Curbside Classic: 1992 Mitsubishi Eclipse – A Victim Of Its Target Demographic

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(first posted 4/19/2013)     You try finding an intact gen-one Eclipse; it took me months, and this one isn’t even one of the hidden-headlight early ones (1990-1991). Forget about finding a Turbo; they’ve all been riced, diced, sliced and mashed into oblivion. Was there ever more of a young-guy car than this?  I’ll go out on a limb and say that the turbo AWD version of this (and its Plymouth Laser and Eagle Talon DSM clones) was the closest thing there was to a four-wheeled crotch rocket in its day.

It may be a bit on the young side for Curbside Classics, but I figured I’d better grab this Eclipse now, because it may well be the last one in town, especially since its driver is a young guy who works at this convenience store. High testosterone levels lead to several types of driving, but not generally one that pertains to preservation. The Eclipse is the victim of its target demographic.

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The fruit of the then-fertile Diamond Star Motors (DSM) joint venture with Chrysler, the Eclipse and its Laser and Eagle buddies hit the scene in 1990–the height of the market for small sporty coupes–and they made quite a splash. The Turbo Eclipse made C/D’s Ten Best Cars list its first year out, and stayed there every year through 1992. Based loosely on the Galant, the Eclipse trio benefited from Mitsubishi’s experience with competition cars, which dated well back to the Seventies, and from the more definitive 1987 Galant VR-4 that led to the Evo series. The DSM trio didn’t get the unadulterated Evo engine tune (247 hp), but the 180-195 horses it did have was a good start, although I suspect very few of them ended up with those numbers.  How many Eclipses gave their life to the experiment of “lets see what happens when we raise the boost…now some more…and a just a little bit more… oh, so that’s what happens!”

But the car was a fun experiment while it lasted–and was for its maker as well. The DSM trio were popular sellers, but it was a long slide downhill, especially after the end of the similarly-sized gen-two version in 1999. The subsequent combination of growth, bloat and indifference makes it very reasonable to wonder today if they even make the Eclipse anymore. I assume so, but I can’t be bothered to verify it. In any case, the Eclipse has been permanently eclipsed by Subaru WRX/STIs and, of course, the Lancer Evo, although their combined sales are probably a small fraction of those of the Eclipse and its friends in their heyday.

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Even the gen-two Eclipse is becoming an endangered species–for reasons this not-atypical example makes all too obvious.

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I keep running across solid old (non-Eclipse) Mitsubishi cars, and the stats from a German reliability post I did a while back reminded me what a vibrant company it once was, and how well built their cars were. I don’t blame Mitsubishi for the lack of Eclipses, Talons and Lasers on the streets; we’ve already covered that at CC. Or were their U.S. made DSM cars not as good as genuine Nipponese models?

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If anyone had told me, even as recently as when this car was made, that Mitsubishi’s future was anything but rosy, I wouldn’t have believed it. But perhaps chasing the turbosterone and sub-prime financing demographic wasn’t such a hot idea after all.