In the mid '90s, Japanese car manufacturers were embroiled in a battle royale, trying to make the most exciting, affordable sports cars in existence. At the top of the boy-racer wishlist was the second generation Mitsubishi Eclipse GSX - something that became nearly impossible to find in stock form. Until I bought one.
I seem to have a bit of a reputation for buying quirky cars. I've purchased old BMW M cars, a '99 Mitsubishi 3000GT VR4, and huge Mercedes-Benz luxury barges that were more engine than car. I'm no stranger to the long-lost art of buying someone else's headaches. That's why the '90s Eclipse was so intriguing to me - it was almost always someone's unfinished masterpiece, and here's why: after the release of Fast And The Furious in the early 2000s, Paul Walker's hero car, a second generation Mitsubishi Eclipse (it's a base model RS, if you look closely), lit a fire under the ass of every budding car nut that had Brian O'Connor as their spirit animal. Before a sequel was even a drug-addled thought in the minds of the film's producers, Lamborghini doors were installed, tribal graphics were overlayed, and tuna sandwiches were ordered by the truck full - no crust, obviously - by fans wanting to recreate the mystique that was the street racing scene.
This was the look of a regular Eclipse a decade ago:
(Photo by Mark van Seeters on Flickr)
This trend went on for so long that not only was the secondhand car market filled with these monuments of swag, every car was a project - a build that never seemed to end, as the kids that proclaimed that they would "kill the game" this coming year realized that body work is freaking expensive, and it's not physically possible to work 35 hours a day in front of a fryer. This meant that values plummeted for the customized trash heaps, and the stock ones were harder and harder to find, commanding a high premium. Hope was all but lost - until Truck Yeah! writer and International Scouts Anonymous support group leader Andrew Collins sent me a Craigslist posting near him. Here's what I saw:
Two low-res pictures of a '95 Eclipse GSX and this description:
2L, turbo, 210+hp, 110,000 miles, all wheel drive, ps, pb, 5 speed standard, pl, pw, sun roof, multi CD/cassette player, cruise control, ABS, leather seats, dual air bags, new clutch, battery, clutch master cylinder, rebuilt starter, 2 sets of wheels, Mitsubishi Shop Manual. Car is in very good condition. One of the best handling cars I ever drove, and lots of fun.
I called the gentleman who was selling it and arranged a time when I'd be there to check out the car, since finding a bone stock, first year second generation Eclipse was akin to finding a treasure chest on the "free" side of Craigslist only because the seller couldn't get the damn thing open. For those of you who are wondering why this car is so special, here's a quick history lesson: In the late '80s, Chrysler and Mitsubishi got together to form an alliance called Diamond Star Motors, or "DSM". From this unlikely pairing came cars like the Mitsubishi Starion/Chrysler Conquest, Dodge/Mitsubishi Colt, Mitsubishi 3000GT/Dodge Stealth, and the Mitsubishi Eclipse/Eagle Talon/Plymouth Laser.
The most popular platform by far was the Eclipse, because of this: Its top trim GSX version gave you a manual, all-wheel drive, turbocharged 4-cylinder powertrain that was practically identical to the one used in the insanely potent Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution in Japan. It was the same kind of over-engineering that was present in other Japanese halo cars, only miniaturized for efficiency. This car wasn't just special, it would be the last time we'd see an affordable, Japanese, all-wheel drive turbo sports coupe in the States - ever.
I recruited Raphael Orlove as my partner in crime to come with me and dial "9-1" while I check out the car, waiting patiently to hear my scream as the signal to dial "1" again. I also had to have someone drive a car back, in case of a no-murder, bought-the-car situation. We drove two hours from the trashy confines of downtown Manhattan to the stifling openness of upstate New York, a fact you would know if you followed me on Twitter:
After taking a good hard look at the car, its flaws (or lack thereof), I asked the seller if he had any records or accompanying paperwork for the car. "Yeah, I think I have a little." He then pulled out a binder of all the receipts for every service the car has ever had, along with the original factory service manuals, a Chilton Service Manual, newspaper clippings of reviews from 1994 of the car when it was new, the original window sticker, the original sales receipt (paid in cash, by the way), every Mitsubishi accessory brochure available, 4 extra CD changer cartridges and a small hard-written book of all the car's recent oil changes.
Some of you will note that the wheels on the car are hubcaps, and not the original alloys that came with the car. Fret not - included with the sale were 4 original alloys with tires. This deal could not have been any better, and I prayed to whatever deity would listen to my first world problems that my needle in a haystack would make it home without the crank walking out on me. After meeting the eagle-eyed Mr. Andrew Collins and treating him to an extravagant dinner as thanks, Raph and I started on the long journey home.
Driving a Mitsubishi Eclipse isn't an adventure, but it is an experience. The car's 210 horsepower, made possible by its hair-dryer turbocharger feels modern. It feel like it could've been made yesterday at a modern plant, using modern equipment. There were no weird squeaks, rattles, or bangs. It drove remarkably like an car. The somewhat twitchy steering didn't require a ton of force, but with 16" steelies on each corner, a light feel wasn't out of the ordinary. It wouldn't win a race against a modern V6 Camry, but it had the potential to outrun a Ferrari, and I think that's this model's double-edged sword - it wanted you to modify it. It wanted to be faster. It yearned to break free of the "factory tuned" shackles to which it had been confined, to give its deserving and precocious owner what a certain Top Gear presenter calls "the fizz." The one minor gripe I had with the car was a slight hesitation in high gear when I floored the throttle - likely caused by fouled spark plugs. Fortunately, it cruised quite well, and during this pleasantly uneventful drive, I found an added bonus:
This car was built in 1994. Its radio was likely designed before then. What the hell is the AUX port for? I'm legitimately curious, because this is the single most surprisingly useful aspect of the sound system, which, for its age, is quite spectacular. If you have an idea what its original intended purpose was, let me know, as I'm legitimately stumped. When I got the car home, another Easter egg revealed itself in the fact that the previous owner used cut-up bathroom mat as decorative floor mats. I'm not mad, I'm actually impressed.
Although this was a fine start for a project, I think that it's a long way from being complete and ready for the car market. At each step, I'll update you eager lot in this diamond in the rough's transformation into an....um...really shiny diamond. Get it? Diamond Star Motors? THIS IS COMEDY!
Keep up with my projects here, or see them in more frequency in 140 character form on my Twitter.
Tavarish is the founder of APiDA Online and writes about buying and selling cool cars on the internet. He owns the world's cheapest Mercedes S-Class, a graffiti-bombed Lexus, and he's the only Jalopnik author that has never driven a Miata. He also has a real name that he didn't feel was journalist-y enough so he used a pen name and this was the best he could do.