25 YEAR CLUB: The Mitsubishi Eclipse is officially a Japanese nostalgic car

1990 Mitsubishi Eclipse GSX

The Mitsubishi Eclipse was launched in 1989 as a 1990 model. Known as the DSM cars by enthusiasts, the Plymouth Laser, the Eagle Talon, and the Mitsubishi Eclipse were a combined project between Chrysler and Mitsubishi built under the program name of Diamond Star Motors (DSM). These were sports cars designed for the American market, with two of the affiliated manufacturers being American marques but using the assembly line techniques of Mitsubishi in a joint-venture plant. To fully understand the DSM, a quick history lesson is in order. 

From the mid-1970s to the dawn of grunge music, Chrysler’s main strategy for growing small, fuel-efficient car market was this: import Mitsubishi products and sell them as captive imports while clinging to the hopes of a muscle car power war resurgence. Results were mixed. After narrowly avoiding implosion with a $1.5 billion (that’s 1979 dollars) government bailout in 1979, the company experienced a legendary turnaround at the hands of CEO Lee Iacocca. By the late 1980s, Chrysler was more self-sufficient and in better financial straits than at any time since the OPEC oil embargo, thanks to a portfolio of popular K-Cars, Iacocca’s segment-busting minivans, and rebadged Mitsus,

1990 Mitsubishi Eclipse Stock Photo

However, Mitsubishi had always wanted to sell in America under its own brand and after it established a its own US dealer network in 1982, this partnership was becoming strained. As an example, when entering a Dodge dealership in 1984 you could buy both a turbocharged Dodge Omni GLH and a Mitsubishi-made Dodge Colt GTS Turbo. With two options occupying the same place in the hot hatch segment, this partnership clearly needed a better thought-out strategy.

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In 1985, plans were drafted for the new partnership and it was coined Diamond Star Motors (DSM) based off of a description of the combined brand logos. With this new strategy Chrysler and Mitsubishi would co-produce platforms together in their new plant to be built in Normal, Illinois.

1990 Mitsubishi Eclipse GST 01

The joint venture spurred a sports car that read like a greatest hits of everything desired in an 80s dream machine: a native 2+2 layout that wasn’t a stretched out afterthought, driver-centric cabin layout and controls, four-wheel disc brakes, turbos and, of course, flip-up headlights. Mechanically a turbocharged, high-revving four cylinder engine would reside under the hood, coupled to an optional AWD layout. TKTK It was a dream scenario.

By late 1989, the new plant was pumping out production sports coupes based off of that idea, available to a range of budgets thanks to several components shared with the Galant. An AWD turbocharged Mitsubishi Eclipse Turbo, for example, rang in at under $17,000. That relatively low price point for what you got also came with a stock quarter mile time of 16.2 seconds. Note that an IROC-Z, which was around the same price range, had its interior panels rattle themselves down the quarter mile at 14.5 seconds and that was the pinnacle of muscle car performance at that time.

1992 Mitsubishi Eclipse 02

As the tuner movement of the 1990s gained steam, the DSM was an early golden child of the import drag racing scene. With the iron 4G43 block at its heart and a capable AWD system, by the mid-90s a quarter-mile run of well below 12 seconds was readily attainable.

During the 1997 Diamond Star Shootout at Norwalk Raceway Park in Connecticut, Tym Switzer ran the first 10-second quarter mile pass in a DSM at 10.922 seconds. That’s quick by today’s standards already, but compare it with Adam Saruwatari’s purpose-built FD RX-7 winning a fastest time trophy at Battle of the Imports that same year with 10.89 seconds, you see just how blisteringly fast it was. By the turn of the century, the DSM would see 8 second ETs from the likes of John Shepherd and David Buschur.

Mitsubishi Eclipse Fast and the Furious

Just after Y2K, the import scene was graced with the first Fast and the Furious movie, which featured a second-generation Eclipse. Suddenly what was a growing underground movement quickly became en vogue and every boy racer needed a DSM so they could build their own 10-second car. Due the relatively low entry cost of the then-nearly-10-year-old first-gen, the lion’s share of early cars were subjugated to aluminum wing and neon light treatment. Luckily, some of them were spared and either kept stock or modified with a purpose, that purpose often being drag racing.

