The Starion... Mitsubishi's two-door, rear-wheel-drive coupe that didn't become quite as iconic as Nissan's Z or Mazda's RX-7 during the mid-eighties through the early nineties, but it did have quite the following and lots of tuning potential. It came factory equipped with a turbocharged four-cylinder, while underneath you'd find MacPherson front strut suspension and a fully-independent four-link rear. In North America it was commonly known as the Conquest under the Chrysler, Dodge, or Plymouth monikers as it delivered its fair share of SCCA wins and championships. The Starion/Conquest also became a favorite among at-home garage builders; you just had to get over its boxy 'n bulging bodywork.
There's plenty of us that can remember a friend or cousin that owned one before but today, Starion owners aren't nearly as common folk as they used to be. I've been fortunate enough to meet one of the most well respected and known Starion guys around in Mikie Sorrell and he's revealing with us today his exceptional 1988 example with an LS1 V8 swap.
Mikie hails from Ohio and I got to know him while attending Import Alliance Atlanta in 2016. His previously featured silver Starion looked so mint in person, it was like he'd kept it inside a garage for thirty years. As he cruised by, it was clear that under the hood wasn't a Mitsubishi four-banger anymore, but rather something with more balls as he'd swapped in a 1JZ-GTE boosted to over 500 horsepower. The six-cylinder Toyota-powered Starion was a hit at not just at Import Alliance but in the magazine and across our social media channels.
Since that feature, he's been busy building another Starion project car (his sixth in total), and this is undeniably the one that means the most. While a LS V8 swap might sound like a broken record to some of you, it's the story behind this car and who it's dedicated to that demonstrates how great our community is, and how blessed we are to have people like Mikie Sorrell and Tanner White in them.
- Mikie Sorrell's 1987 Mitsubishi Starion powered by a turbocharged. Toyota 1JZ-GTE engine.
THE STORY OF TANNER WHITE AND THE BACKSTORY OF THE V8-SWAPPED STARION AS TOLD BY MIKIE SORRELL
Before we dive into why I chose this car and why I built it, I want to give a little backstory first. When I was in high school, I met this kid named Tanner White. He spoke really quiet and you couldn't hear him sometimes, but he was into cars—really into them. Not just cars, but "fast" cars. I only put fast in quotes because they were "fast" at the time, but we wouldn't consider them fast nowadays! He had several Starions over the years, a 1984 Mustang SVO that sadly burnt to the ground, and a Thunderbird Turbo Coupe! This is around 2005-2006, so Tanner would always be talking about building this or building that, and turbo this or supercharge that. Whatever he was talking about he wanted it to be fast. To be honest, half the time I didn't have a damn clue what he was talking about as I was just getting into cars and learning. He would always be talking about some off the wall cars like a Merkur XR4Ti and how you can make them fast for cheap.
One day at school, my buddy was like, "did you see Tanner's car he drove today?" I hadn't because I got to school before him but my buddy told me it was a Mitsubishi Starion, and my first thought was, "what the hell is that?" This was my first introduction to the car and it didn't last long as Tanner would do what he always done, and blew it up. He drove hard, too hard, and he was always full throttle while it lasted. Tanner and I became pretty good friends and the more I learned, the more I wanted a Starion! Why? Because I'd only ever seen one at this point and I wanted something less common, which is when I bought the silver one featured in Super Street in 2017—my first Starion picked up from Tanner with no engine because it was blown up. He helped me a lot over the years with cars, whether he was selling me one or telling me how to fix one. He was a little lazy so he wouldn't help much but he'd tell ya!
Around 2010, Tanner had gotten another Starion—black, checkerboard cloth interior, fairly clean car! He was building some Ford engine for it, I don't remember all the specifics but it should have made 400-500 NA horsepower when finished. I helped him work on the car, we pulled the engine and trans and sold it to our friend Curt Carico. Tanner and I started sorting out the bay and trying to remove stuff we weren't going to use. We would get stuff done as time and money allowed. Tanner always had bigger ideas than he had funds. He was always a Ford guy, but we can't say he always made the best choices!
I hadn't heard from him in a little bit. Life changes and I had moved across town, so we weren't as close as we were before. Money was also tight, so we weren't working on the car much. One day I'm at work and I call up the tire store to get some tires and I know the guy working there. He asks me, "did you hear what happened to tanner?" I said, "hadn't heard from him much lately. Why? What happened?" He informs me that Tanner had a freak accident and fallen down the steps in his apartment and hit his head pretty hard on the steel door frame. He was rushed to the hospital at 2:00AM, so I got off work and headed to the hospital to see how he was doing. Hell, it can't be that bad, right? He's hit his head before, things hard as a rock. This was different... I found out really quick this was different when his dad Tim told me that he had to have emergency brain surgery. They had removed a third of his temporal lobe, and his frontal lobe was squishy from the impact. They told us he would have a long road to recovery but said he should recover somewhat.
Tanner is still with us today but unfortunately, he can't do much for himself anymore. He requires around the clock care, 24/7. He will respond to 'yes' and 'no' questions by nodding this head or raising his hand. Sometimes they let him pick his outfits for the day. They told us Tanner would never be the same, and in most aspects, he isn't, but Tanner is still Tanner. He loves cars, loves watching car shows on TV, gets excited and laughs when you tell old stories of him getting pulled over for doing donuts at 2:00AM on the side road. If it's anything car related, he's in!
Five years after his accident, I had been wanting to build a V8 car to build a good little daily, not with a lot of power. I had tried to purchase Tanner's black Starion in 2015 but his dad told me he was going to hang on to it. However, in 2017, his dad sold it to me under one condition: I had to keep it. Well, I keep everything so that wasn't an issue and I told his dad I would build the car, then drive it down to Tanner so he could see!
