Once again the annual pilgrimage of upper midwest Mitsubishi owners has been completed. Coming from states far and wide to descend upon Central Park in Ramsey, MN, this was the event of the year for anyone who is a fan of the 100 year old Japanese industrial juggernaut. Mitsubishi may be in dire straits now but lets look at this showcase of their history to remind us exactly why we love this brand.
Although Mitsubishi had previously made fantastic sports cars and were among the handful of manufacturers offering relief from the malaise of the late 70s, the car that really put them on the lips of car enthusiasts was the first generation of the DSM. Created in conjunction with Chrysler Corporation, this joint platform was at the forefront of the tuner movement of the 1990s. While the Eclipse will be soon known as yet another crossover, there is a strong contingent of people who know this car for what it really is, a turbocharged all wheel drive monster.
Phil Book had his kouki Laser out at the show, not only is this car absolutely mad on a quarter mile, it also has looks that kill as well. Who says a drag car can't also look good? It's a bummer that the Plymouth Laser was killed off after the first generation though.
While these cars were largely beaten to death on a race track, there are still a ton of survivors. This is also a rare car that can be had in both fixed headlight variant or with flip up lights. Naturally flip ups will always win a looks contest in my book though.
The second generation of DSM had a large contingent of true believers in show as well. Ranging from bone stock survivors to built cars ready for battle, there was something for everyone.
Matt Ballard has had this Eclipse for a few years now and has been constantly improving on it. Not only does it look awesome, it does what a 4G63 does best and goes like a bat out of hell.
Rarely do convertible versions of hardtop sports cars look as seamless as the convertible DSM does. The only bummer about these was that they only came with FWD, at least the GS-T was turbocharged. Of course this hasn't stopped people from swapping over the AWD drivetrain from a GSX. I seem to remember a AWD swapped convertible that was this color in town a few years ago, I have no idea if this is in fact that car or if it even still exists.
While the Plymouth Laser met it's demise in 1994, the Eagle Talon went on for a second generation and was only discontinued when the Eagle brand was dissolved. Eagle, as a brand, was an enthusiast based brand made by Chrysler Corporation after they absorbed AMC.
Outside of the Talon, Eagle didn't have much that was distinctly performance orientated but they did have a hodge podge of esoteric Mitsubishis and Renaults under their brand. Cars like the Mitsubishi Space Wagon and Renault 21 were badge engineered to come to America under the Eagle brand.
While the third generation Eclipse lost AWD and the DSM moniker, it did gain a V6 engine. Albeit it was a sign of bad things to come for Mitsubishi, the third generation Eclipse wasn't terrible by any means. It still had the bones of a performance car and over the last 17 years enthusiasts have picked up where Mitsubishi left off, creating a much better car.
People like Justin Zuhlsdorf have pushed the limits of this chassis with engine swaps and AWD systems. The 3G community has expanded a lot from the days of Roman's donked out convertible in 2F2F.
The 4G Eclipse community is still getting it's traction, these cars were so far removed from the first two generations of Eclipse a lot of people wrote them off. There is still a contingent of people who haven't given this chassis up yet.
The Rear Wheel Drive Era
Mitsubishi didn't start their sports car history with the Eclipse though. Throughout the 1970s and 80's they offered some of the best performance cars you could buy outside of the European brands.
During the 1980s Mitsubihi's Starion came to our shores, both in Chrysler Conquest guise and as Mitsubishi's Starion badging. Although we don't think anything about that naming today, back when this car was released it created ripples because not only was Mitsubishi going down their own path in the American market but they were also doing it with an outstanding sports car offering.
A number of Starion and Conquest survivors were in the show. The blister fenders seen on these cars were actually not always standard, a narrow body was originally available but are significantly more rare. Personally, I wouldn't go out of my way to get the narrow body cars, the blister fenders and 5 spoke wheels complete the look for these. I would also venture to say that these wheels are arguably the coolest OEM wheels ever fitted to any car.
The Starion wasn't just all looks, it's 4G54 engine we got here put down 137 HP, which was pretty massive for a 4 Cylinder engine in 1983 when the car was first released. Note that an '83 Camaro RS made 190 HP with almost twice the displacement. The JDM models of the Starion even got the 4G63 engine which we would first get in the DSM.
