouldn’t be the only company to let a silly name slip through the net. How about the Fiat Punto? Talk to a Mexican man about his punto and see how many teeth you walk away with.

To be fair to the Starion, the name is a tiny and insignificant element of the whole. It could have been named the Mitsubishi NunRapist and it wouldn’t make an iota of difference. It’s a wonderful and shamefully underacknowledged car – it’s the Japanese Capri. And flippant as that may sound, it’s every inch as good as that comparison suggests.

The credentials speak for themselves: at launch, it was pitched as a rival to the Toyota Supra, the Nissan 300ZX Turbo and the Porsche 924 Turbo. Combining Mitsubishi’s expertise in building very strong engines with their penchant for nailing a cocking great turbo to their cars and winding up the boost just to see what would happen, the 2000cc mill had the beans to match the brawn that the pumped-up wheelarches (on later widebody models) threatened. The revised car ended up with a turbocharged 2.6, but it was strangled by a restrictive manifold, too-mild cams and nannying engine management – purists plump for the balls-out 2-litre. It’s a more pure (and, frankly, terrifying) experience, and you can pick up a minter for two-and-a-half grand. That’s a lot of bang for your buck.

Interestingly, the Starion came close to being homologated for Group B rallying before the series was cancelled due to numerous damaging/fatal incidents. In a sense, this means that it can call the Ford RS200 a stablemate, and there’s not many cars that can say that. The Starion may not quite be remembered as ‘too fast to race’ - as the shortlived RS200 was - but it was at least too fast to make any bloody sense. This is what’s so loveable about the Japanese auto industry; each new sports model on the market seems to be following a European design template until some backroom nutjob gets distracted, hijacks the project and whacks an insane motor under the bonnet – just to see what happens. If only all companies were run that way.

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