The term DIY (do it yourself) is widely used and abused in the automotive world. Sure, you can call yourself a DIYer if you do your own oil changes and swap in fresh spark plugs every so often, but in the tuner world DIY tends to go well beyond these basic maintenance items. If you’re into modifying cars, then DIY means installing all those tasty go-fast upgrades yourself, and in the most extreme cases it even means designing and fabricating one-off parts for that truly unique project.
John Lazorack’s ’88 Chrysler Conquest TSi is one of the most extreme DIY project cars we’ve ever come across, having not only received a LS1 V-8 engine swap but also a whole host of one-of-a-kind modifications inside and out. Best of all, every single one-off component attached to this funky ’80s Mitsu-Chrysler bastard child was designed, built and installed by John (with a little help from his fiancé Tara and a few buddies).
“As far back as I can remember, I’ve been obsessed with anything that can be driven,” John explains. “I’ve always tried to find a way to make things better from a visual and performance standpoint. After many years of college [Penn State for mechanical engineering and Academy of Art for automotive design], I finally landed a job as a surface designer at GM in Detroit [and won the Designer’s Choice Award earlier this year]. Once I got a place of my own with a garage, I was finally able to focus on my Conquest [bought in 1999 and driven to high school] and turn it into the car I always wanted it to be. My main goal was a reliable 400–500hp car that I could use and abuse on a daily basis, drive to the track, race it, drift it, drag it, whatever, and then drive it home. I didn’t set a time limit for the project and didn’t have a ton of cash to throw at it. I looked at it more as a long-term learning experience to see what I could do given the skills I had obtained in college and as a professional, no matter how long it took me.” >>
As any Starion or Conquest owner can tell you, there isn’t much aftermarket support for this oddball machine. But that made it the perfect challenge for a guy like John. After stripping the car down to a bare shell and selling off just about every part he didn’t plan to use, he turned his attention to building a rollcage. “Since nobody makes an off-the-shelf cage for this car and I was planning to daily drive it, I had to design it myself to fit my needs,” John says. “I went to Art Morrison for some DOM custom spec tubing.” After all the tubing was cut and bent by Morrison, John got down to the dirty job of welding into the Conquest before taking on the powertrain swap.
Starting with a LS1 5.7-liter V-8 out of a ’02 Corvette, he decided he wanted to push this aluminum-block masterpiece of pushrod technology as far back in the engine bay as possible to optimize weight distribution. This meant cutting the firewall, as well as finding a new steering system for the car. For this, John turned to the fox body Mustang parts bin, sourcing a power steering rack and pinion out of a GT model. As John told us, “The power steering conversion was one of the biggest challenges with the build. After figuring out how to mount it, I then had to redesign the steering knuckles while also re-engineering the steering geometry to allow for more steering angle. After making close to 10 patterns, I built the final product in a 3-D modeling program and took it to a local CNC machine shop.”
Fitting the T56 6-speed transmission under the Conquest’s center tunnel also proved to be a major challenge. “After 20 or so times trying to fit the engine and transmission in the car, I eventually had to cut the entire center tunnel out,” John says. “Knowing that my once very clean and stock car now had a gigantic hole down the center of it was very intimidating and at times overwhelming. But little by little I rebuilt the tunnel and parts of the floor to tie it all together. Due to my engine placement, I could no longer use the stock brake booster, so I also had to source a booster and master cylinder, this time from a fox body Mustang Cobra. Once I got everything to fit and got the car to steer and brake, it was on to interior.”
If you’ve ever ridden in an ’80s Starion or Conquest, then you know the interior is classic ’80s cheese. We’re talking overstuffed velour-wrapped seats, big square buttons galore and a slab-like dash with as much style as a 2x4. For an automotive designer like John, big changes were needed. “I did pages and pages of sketches to try to figure out the direction I wanted to go,” he says. “I wanted the interior to feel expensive yet be race car simple. I rewired the car from scratch, gaining simplicity and dropping weight. Once I finished the paintwork on the chassis and cage, I started the final assembly inside.” The end result is stunning — the carbon-fiber dash and center tunnel and cleanly integrated switches and gauges giving John’s Conquest a GT race car vibe inside while still looking like an entirely pleasant place to be on a long cruise, thanks to the suede-wrapped door cards and center tunnel sides.
