1974 Mitsubishi Lancer 1600GSR at Geneva Motor Show

1974 Mitsubishi Lancer 1600GSR Safari Rally 01

The Geneva Motor Show is happening in Switzerland right now, and unless you’re into hideously modified exotics there’s not much of interest to the typical JNCer. Except, that is, if you happen to wander into the Mitsubishi booth where the the humble winner of the 1974 East African Safari Rally stands on display in honor of the Triple Diamond’s 40th anniversary in Europe. 

1974 Mitsubishi Lancer 1600GSR Safari Rally 05

In the late 1960s, Mitsubishi wanted to prove its mettle in the wide world of motorsport. Unlike its domestic rivals such as Toyota and Nissan however, they eschewed the overcrowded grids of circuit competition and focused instead on frame-pounding rallies. They had already campaigned Colts and Galants starting in 1967 and although victories were sporadic, the experience allowed the company to develop a winning formula when the 1973 Lancer debuted in Japan.

A sub-compact sedan, the Lancer looked positively plain-Jane compared to the modern, bewinged Evos that would follow. The base 1200 came with a 73-hp SOHC four and a four-speed manual to haul its just-over-1800-pound mass. A mid-level 1400GL fared slightly better with a 90-hp engine. The top-spec 1600GSR that provided the foundation for the rally racer, however, had 110 horses strapped to a fifth gear.

1974 Mitsubishi Lancer 1600GSR Safari Rally 04

Very little set the production 1600GSR apart from its race counterpart. The main difference was its modified single overhead cam and freer-flowing headers, helping the aluminum-topped mill produce an impressive 165hp. Aside from that, a rudimentary roll cage and 13-inch rims shod with off-road tires, the little dirt devil was bone stock. Which, if you think about it, makes it all the more mind-boggling that it downright owned the world’s most grueling rallies of the mid-70s.

Straight out of the box in ’73, Mitsubishi entered the Lancer in the eighth running of Southern Cross and captured a sweep of the top four places with driver Andrew Cowan at numero uno. But, the Australian rally wasn’t part of the official WRC calendar and Mitsu knew that if it wanted to grab the world’s attention it would need a win at an FIA-sanctioned event.

Thus, the car on display in Geneva was entered into the East African Safari Rally of 1974. A tortuous, 6000-kilometer five-day trek through the unpaved terrain of Kenya known as the “car-breaker,” drivers had to contend with not only flash floods and dust storms, but also the occasional wayward wildebeest. At the hands of Joginder “The Flying Sikh” Singh and David Doig, the Lancer charged straight into a first place finish.

Throughout the mid-70s, various A73 Lancers driven by Singh, Cowan and Kenjiro Shinozuka persisted in racking up numerous first place finishes at Southern Cross, Safari and other historic rallies like Ivory Coast and 1000 Lakes, often taking multiple podium positions and beating out far more powerful Porsche 911s and Lancia Stratos HFs. The Lancer’s durability and mastery of the Safari catapulted the car into hallowed circles in Africa where it was bestowed with the nickname “King of Cars.” Perhaps the proudest moment came when in 1976, Singh piloted the King to a championship finish while two other Lancers swept the remaining podium positions.

Photos courtesy of Ronan Glon of Ran When Parked.

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7 Responses to 1974 Mitsubishi Lancer 1600GSR at Geneva Motor Show

  1. pete240z says:

    Kudos to Mitsubishi for displaying this.

  2. wantyerknobby says:

    this skrumpy sedan is more remarkable than a gaggle of gt-r’s given mmc’s historical indifference to both it’s model history let alone motorsports. yay & boo at the same time

  3. E-AT_me says:

    When will this arrive in my showroom and what is the best financing i can get for it?

  4. Randy says:

    Neat little car.

    I’m obsessed with the tires…

  5. Dave says:

    Love this car. Really glad that they displayed it there, but it probably doesn’t get as much appreciation as it deserves. The 1600GSR name showcases the high-performance Lancer’s lineage and the funny switcharoo of the more recent trim names. Lancer GSR used to signify the high-performance range topper. The 4th-gen Lancer GSR had the engine and driventrain from the Galant VR-4, and from this the first Evolution was spawned as the homologation special. Earlier Evos were hence technically called “Lancer GSR Evolution” (vs. Lancer Evolution, with GSR as a trim). Nowadays GSR doesn’t mean that much, but it used to equate high-performance.

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