I got to work building this car, stripping the bay out—it was already missing the engine and trans. Apparently some animals had been living in it for a few years as well, so I had major cleaning to do. Later that year, I had sourced a running and driving 2002 Camaro for the swap. It was a T56 car as well, so I went and scooped it up.
I'd done swaps before but not this type, and it took a lot more work than I thought. Everything was done at home on my brick floor in the bottom of a barn. I spent the next year building and working on the car as money and time allowed. Pretty much everything was custom. Even fitting the trans, I had to cut the trans tunnel out of the car. The polished wheels were done by hand; talk about a nightmare.
A good friend of mine, Matt Slusser, helped me a ton! He'd come over any day I was working on it to lend a hand. I had to build the engine mounts, trans mount, trans tunnel, headers, exhaust, rack and pinion mount (factory is a big gear box like an old truck), steering linkage—basically everything was done here. Nobody makes much for this car at all and if you want it, you have to make it. There aren't any swap kits out there.
It took me a year to build it. There was so much custom work involved that everything just took time, and a lot of it. I'd send updates of the build to his stepmom and she'd show him. He'd just laugh and smile. Once I got the car running and tuned, my friend Corey Conder hit me with paint correction, which really brought the car back to life. We started planning a time to hold a car show for Tanner. I live six hours north now, so we had to plan the event and hold it at a time best for him.
We get it all set up, I drive the car down the day before and just hope people show up the next day. I just wanted there to be a lot of cars there for Tanner to see. The morning starts raining on us, the worst possible time for rain, but that didn't stop Tanner from having one hell of a time. We grabbed a pop-up tent and held it up pushing Tanner around the lot in his chair, so he didn't get wet, but I don't think he would have cared if he got wet. I hadn't seen him smile that big the entire time I've known him. He sat outside with us for hours in his chair. He just laughed and grinned at everyone. His stepmom Arnida and dad Tim said they hadn't ever seen him that excited. He absolutely loved the show and loved the car! I let him hold his steering wheel for a bit, asked him if he was going to drive it and he just laughed and shook his head, "yes"! He was pumped! It was at that moment that all the long hours and empty pockets paid off. It was more than worth it.
As I was building the car, I tried to hold myself to a higher standard. I tried to not cut any corners. I was picking up the pieces of where me and Tanner had left off and I wanted to build something we'd both be proud of. I wanted to keep it simple, clean and effective and it had to sound good. If you knew Tanner, you'd know he was a sucker for a good sounding V8. I didn't have a major plan minus those few key points, I just kind of made it up as I went. The build itself, at face value, seems basic. It's a pretty standard LS1 with a stage 3 BTR cam, but it sounds great, makes 418 at the wheels, and it's a damn blast to drive! It's not the fastest car and it's actually the slowest of the three that I own, but it's one of the most fun to drive. I didn't want to take it to extremes, I just wanted to build it to enjoy, and be able drive it down for Tanner to enjoy some as well! I think we've accomplished that.
1-ON-1 FOLLOW-UP INTERVIEW WITH MIKIE SORRELL
Appreciate you for sharing the story of Tanner White, Mikie. The car came out beautiful and the photos of him smiling and laughing is awesome to see and that he truly appreciates what you did! Can you share with our readers what it is about the Starion as a car that drew you to it so much?
The uniqueness is most appealing, but I know them too well now. I can dig through a bucket of bolts and tell you where they go in the car. People buy them all the time and start asking "where can you buy this or that?", but you can't. You have to make it. And that's appealing because even if two people try to do it the same, they will still be different. I like them so much I bought a company that reproduces some Starion parts, MKS Motorsport, and I make reproduction bushings, mounts, taillight gaskets, steering couplers, decals, replacement clips, all kinds of stuff!
How are you finding Starions? Are they all fixer-uppers or in good condition?
Well two of the three that I own were Tanner's... Haha! I've been around them so long that people will just message me when they pop-up for sale. I get Craigslist ads sent to me all the time, too. If the deal looks good, I'll go scoop. I usually buy fixer-uppers because I like doing them my way.
How does this LS1-swapped build compare to your 1JZ edition?
The 1JZ swap is making 527whp now. Since the 447whp, I put cams in and a Haltech, and this car really came to life, still on a stock bottom end, too! The LS car is easier to drive though. It's more mild, softer clutch, just feels like a factory-built car. I love both a lot and like driving each for different reasons. If I'm just running to the store, I'd drive the black one. If I'm going for a drive to blow off some steam, I'll take the JZ car!
What advice would you give to someone looking to buy or build a Starion?
It isn't easy. With little to no support out there it takes dedication. It isn't like 240s and RX-7s with a market full of support. You have to want to build one, you have a lot to learn. Once you are in it long enough, you can find about anything you need for them. You just have to know where to look. My advice is to go into it with an open mind and determination.
What's next for this car?
This car doesn't need much else for me. I'd like to have the seats redone and maybe get it wrapped or painted, plus get A/C working on the car. That's all I wanted out of it when I started the project. I've got others to be fast. I wanted this one to be mild and fun! Outside of that, this car is "finished."
What's next for you?
Well I've got this 2JZ-swapped car I picked up earlier this year. The goal for that is to make 700 at the wheels. I've been gathering parts for it: Haltech, BC cams, 1,700cc ID injectors, the works. I also need to get back to the 1JZ car and give it some attention. It's gotten a little neglected since I started building others. Just want to clean a few things up on it and leave it be at 527whp. I'll have three cars built three different ways with increasing power levels.