Predating the Eclipse and even the Starion, Mitsubishi was importing their Galant Lambda to America. It was a captive import sold through Chrysler as a Dodge Colt Challenger and Plymouth Sapporo. I can't imagine the Challenger nomenclature did this car any favors with the beleaguered muscle car crowd suffering through the malaise.
Despite the naming conventions the Challenger was one of the few reprieves from the malaise, the high quality construction was consistently much better than many other cars of the era and Mitsubishi did their best to adapt to the American market. Mitsubishi combined pieces of the JDM models to cater to the American consumer. Options like four wheel disc brakes and power mirrors came standard and solid rear axle was paired to a 5 speed transmission and a large 2.6L 4 cylinder engine with hemispherical cylinder heads for more of a quasi-muscle car feeling. The "hemi" heads naturally were used by Chrysler as an attempt at leveraging the legacy of the famous V8s.
While power was only 105 HP, it's 146 lb-ft of torque made it feel much more powerful than it really was. This was a common trick in the early 80s when actual horsepower was extremely hard to produce due to emissions equipment. Unfortunately the car never sold terribly well and was replaced by the Starion/Conquest.
The Heavy Weights
All 3 performance 3S variants were parked together, The 3000GT VR-4, 3000GT VR-4 Spyder, and Dodge Stealth R/T. They were all in black as well making it an impressive display.
The 3000GT VR-4 is the forgotten Japanese muscle car. While cars like the 300ZX, Supra, RX7, NSX and R34 are all bucket list cars for most 90s import car fans, it seems in America, at least, people immediately think of the mild FWD SL trim levels of these cars. In Japan however these are still remembered as one of the fastest cars around during the Mid-Night Club Wangan era.
These were Mitsubishi's halo car and even eclipsed the early generations of the Mitsubishi Evolution for performance and technology. Four wheel steering, active aerodynamics, active suspension and an active exhaust are only some of the features of these cars when in top spec. Fun fact about the 3000GT, every vent and opening on these were actually functional.
Looking at the back of this car, it makes me want to make a dangerous financial mistake. The Mitsubishi GTO is available for import too, I really need to stop thinking about this. I need to concentrate on how obsurdly difficult these were to service for cars of this era.
In Japan it's popular to have USDM variants of their cars, like how we do JDM here. It's only a matter of time until the Dodge Stealth R/T is discovered there and we find them in coverage of shows like K-Day and Wek'Fest.
While the R/T shown above was a Dodge variant of the VR-4, Dodge also wanted to create a sports car that was affordable. So the base model Stealth was extremely stripped down and came with a SOHC 6G72, which was incidentally also available in the Caravan.
Now onto the car that ended the Japanese muscle car war. Not because it was lame, in fact quite the opposite. The Lancer Evolution. Since the 1990s, this car was performing with and beating the best 6 cylinder products produced in Japan at the time but it had a 4 cylinder engine and was in the 2.0L tax bracket which made it immensely popular. It wasn't until the Evolution VIII that it hit American shores though.
Once arriving on our shores the Evolution became an overnight sensation. It was as if anything which wasn't AWD and turbocharged was obsolete overnight. Everything from modern muscle cars to the Evo's import compatriots felt its presence and immediately forced everyone selling a "performance" car in America to step their game up.
It was a perfect chassis to build on and massive power gains could be made by merely breathing on it. With years of R&D already completed in the aftermarket in Japan on a proven engine platform, the American buyer could build an extremely fast car within days of driving it off the lot. The Evolution VIII turned the face of performance cars in America from being a long nosed two door sports car into being a compact sports sedan based off of a commuter car.
Today the Evolution VIII and later Evolution IX are still highly sought after and are considered by many to be the peak of the tuner movement of the 90s and 2000s. The Mitsubishi Cookout had Evos aplenty ranging from stock and preserved to fully built drag or grip monsters. With a car like an Evo it is quite easy to have an impressive performing car that also can hold it's own at a car show, that is rather rare for a car to achieve.
This red Evolution had a really timeless look to it, I feel this is the millennial equivalent to a Dodge Charger R/T or a Plymouth Hemi'Cuda.
The quickest growing group in the land of the diamond star is the Evo X community. These were originally dismissed by many for not having the 4G63 but a decade's worth of R&D has shows that this is still a very capable engine. On top of that, finding an Evo X that hasn't been beaten to death is significantly easier than any other Evo at this point.