As for the stock-looking exterior, John kept it simple but still put a number of custom touches on it that only the hardcore Starion/Conquest lovers out there are likely to spot. The pop-up headlights were removed in favor of lighter HIDs sourced from an ’04 Cadillac STS. “I had to build custom-sealed housings with adjustment for the projectors,” John explains. “The stock foglights were replaced with custom-built LED boards and vacuformed polycarbonate lenses to give it a stock look and feel but with a touch of modern technology. The front facia opening has also been enlarged for a more aggressive look and increased airflow.” And as icing on the cake, John fell into a set of old school HRE 505 wheels that give his Conquest a suitably aggressive stance while providing a period-correct style.
Speaking of stance, it’s also worth noting that during his time under the car figuring out how to make the engine and trans fit, John also took the time to strip the undercoating and yank the suspension, install new bushings throughout, stitch-weld the chassis and repaint the underbody and control arms. He also cut down the strut housings so that he could use adjustable Tokico Illuminas from a Toyota MR2 along with a set of Cosmo coilover sleeves and lowering springs.
As the poster child for the “Built Not Bought” DIY mantra, John Lazorack’s ’88 Chrysler Conquest is as custom as custom gets, despite having been built on a budget in his home garage. For those of you who appreciate home-brewed ingenuity and craftsmanship, it doesn’t get much better than that — unless, of course, you’re John, who has put a solid 10K miles on his Conquest this summer, including flogging it like a rented mule at a number of autocross and drift events. For in-car video evidence of John’s need for a tire sponsor, search YouTube for “Conquest drift in-car” and turn up the volume!
Specs & Details
'88 Chrysler Conquest TSi
Engine ’02 5.7-liter LS1 pushrod V-8
Engine Modifications Modified firewall (engine moved 6" back); modified crossmember; swapped oil pan; Improved Racing oil pan road race baffle; custom intake; cable throttle body; hand-built longtube headers; custom dual 3" exhaust w/ an H-pipe; custom poly engine mounts; 3" dual pass radiator; 16" torque flow fan; modified wire harness
Drivetrain T56 6-speed manual transmission; custom-made shift lever & knob
Suspension Ford Mustang 5.0 rack & pinion steering rack w/ poly bushings; Steeda bumpsteer kit; custom-designed CNC steering knuckles; Toyota MR2 Tokico Illumina 5-way adjustable shocks; shortened strut housings; Cosmo coilover sleeves & springs; custom control arms; MK1 poly bushings; Suspension Technique antisway bars (f/r)
Wheels & Tires HRE 505 17x9.5" (f) & 17x11.5" (r) wheels; 225/45R17 Nitto Neogen (f) & 275/40R17 Avon Tech M500 (r) tires; Ford Mustang 5.0 brake booster; ’93 Ford Mustang Cobra brake master cylinder & cross-drilled & vented rotors
Exterior Stitch-welded chassis, modified front fascia, vacuformed foglights and turn signals w/ custom made LEDs; ’04 Cadillac STS HID headlights w/ handmade housings & lenses; ’89 Mitsubishi Starion taillights (cleared & tinted red); ’83 Mitsubishi Starion vented hood; body-moulded B-pillar vents
Interior Custom-designed DOM rollcage bent by Art Morrison; Sparco Evo2 seats; Corbeau 5-point harnesses; custom redesigned interior handmade w/ aluminum, carbon fiber & suede; Prosport oil, volt & water temp gauges; Pivot 10K tach; full toggle switch controls; pushbutton start; complete rewiring of the entire car; trunk mounted battery; power windows
Special Thanks My beautiful fiancé Tara for sticking it out & eating cheap when I bought car parts instead of food; my good friends Dave, Josh & Tom for lending a helping hand or welder when needed; and starquestclub.com