Mitsubishi Eclipse period correct

The DSM remained popular with tuners, gracing most issues of Super Street and Import Tuner until the mid-2000s. By then, Chrysler’s dying brands had taken two of the triplets with them — first the Plymouth Laser at the conclusion of the first-gen, then the Eagle Talon at the end of the second — left the Eclipse as the last man standing.

Once Mitsubishi brought the long-awaited Evolution VIII to America, though, it seemed as if the world suddenly forgot about the DSM. Even Mitsubishi seemed to forget, phoning in an larger, floatier and what is essentially a Galant with two fewer doors for the third generation. True fans of the chassis consider the first two generations the keepers.

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So if you wanted a DSM, what would you want to look for? Naturally, you have your basics of finding a collector car — biggest engine with best transmission — so a Eclipse GSX or Talon TSi. In stock form, DSMs are some of the best-built Mitsubishi products of any era and age quite well.  Chances are you’ll be finding one that isn’t in perfect condition, unlike the Kidney Car we posted back in March.

1990 Mitsubishi Eclipse interior

However, since you will most likely be purchasing a car of less-than-concours quality, the first question should be, “Was it modified?” The likelihood of this being affirmative is higher than with almost any other Japanese nostalgic car, Checking the condition of the engine is a must as it probably has seen many a spirited jaunt down a quarter mile. Are the aftermarket parts high quality or cheap eBay brands? If someone is willing to drop $800 on intercooler piping they are more likely to have put more effort elsewhere into the car. As always, proceed with caution and a trained eye.

1992 Mitsubishi Eclipse 01

Cosmetically, the most common issues are from fading paint, and in some situations the plastic rear bumper cover can get wavy if the rear bumper foam has deteriorated or has been removed. Rust is most likely to occur behind the rear wheel wells, along the shock towers, at the rear hatch area and at the bottom of the driver side door.

It is definitely worth noting the elephant in the room with these cars, the urban legend of “crank walk” and how it supposedly plagues every DSM. I will say, bluntly, the claims of crank walk are greatly exaggerated. The issue stems from weak thrust washers on the second-generation DSMs, and only affects around an estimated 2 to 3 percent of DSMs. It is significantly more likely you’ll find a DSM with head gasket or fuel issues.

1990 Mitsubishi Eclipse GSX 04

Now, 25 years on, Japanese cars are gaining traction in the collector car market so it seems only fair that we honor the DSM because of how important the car has been to the import movement. Sadly, the groundbreaking Chrysler-Mitsubishi factory that birthed the car is now reaching the end of its life. In September, Mitsubishi announced plans to close down the Normal, Illinois plant after 25 years of operation, over 3.2 million cars built, and one unsuccessful attempt at finding a buyer.

1990 Mitsubishi Eclipse GSX 05

But while the plant will die, the car lives on. Its out-of-the-box potential, starring role in the original of a blockbuster franchise and legions of loyal followers have made the Mitsubishi Eclipse synonymous with sport compact car. We hope to see more well-preserved examples coming out of the woodwork at upcoming gatherings. Or, since so few DSMs are show cars, perhaps we’ll see more of them sporting JNC inkans and 25 Year Club daruma at the drag strip.

 

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20 Responses to 25 YEAR CLUB: The Mitsubishi Eclipse is officially a Japanese nostalgic car

  1. Ant said:

    Interesting reading about the DSM – it’s a car that was never sold in the UK and would probably have struggled to find a market if it was.

    The coupe market was pretty strong here, if not in outright performance then certainly in style, and to the average buyer the Mitsubishi name would have struggled to compete in such a style-led segment.

    We also started getting Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution models much sooner than the US, and favourable exchange rates meant the Mitsubishi FTO became the brand’s coupe of choice around a similar period. All that means the extent of most of my DSM knowledge comes from the first F&F movie, and internet tales of crank walk!

