How you arrive at a destination can often be a funny thing. Often, we head down a path seemingly innocuous in nature only to find ourselves in for a real ride. While most set out with a specific end goal to realize in their project car, while others find their way along the journey. Neither path is fundamentally better, and creativity is often stifled by the turgidity of a concrete plan.
In the case of John Lazorack, his 1988 Mitsubishi Starion was a happenchance pairing, and boy, are we glad they found each other. Like most of us as teenagers, he was strapped for cash and looking for a cool car to make his mark. Rear-wheel drive, and turbocharged are enticing taglines for aspiring performance junkies, and John was seduced by the allure of just that.
“I got this car when I was 16 … I was at a used car lot and I was looking for a car to buy. This girl pulls up in it — she was trying to sell it to the dealership we were at — she walked out all pissed because the dude didn’t want to give her anything for it, so I asked her if it was for sale. We took it for a drive, it had a little bit of a miss in it, but I didn’t care, I just thought this thing is so cool I have to buy it!” John explained.
After taking the Starion for a spin around the block and clearing it of any major defects, it shepherded it’s new owner to and from high school. This rite of freedom and transportation in formative years can leave an indelible mark on the identity of both car and driver. The Mitsubishi was forever linked to John and as he moved on so did the car.
“I drove it, I blew it up a couple times, I tried to mod it but I didn’t really know what I was doing. It’s been through 10 different color schemes and all kinds of other sh*t,” he said. “I went to college and it sat at my mom’s house for four years or so. I finally got a job in Detroit so I dragged it out there and started working on it. I knew I wanted to do a motor swap and I wanted to build a track car.”
Post college, a little bit wiser and a lot more financially secure, the ultimate direction of the ’88 could be laid out. With a new trajectory in mind, John set out to mold the car in his image. In the beginning, modifications were done piecemeal, revisions forced re-engineering of certain areas, and skills were cultivated along the way. “I gutted everything, tore everything out and built the cage — I designed it myself because no one else makes a cage for it. When I started the car I didn’t know how to weld so that’s the only thing I didn’t do,” he admitted.
The original powerplant that propelled the Starion through his youth was a 2.6-liter, inline four-cylinder, turbocharged mill which produced in the neighborhood of 150 horsepower, not a rocket by today’s standards but for the ’80s, no slouch. Clearly as part of John’s vision, a new heart would need to be transplanted in the Generation-X economy-sports-coupe. Working for General Motors in Detroit afforded him a base of connections, but ultimately he had his eye on the derelict LS1 sitting in the garage of a co-worker.
The owner of this orphaned powerplant was adamant that it would power a project truck of his, yet the engine sat for years until an unfortunate layoff prompted its sale to the eager buyer: John. Fully committed to bringing the modern V8 power to the ailing import, the meat of the build began. Along the way, the LS1 was set aside in favor of a more potent LS3.
“The engine is an LS3 I bought on Craigslist. When it first dyno’d, it made 450 horsepower at the tires. I’ve changed the cam and did a little bit of head work and now it’s making 514 horsepower at the tires. Axles are disposable items now, I haven’t broken any but I wear them out pretty quick. The transmission is just a stock TR6060 six-speed, it’s a really close ratio,” John detailed.
Further adornments to the late-model GM mill include a full 3-inch exhaust, with custom headers to fit the Starion. While both banks required custom fabrication, John emphasized that the driver’s side was a particular nightmare due to the routing of the steering column. Running back from the powerplant, the rest of the drivetrain is a blend of foreign and domestic parts. Extending from the transmission is a custom Driveshaft Shop tube, linking the drivetrain to a shockingly stock rear end. Surprisingly, the little Starion rear has been holding up to the abuse of the LS3, but he dares not push it much further.
The mounting of this gargantuan drivetrain took some tact, and in order to preserve (and optimize) a palatable weight-distribution, John pushed the assembly about three inches rearward. This put the big aluminum V8 further back for accessory room, but more importantly closer to the middle for a 50/50 weight distribution. “The weight distribution is perfect, it’s absolutely amazingly balanced,” he said.
The exterior of this car is the most striking of the whole package. The custom wide-body flares that exude strength, like rippling muscle of this potent package, are a creation of John’s own creativity and engineering experience. “I have the car in full digital form, it’s about 98 percent accurate. So the fenders I built on the computer, built them out of clay, laid them up and cast them. The fenders are all fiberglass, I just started doing carbon on the roof, door panels and stuff,” John explained.
The amount of work required to generate tooling for such an ambitious endeavor is no small investment of time, and the labor shows in the Starion’s design. Form and function blend together as John did his best to apply his wind tunnel training to his personal project. “There has been a lot of aero development, I’ve spent a decent amount of time in the wind tunnel at work so I developed this with what I know, and I’ve done a little bit of computational fluid dynamics (CFD) with it. I have an idea of what works but I’m not 100 percent sure,” he said.
Moving to the interior of the car, the custom touches continue. Due to the drivetrain mounting location, the whole shift linkage had to be re-engineered. When John got started on that project he said to himself, “why not take it all the way?” Ultimately, a custom machined billet ball and handle replaced the existing unit.
The interior is draped in suede which was custom stitched by John’s wife, and the carbon fiber door panels were hand-laid on an old glass coffee table for a smooth clean mold surface. Talk about homegrown ingenuity. The stock dash was offending to his eyes, so he redesigned the contours and fitted the whole car with a scratch-built wiring harness.
Further custom fab work is easy to dismiss until it’s pointed out, “The headlights were from an Acura, I cut the projectors apart and made a whole new housing and everything, a lot of it was weight-focused because the stock pop-ups were just heavy,” John pointed out. “The fenders were tubbed for steering angle in drifting, the brake system and power steering rack is from a Mustang. The strut bar was custom, the steering knuckles, everything was done myself — I’ve got a little three-car garage and that is it.” Even the plastic smoked fog light covers and brake cooling ducts were vacu-formed by John.
The suspension holding up this competition tuner is, you guessed it, a one-off custom. D2 Racing coilovers manage springing and valving, and are attached to tubular control arms and knuckles. The geometry and structure of which came from Lazorack.
“The whole suspension is comprised of Heim joints and tubular control arms — that’s new this season. I’ve done two sets of steering knuckles, the original set was very short so it was super responsive, tons of steering angle, but on a road-course it was a little too much at times. I made them out of super thick steel because I didn’t want them to fail. I revisited that whole thing and made them out of aircraft aluminum, I’ve lost a lot of weight off stuff like that,” he nonchalantly explained.
Stopping power comes from Wilwood in the form of Mustang brakes, which are more easily sourced when it comes time for replacements. However, he did have to machine some mounting brackets, and source ball joints from a Chrysler design. Driving the car John says,”To drive, it’s an absolute animal, with the cam that’s in it now I’m up 60 horsepower. Now I’m running 315s in the front and I was running 275s, so the braking is better and everything is just a little bit better.”
He started out drifting, moved to road racing, and now competes in both the Optima Challenge and Global Time Attack. Wherever John chooses to go next with this car, he is sure to gather attention, and it’s well-deserved for the dedication and pride of craftsmanship displayed in his project.