Depending on one’s viewpoint, celestial eclipses can be viewed as either a beautiful or foreboding event. They are a covering shadow, something which could easily be applied as a metaphor for this Japanese born motor car, produced in the USA. A further metaphor: In 1764, an English race horse named Eclipse hacked up (comfortably winning in racing parlance) 18 races in 17 months. Owing to his winning ways, competing racehorse owners would refuse to run against him. Eclipse was subsequently put to stud with his descendants going on to win many future prestigious horse races.
Mitsubishi would go on to shift just over 900,000 units of their Eclipse coupé across four generations over twenty two years, an admirable tally from a story which began in 1989. But in order to understand the form, we must first rewind the clock back to 1970 when Chrysler took a 15% stake in the Chiyoda-based manufacturer. This allowed for a strategy to develop selling cars wearing red diamonds as not only Chrysler but also Dodge and Plymouth.
By the early ’80s, with Chrysler annually importing over 100,000 Mitsubishis, the Japanese carmaker looked towards garnering a larger slice of their own pie, opening a wound that would require significant investment to (temporarily) heal. With every Japanese import discounted from Chrysler’s quota, 1985 saw the creation of Diamond Star Motors. DSM, a combination of the three red diamonds and the Pentastar, opened a brand new factory in the wonderfully named Illinois town of Normal. Production-ready for 1988, with an annual capacity of 240,000 cars, the first Eclipse would leave the starting gate in 1989.
Obscure the badge and even enthusiasts would hesitate at distinguishing a Mitsubishi Eclipse from a Plymouth Laser, or Eagle Talon. A handsome two door machine that seated four (though technically a 2+2 configuration), this front engined, front wheel drive liftback coupé seemed to fit nicely into the American market for fashionable, more compact and fuel efficient cars. Ten millimetres short of four metres in length, this Chrysler D platform-based coupé was 1,069 mm wide, with a height of 1,310 mm and a wheelbase of 2,470 mm.
Five trim levels opened the Eclipse’s account; the Base model equipped with a somewhat breathless SOHC, 92 bhp 1.8 litre four cylinder (4G37) to shift 1,145 Kgs. The GS moniker saw upgraded equipment levels, whereas the DOHC GS arrived with a two litre Sirius (4G63) mill. The GS Turbo (4G63T, 100 Kgs heavier than base) and the GSX AWD (1,404 Kgs) came on stream for late ‘89, with both variants good for around 190bhp depending on transmission choice. 0-60 times lay under seven seconds and also propelled the higher end Eclipse into Car and Driver’s 10 Best to Drive list for four consecutive years with “Enough performance to embarrass a 944.”
Resembling a shortened 3000GT, the early Eclipse model’s party pieces included pop-up headlamps and a driver’s side bonnet power bulge. The Eclipse’s rear was dominated by the ski-ramp spoiler and full length light bar which thankfully averted the eyes from the square back-up lights and accessory shop-looking rear fog light placement. Otherwise, this wedge shaped bolide blended nicely into the Nineties traffic flow.
A 1992 refresh ditched the pop-up lamps for slim, acute fared-in units. Argue amongst yourselves over which iteration looked best, but for this author’s two pen’oth, it was pop-up’s all the way. The previous year had seen Mitsubishi purchase Chrysler’s half of DSM. By ‘93, the Pentastar sold off their 15% equity and on 1st July 1995 the business rebranded entirely: MMMA, The Mitsubishi Motors Manufacturing of America.
Car and Driver subjected their former favourite steed to a late 1992 comparison test. Against the Honda Prelude Si, Ford Probe GT, Mazda MX-6 and VW’s Corrado, the Eclipse GSX posted only fourth place. “The Jack of all trades is greying at the temples”, they observed, as turbo lag, poor fuel economy, a gruff engine note and simply better rivals began to eclipse the Eclipse – the Probe being victorious.
Mitsubishi then generated an internal design competition the new for ‘95 second generation Eclipse. Yugoslavian born but Ohio raised Dragan Vukanovic (external design, now at Hyundai) alongside Hawaiian, Amy Hiroshige (internal) overcame their Japanese competitors. “The Eclipse is a car for my generation and its market. I could literally design this car for myself,” exclaimed Horoshige on backing the right horse.
Less cuneal than the original, the Eclipse Mk2, now saddled upon Chrysler’s PJ platform, had filled out accordingly. Now measuring 4,370 mm, and 1,740 mm wide, yet with a lower than previous height of 1,279 mm. The wheelbase extended to 2,510mm. The cabochon bodywork now a 0.29 co-efficient in its cab-forward stance. Interior space and ergonomics had also been improved upon, with contemporary reports of impressive driving characteristics, along with youthful appeal and comparable ticket prices.
The base 1.8 litre had been consigned to the knackers yard in favour of the Chrysler-sourced 420A 2 litre, 140 bhp, four cylinder engine. Natural aspiration took care of the 141 bhp 2.4 litre (4G64) whereas a turbocharger helped develop 210 bhp via the 4G64T. Trim levels now included the name Eclipse before adding RS (which thus became the base model in mid-1996), GS, GS-T and range topping GSX, the latter once more with all wheel drive. Mid ‘96 also revealed the cloth-topped convertible, named Spyder. Available in both GS and GS-T iterations, neither the Chrysler mill nor AWD was available on roof-dropping versions.
Mitsubishi maintained progress – a 1997 refresh saw more aggressive nose treatments, larger spoilers for the top end models and a restyled rear lighting and bumper area, along with internal trim tweaks. This version of the Eclipse outlived the identical but for badges siblings; the Plymouth Laser put out to pasture in 1994 with the Eagle Talon retired permanently in 1998.
Part two will follow shortly.
 The Pegasus in question was so named because of a solar eclipse which coincided with his birth.
 The GSX version was 10 mm smaller.
 Which incurred a higher tax rate in Japan
Data Sources: Car and Driver/ oldconceptcars.com/ Mitsubishi.com