The cars we loved.
The 80’s was a great time for import car technology. While Detroit was still pushing pushrod engines on the buying public, the market was moving progressively towards the techno wonders coming from Japan. Often these cars would sport their tech credentials doors, bumpers or fenders. Terms like DOHC, 16V and Turbo suddenly went from race car exotic to being as close as your nearest Toyota or Honda dealer. These technologies existed before the 80’s but were used in expensive and rare European imports. From about 1981 to 85, there was an explosion on technology, sometimes gimmicky, but often times useful on a broad range of car types coming from Japan.
Mitsubishi was one such company that began to offer advanced technology on in it’s mainstream and low-end cars. So much so was Mitsubishi at or near the forefront of the trend, that popular films like 1984’s Cannonball Run II, featured a supped-up Starion with missile launchers and a submarine mode. In reality much of what Mitsubishi was offering was much less exotic and more practical.
While the Galant would get most of the attention in the US, with the ground breaking all wheel drive turbo VR-4, it was the Lancer that laid the groundwork for what is now associated with Mitsubishi rally racing. The Lancer has been around since 1973, starting out as a homely rear wheel drive family car nudged between the larger Galant and any number of mini cars in the Mitsubishi range.
Americans got its first taste of the Lancer in the form of the Colt Galant and later the Plymouth Arrow. Although the Lancer range consisted of everything from four door sedan to hatch back coupe, it eventually became most associated with the boxy sedan in racing. The rear wheel drive layout combined with a strong and tunable 4 cylinder engines made them early favorites for rally racing. By 1980 turbocharged Lancers with 135 hp or more were available in Asian and European markets in EX, GSR or GT trim.
In 1981, a special Lancer called the EX 2000 Turbo was developed to be sold in Europe. In had road going versions of much of the technology that had made the Lancer so popular in rally racing circles including the new 4g63 engine. The intercooled turbocharged power plant had single overhead cams and eight-valves per cylinder. Later, a DOHC version would find life in the Galant VR-4 and Diamond Star coupes (Eclipse,Talon,Laser). The EX 2000 was impressive due to the fact that it was able to achieve considerable highway gas mileage (28 to 37 mpg) due to an electronically controlled fuel injection system, while making 168 hp. A five speed manual transmission was standard and reached a top speed of 125 mph by sending power to the rear wheels via a limited –slip differential. The rally version of the car produced 276 hp and was very successful, securing the Lancers reputation as a rally car favorite. Sales of the production car were limited, due mostly to emissions standards in Europe and Japan. The EX 2000 was also sold in Indonesia and was sometimes referred to as the EX 2000 GSR. Actual production dates seem to range from 1980 to 1983, but no definitive source on actual production numbers seems to exist (or I could not find them).
The EX 2000 largest contribution to the Lancer legacy is its influence on Evolution WRC cars of the 90’s and eventually today’s Evolution. Japanese cars no longer feel the need to wear their technical credentials on their sleeves. A new crop of alternative fuel cars might usher in a new era of door/fender advertising. ‘Flex fuel plug-in hybrid’ anyone?