    It does make me think the next few years are going to feel quite odd though, as more rounded 1990s shapes pass the 25-year mark. I guess this feeling is why people ten or twenty years older than myself still struggle to see some 1980s and even 1970s cars as classics…

  2. Tommy said:

    Japanese in name. American by design. Give me an FTO/GTO/Lan Evo/VR4 or any other “real” jnc any day, the Eclipse will always be an American car in my eyes.

  3. Sammy B said:

    Dang now I miss ours. My dad bought a GSX in November 1989. We sold it, bone stock, about 5 years ago and at 92K miles. I have a feeling it would have gone for a good bit more now.

    Was really a fun car, though far from perfect

  4. Scotty G said:

    I rarely see these cars on the road anymore, I wonder what happened to them all?

    I’ve never noticed how much the car in the bottom two photos looks like a Subaru SVX until just now. Man, that’s weird, a total doppelganger.

    I absolutely love that red, ’84 Dodge Colt Turbo! Not to mention the slogan, “Imports With A Purpose.” HA, like they didn’t have a purpose before Chrysler got involved? Classic.

  5. Drew84 said:

    They are out there, I still own one.

  6. Jaceracer said:

    We had a 92 Eagle Talon and a 1999 Mitsubishi Eclipse. The Talon was the first car I ever drove. My sister took me to the mountains and let me loose in the driver seat with the manual transmission. Eventually the paint started to peel so my sister let it become my first sports car. After the car quit running I upgraded to the newer Eclipse.
    The Exlipse was such a cool looking car. I would get pulled over just so the cops could check it out. Everyone thought it was fast by the looks, but I learned quickly that there were many cars that were faster. I modified the car with exhaust, intake, headers, coilovers. Once I broke the shift cable when drag racing a Lexus IS300. I took it to autocross to try it out. The old WWII veterans hated the car, said I was a traitor, and the car was made by the jap enemies. They drove Miatas.

  7. Power Tryp said:

    I have never seen a single clean example of a first or second gen car in real life. Every one seems to find it’s way into the hands of an under 25 with no mechanical knowledge and then flogged until the head gasket goes.

    I am glad there is a solid enthusiast community for the DSM cars because without it I am certain there would be even less on the road than there currently are.

    Cool cars and maybe with less of them around hopefully they will be seen as something more than just a toy.

  8. Tom said:

    I have a mint 1991 Eagle Talon Tsi 50k original miles and I will never sell her! Best car I ever owned and it will only grow in value.

  9. steve said:

    Facepalm moment: I never figured out where the “Star” in Diamond Star Motors came from until your article mentioned Chysler’s Pentastar logo. LOL

  10. Steve said:

    Thrust washers?

  11. Curt Gendron said:

    Nice article. I’ve seen the history of this car through all of the moments you mentioned. You hit the nail on the head with this write up. Good job.

  12. melvin said:

    In Holland there are several original and fine examples offered. Btw Diamante/Sigma/Magna turns 25 too about now.

  13. bert said:

    A friend of mine back in the nineties had a first gen Eclipse. Beat EVERYBODY. While the guys in the muscle cars were still at the line roasting tires, his four wheels would grab the pavement and he was gone! And when they finally caught up to him in their low reving tork monsters, his turbo would kick in, and he would be……..that’s right…..GONE. I think that Eclipse and another friends Supra, are what really had me switching loyalties!

  14. Alex said:

    I see a pretty much mint and unmodified first generation one most days outside where I’m living in Taiwan. It’s probably the only one I’ve seen here and its pretty rare to see cars that old looking so nice here. We never got the Eclipse in New Zealand so this is the first time I’ve seen one in the flesh and it looks much nicer than in photos.

  15. JovaTech said:

    My favorite gen is the 1g DSM.

    4g63 turbo, awd and sporty look.

    The 2g – up is a Chrysler and a rice machine. (No hate)

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