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,
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.