Like many of us, Diego Garibay grew up playing video games about cars before he turned a wrench for the first time. Almost all of us have played Gran Turismo, driving the likes of GT-Rs, Supras, and NSXs, but Diego's inspiration comes from a different game console, and his hero car couldn't haven't been any more peculiar.
"The original Xbox came with a few demo games. One of them was called Sega GT 2002," he began. "I beat the game with a Starion and have never stopped loving its factory widebody." Not many of us have any gaming experience with Sega GT 2002, but it must've been badass because it paved the way for Diego's future.
Eventually, Diego grew up, saved enough money, and found a Starion on Craigslist. It was black, and he fell in love with the whole experience. But one night in the rain, he abruptly wrecked his first project car. He didn't lose hope, as this misfortune lead him to search for a new canvas, which eventually became the blue '88 Starion seen here. It had been rotting in a vineyard field, admittedly in pretty rough shape. Diego picked it up for just $500, swapped in the interior and powertrain from his wrecked Starion, and was back on track.
After a complement of bolt-on upgrades to the stock engine, Diego knew he wanted more power. Common practice for Starion owners are Toyota JZ swaps. He opted for a JDM 1JZ paired with a Supra five-speed manual, giving him his first taste of real power. He was hooked. Then, tragedy struck again: The piggyback system he was running let the 1JZ run too lean, which melted the pistons. At this point, it was obvious Diego wasn't one to give up as he moved forward.
On the advice of his tuner, Lawrence Shipman, Diego sourced a naturally aspirated 2JZ-GE block from a Lexus GS300 at a pick 'n' pull junkyard; added ARP studs, a new oil pump, and a twin-turbo head gasket; then paired the refreshed bottom end with the 1JZ head to make what many people refer to as a "1.5JZ." Diego reasoned since the 2JZ was a 3.0-liter, he ought to get a bigger turbo, hence the BorgWarner S366. He also ditched the piggyback in favor of an AEM V2 ECU.
The transmission would eventually give way when a thrust washer broke during drag racing. He was making about 650 hp when he stripped third gear. The five-speed was chucked in favor of a six-speed manual from a Nissan 350Z. That, with a six-puck South Bend clutch, was enough to hold the power he was making. But with E85 readily available in his hometown, Diego was able to retune and safely dial up boost to 32 psi and make 791 whp on the ethanol blend. When it comes to weekend track events, E85 and racing slicks are a must; however, for driving around the neighborhood, he keeps it tame using 91-octane, which puts out 473 whp at 13 psi—not a slug by any means, either. In fact, we saw the car in action with our own eyes as Diego competed in our first-ever Odd Swaps Challenge that pitted a group of cars with uncommon powerplants against one another. Of the bunch, this Starion proved to be the most powerful in our dyno test and ran the event at Buttonwillow without a single issue.
Diego told us he also enjoys Shift-S3ctor's Airstrip half-mile events. "You buy a race pass and race from a standstill," he explains. He adds that he has trouble getting Lamborghini drivers to line up against him. Once they see him run, though, they all want to know what's under the hood. His best trap speed to date is 167 mph when the car was making around 700 hp. "At first I was having issues braking from that speed," he admits. "After the brake upgrade, it's fine." He added that stopping from 167 mph on stock pads and calipers was "pretty sketchy." Even the optimistic factory speedometer only went to 150 mph!
Running half-mile events where you're pushing your car to its maximum limit, there's bound to be other casualties. Diego mentions a few broken driveshafts, axles, a rear hub, and he's sheared a few teeth off the final drive. Not bad considering the car still rocks a Starion standard issue rear end. Nothing Diego and his friend Michael Nevarez couldn't handle. Michael is responsible for helping Diego with almost every upgrade on the Starion, even repainting the exterior its glowing Nissan blue paint. One thing Diego pointed out that's been challenging about building the Starion is the lack of aftermarket parts. Being that it isn't as easy as, say, a Honda Civic, he has had to reach far and wide to make the build happen, not to mention lots of welding and custom fab work from his buddy Michael.
Most young builders today can't imagine staying true to their first love, let alone a first love from a video game 15 years ago. But Diego stayed loyal and was determined, and despite all of his setbacks, he accomplished his dream of turning a virtual car into a 791-whp reality.