CC Capsule: 1991 Mitsubishi GTO (Z16A) – Peak Mitsubishi

Was this the car that should have heralded a parallel universe wherein Mitsubishi played the role of the cool Japanese carmaker? I was still a bit young when this car was launched, so my question to those of you who do recollect the time, three decades ago, when this budget supercar burst on the scene, is: Did it feel like the dawn of a new era at Mitsubishi? Because that dawn sure turned to dusk pretty quickly.

The world knew it as the 3000GT, but this car was always known as the GTO in its country of birth. There had been other GTOs before this one in the Mitsubishi range – and, crucially, in the Ferrari and Pontiac ones as well. So they kept that name for the JDM and rebranded it for export markets, a trick carmakers have done since forever.

But beyond the name, the GTO symbolized a level of confidence hitherto unseen at Mitsubishi. This was their Corvette moment, a step towards rejuvenation and, perchance, overtaking Honda to become the third biggest Japanese carmaker. Of course, it was always going to be a challenge. For one thing, it’s not like Honda just sat pretty, twiddling their thumbs. They had become a big-time player, with interests in the US and Europe, they had the Acura brand, the all-new NSX – Honda were firing on all cylinders circa 1990.

Similarly, Mazda were in the process of launching a very ambitious multi-marque assault (which would end in catastrophe, but in 1990, nobody had a crystal ball to know that) to claim that bronze medal for themselves. So Mitsubishi Motors had to strike a decisive blow, and that’s part of what the GTO was meant to achieve. Sure, it arrived just one year after Mitsubishi quit making the Starion, but it took the pop-up headlamp sports coupe concept up a couple notches at least.

The recipe for the GTO called for a shortened Diamante platform with the DOHC 3-litre 6-cyl., either in 220hp standard or 280hp twin turbo guise, and mated to either a 4-speed auto or a 5-speed manual sending the power to all four corners. Some export cars were front-drive only, but in Japan, all GTOs were AWD. In 1993, the pop-up lights were ditched; Mitsubishi continued selling the GTO until 2001, but the great majority of the few I’ve seen here, just like our feature car, are pre-’93 models. It’s telling that Mitsubishi did not try to follow this GTO with anything as daring or high-end, as by the year 2000, they were in panic/survival mode. What a difference a decade makes.

Mitsubishi made close to 190,000 of these GTO/3000GTs, though I’m not sure how many stayed in Japan. The US had a great appetite for them, even so far as to stealthily re-body them as Dodges, but cars like these (and the aforementioned NSX, for example) sold very well only for the initial couple of years on the JDM, after which economic woes and newer toys virtually made them an export-only model. More for the rest of us, eh?


Related posts:


Curbside Classics: 1991-99 Mitsubishi 3000GT and 1991-96 Dodge Stealth – The King of Diamonds, by William Stopford

CC Capsule: 1995 Mitsubishi 3000GT SL – At Least It’s Not Red, by Jim Grey