1991 Mitsubishi 3000 GT VR4
6-cyl. 2972cc/300hp MPFI Twin Turbo
With an experienced team and a lot of data.
Japan was fertile ground for sports car design in the late 1980s, and it was out of this environment that Mitsubishi created the GTO, named in honor of the old Galant GTO of the 1970s. In the North American market, it would be called the Mitsubishi 3000GT, and it replaced the Mitsubishi Starion as the company’s top tier performance model and the company’s flagship for the entire decade. Like the rival offerings from Nissan, Toyota, Honda and Mazda, the Mitsubishi was crammed with the kind of cutting edge performance technology that you ordinarily had to go to Europe to find, and it was big, fast and pretty.
Mitsubishi designed a platform to showcase all of the high-tech goodies but one that could also be configured as a more affordable base model. Base cars therefore got a front-wheel drive setup with a normally aspirated 3.0-liter DOHC V-6. From 1997, though, base cars used a single cam, lower compression version of the V-6 with a serious drop in performance. SL models were the luxury versions and received features like a sunroof, antilock brakes, electronically controlled suspension (ECS), leather seats and cruise control. It had the DOHC V-6 for the entire production run, and both base and SL models and came with an overdrive 5-speed manual as standard or with an optional automatic.
The real prize in the 3000GT family, though, is of course the VR4. Its 3.0-liter DOHC V-6 featured twin turbochargers and intercoolers to produce 300 hp and 307 lb-ft of torque. The VR4 also featured full-time four-wheel drive and four-wheel steering. From 1994-99, this was raised to 320 hp and 315 lb-ft. 1994-99 cars also moved from a Getrag 5-speed manual to a 6-speed version of the same gearbox. Earlier VR4s also had “active aero”, which included an electronically activated rear spoiler that tilted at 45 mph and a front air dam that lowered at the same speed. The earlier cars also featured a two-mode exhaust system and electronically controlled suspension (ECS). Visually, these earlier cars can be distinguished by pop-up headlights and a cap on either side of the hood that covered the ECS controllers.
From 1994, the 3000GT got a revised bumpers and side vents as well as fixed headlights. The two-mode exhaust system was gone after 1994, ECS was gone after 1995 and active aero was gone after 1996. For the 1998, the car got a new front bumper and different rear wing, while in 1999 it received another new front bumper, new headlights and a new rear wing.
Unfortunately, the 3000GT suffered from poor timing in its introduction, just like its rivals. A slowdown in the Japanese economy affected sales, and unfavorable exchange rates resulted in high prices in the all-important North American market. By the later years, the somewhat pedestrian base model cost as much as the high-tech VR4 had only a few years earlier. After 1999, the model was discontinued in the U.S.
From a collectability standpoint, the limited production VR4 Spyder is the most desirable. Less than 900 were imported to the U.S. Otherwise, any un-modified, low mileage VR4 would be a real find, and a cheaper alternative would be the 1991-96 Dodge Stealth, a mechanically identical model and one of the many neat cars to come out of the collaboration between Mitsubishi and Chrysler. Unlike the other Diamond Star Motors cars, though, the Stealth was built in Japan. It is nearly identical in every respect, including performance, but commands a slightly lower price.
The Mitsubishi 3000GT was the company’s last serious performance car in the U.S. until the Lancer Evolution VIII hit our shores in 2003. Along with the A80 Toyota Supra, FD Mazda RX-7, Honda NSX and Z32 Nissan 300ZX, it’s part of an unforgettable era in Japanese car design and one of the most memorable cars of the decade thanks to its advanced technology, good looks and serious performance per dollar.