I really liked the bolt-on overfenders and duckbill spoiler on this Evo X. These builds get better with every passing year and we're beginning to see more radical modifications on these cars.
The Evolution X platform has a lot of room to grow and I feel that these cars will only get more popular in coming years. These were already one of the most numerous cars at the show and given that they were in production for longer than any previous Eclipse or Evolution bodystyle means that they're a great platform for companies to continue to develop parts for.
The Mitsubishi cookout wasn't just a Minnesota show, cars from across the upper midwest made a pilgrimage here and this blue Evo X is a prime example. I love the multicolor stencil on the ETS intercooler on this car too.
In addition to their well know cars, a glut of obscure Mitsubishis were in show. This Mirage Coupe is one of my personal favorite Mitsubishi builds in the state. It utilizes a Evo sourced 4G63 mated to a FWD drivetrain for one of the best sleepers in town.
I remember a few years when the rash of theft in the Honda community here got really bad and people began to branch out to more obscure platforms like these, Corollas and various Subaru platforms. I don't know if this owner was part of that wave but it's cool to see some fresh platforms at shows here.
America's first taste of Mitsubishi's AWD sports sedans came in the way of the Galant VR-4. This coupled the utility of a sedan with the performance of Mitsubishi's Eclipse sports car underpinnings. A fun fact about these was that AMG, yes the Mercedes Benz tuner, made a version of this car. During the early days of the tuner movement, Galant VR-4s made a name for themselves for punching far above their weight both at the race track and in more illicit forms of motorsport.
The Colt hatchback is known as the car driven exclusively by middle aged post office clerks everywhere. However, this Colt hatchback is not the one seen in the driveway of a middle aged man who lives with his mom. This is a Colt Turbo, which looked nearly identical to the regular one but had a FWD 4G63T drivetrain barrowed from an Eclipse GS-T. Of course doing fancy exterior mods would blow it's cover so this car comes complete with some craigslist special alloy wheels, faded trim and minor rust. I can only imagine the looks people make when this car gaps them.
This front halved Galant was 100% business with its air-water intercooler and massive turbocharger. I never heard any specs about what this was putting down but needless to say it was a lot.
Today Mitsubishi is in a serious identity crisis, their own self induced malaise. What was once largely an engineering first company, has fallen victim two decades of poor boardroom marketing decisions. First they were going to go all EV, then go pure SUV. This, combined with corporate mismanagement led to a brain drain resulting in warmed-over decade-old designs and uninspired design-by-committee vehicles.
However despite this, the most loyal of Mitsubishi customers have kept them afloat and the owners of modern Mitsubishis find that they still possess that DNA which made them special in the first place. Today Mitsubishi reminds me of Nissan in their darkest days, when a board of executives saw the car as a widget rather than mechanical being. All car companies go through this phase. Honda, Nissan, Dodge, even Alfa Romeo have dealt with an identity crisis and in the end, if they get through it they become stronger than ever.
Although the modern offerings from Mitsubishi are rather uninspiring, I still hold out hope for them. I use their new CEO Carlos Ghosn as a punching bag because he represents all that is wrong in the automotive world today, but Carlos Ghosn did allow cars like the superb G37xS and R35 GTR to be made back when he was at Nissan. He did bring that company back from the brink of bankruptcy and managed to keep some of it's soul.
The soul of Mitsubishi has been on the decline in recent years anyway so perhaps he can breathe life back into the brand. Mitsubishi's soul has come from everything they offer providing a sporty feel to it, even a midsized sedan like the 8th Gen Galant felt fun to drive. Sharing most of their underpinnings with the 3rd Gen Eclipse made for a car that had much more capability than the vanilla version would let on, there were even AWD versions available as well.
The 8th Gen Galant row at the show this year was a perfect example of how cool these can be. Although small in total numbers, the offerings were fantastic in example. Check out the turbocharged V6 under the hood of the car in the foreground with it's Brembo brake kit.
Mitsubishi owners are different than your average car enthusiast. I would equate them to Mopar or VW fans, it's not rare to hear of a Mitsubishi enthusiast who has never ventured outside of the brand. Brand loyality is an important thing and it is a sign of a company that is doing something right.
Were going to end this post with David Safo's Eagle Talon. While most of us have many loves throughout our lives as petrolheads, David has owned this car since high school and has only really concentrated on this single car.