COAL Chapter 12: 1996 Eagle Talon – My Last Coupe

1996 Eagle Talon1996 Eagle Talon ESi

When the Toyota pickup died I decided that I was ready to buy a new car.  Anticipating that we would (hopefully) soon be starting a family my then fiancée suggested that this would probably be my last chance to buy a “fun” car.  I looked at several different coupes and then took her to test drive my top three choices, the Honda Civic, the Acura Integra and the Eagle Talon since I wanted to buy a car that either one of us could drive.  A tilt/telescoping steering wheel was essential.  My heights in my torso, her heights in her legs.  Consequently she sits further from the dash.

The Honda Civic & the Acura Integra sold in the states were not badge twins but shared the same driveline and many components.  The Eagle Talon was a badge twin of the Mitsubishi Eclipse and substantially less expensive.  My brother had bought a Gen 1 Eagle Talon TSi when he sold me the pickup.  That did not persuade me to avoid the Talon, but I did opt for the ESi (front wheel drive and no turbo as opposed to AWD with a turbo on the TSi).  Mine was well equipped and included the sunroof that my fiancée wanted.  It had a very competent 5 speed manual transmission and a 16 valve DOHC 4 cylinder engine

16 valve DOHC 4 cylinder enginePhoto Credit 

This turned out to be a very economical car. rates the Talon at 19 city, 29 highway in the configuration I owned.  I kept a mileage log through 229,619 miles.  At that point I was running at a lifetime average of 31.355 miles / gallon.  A lot of those miles were highway miles on cruise control at the speed limit.  I’m a bit of a hyper miler.  I’ve exceeded the EPA sticker with all of my daily drivers.  It was also a fun car and I managed to avoid many of the common issues that these cars were prone to.  Many of the engines in this generation of Eagle Talon failed at less than 100,000 miles.  I’ve always been diligent about routine maintenance (excluding care of the exterior finish as can be seen in the photo above).

The clutch failed just past 50,000 miles.  I replaced it (using the lift in a friends gas station) with the upsized improved clutch that the 1997 models came with and replaced the timing belt twice.  The first time just past the recommended 90,000 mile interval (at 90,132 miles).  The second time at 163,818 miles (a little early but I needed a new water pump and the timing belt had to come off to replace the water pump).  The other major repair was a head job in June 2006 just shy of 134,000 miles.  The head job was the result of an overheating incident back in July 2000 at around 76,000 miles where I’d warped the head.  It wasn’t bad at first but nearly 60,000 miles later the oil leakage was starting to increase and I was hoping to get a couple more years out of the car.

I considered buying a new car and went so far as to test drive both a $15,000 Honda Civic and a Toyota Prius.  My back of the envelop math at the time said that if gas averaged $5/gal for 100,000 miles the ownership & operating cost of the Civic would match the ownership cost of the Prius.  I figured that if I could get another couple of years out of the Talon I’d come out ahead.  In the end the Talon survived until May 2014 and 246,969 miles.  The $1900 head job was money well spent.

As can be seen in the pictures below that I found on the web at It’s a good looking car.  Per his blog post he only kept his car for about 18 months and 16,500 miles.,

I expected the Talon to be my forever car, but did hedge my bet by buying it’s eventual replacement on Mar 32nd, 2013 (not a typo, the date will be explained in chapter 18).  I ended up owning my Talon just under 17 years in four cities.  I bought it in Houston in 1996, drove it to Baltimore in 2000 when I moved there, moved again to the Wynnewood, PA (just outside Philadelphia) in 2003, brought it back to Houston in 2004 when I started a new job and then moved to Bellaire, TX (still basically Houston) when I went to work for NASA in 2006 and my family moved back to Texas.  The overheating incident was on the trip to Baltimore transporting our two cats when the upper radiator hose failed.

In addition to the cross country moves I made several multi day trips of 1000 miles or more, but most of the miles I put on the car were commuting.  While living in Baltimore I had a 120 mile round trip commute 3 days a week.  In Houston from July 2006 through May 2014 my daily commute (5 days a week) was 70 miles round trip.  Approaching a quarter million miles I still found it comfortable, even for longer trips.

In February 2014 I was taking my son to a scout meeting when a pickup truck backed out of a driveway into the right side of my Talon. My son was sitting in the front passenger seat.  It was a low speed collision and no one was injured.

Right Side Damage

Right Side Damage

I took the car to my mechanic / body shop two days later to get it inspected.  As bad as it looks the damage was all cosmetic.  The door still latched and locked.  The axle was untouched.  With a fresh safety inspection I kept driving it while the other drivers insurance processed the claim.

I wanted to keep the car and repair it.  The insurance company was insistent that I’d need a salvage title.  The Texas Vehicle Code explicitly states that a salvage motor vehicle is one that has damage to a major component part (such as a door or fender) to the extent that the cost of repairs, including parts and labor other than the cost of materials and labor for repainting the motor vehicle and excluding sales tax on the total cost of repairs exceeds the actual cash value of the motor vehicle immediately before the damage.  The costs in their estimate that meet this definition were just over $700 less than their determination of the actual cash value.  My body shops estimate was a couple hundred dollars more but still less than the actual cash value.  After a several month argument they finally agreed (verbally) that I could keep possession of the car without obtaining a salvage title.  Two days later the timing belt failed 🙁

Timing Gear Timing Gear

For those of you unfamiliar with this motor it’s an interference motor.  That’s a fancy way of saying that the pistons and valves share the same volume.  When the pistons are at the top of their stroke the valves are closed.  When the timing belt fails the pistons and valves collide.  At best I had bent valves on this tired old motor that had greatly exceeded the average lifetime of it’s kin.

The donor vehicle that I was going to obtain the replacement door and fender skin from had a serviceable engine (its damage was on the left rear and almost mirrored mine).  I didn’t have the time or space to perform the engine swap so I ended up stripping the easily resalable parts and scrapping the rest.  The salvage yard paid me just a few dollars less than the insurance company retained for allowing me to retain possession.  It took a couple of years but I eventually cleared about $1000 on the removed parts.  The insurance proceeds were used to buy a tow vehicle (chapter 19) and 16′ tandem axle trailer.