Equus Celestial – Part One

Starring role.

Image: Car Domain

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[1] 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[2] 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.

Image: Car and Driver

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.

Image: Car and Driver

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[3], 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.

Second generation. Image: poptechmotive.com

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.

Image: Consumerguide.com

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.

[1] The Pegasus in question was so named because of a solar eclipse which coincided with his birth.

[2] The GSX version was 10 mm smaller.

[3] Which incurred a higher tax rate in Japan

Data Sources: Car and Driver/ oldconceptcars.com/ Mitsubishi.com

Author: Andrew Miles

Beyond hope there lie dreams; after those, custard creams?

6 thoughts on “Equus Celestial – Part One”

  1. Good morning, Andrew. A motor not often seen and probably even less remembered, that’s the first thought that comes up when I think of the Eclipse.

    There was a rather tired looking convertible version in my area, same color combination as the one in the photo. The convertible top beige color had turned into some rather nasty shade of white over time, something which didn’t help the appearance of that particular example.

    Something must have gone wrong when you looked for the dimensions: it’s too short and while I agree most cars are a little too wide now, the Eclipse is actually a bit wider than your typo suggests 😉 The correct numbers are 4390 millimeters in length and 1690 millimeters in width.

  2. Good morning Andrew. The Mk1 Eclipse is a good example of that late 1980s school of Japanese auto design which produced some lovely, smooth ‘aero’ shapes.

    I was intrigued by your description of the rear lighting arrangement and, you’re right, it is a bit messy:

    Japanese cars of that era often had rear fog lamps crudely tacked on (because, if I recall correctly, they weren’t mandatory in Japan) but there’s no excuse for not incorporating the reversing lamps into the large rear light bar.

    The Mk2 Eclipse is much less satisfactory to my eyes, loking rather bloated by comparison:

    The way the upper DLO line becomes concave over the rear side window looks rather odd to my eyes. (An interesting idea, nonetheless.)

  3. Disappointingly Normal, Illinois is only so named because it grew around a teacher training college – a “Normal School” in US and UK usage at the time.

  4. Since a Chrysler platform is mentioned, I assume these cars had little in common with the FTO (which was one of my favourite Mitsubishis).

  5. Omnipresent cars in my young adult years until they weren’t; I cannot recall the last time I saw a first generation DSM anything, and the second generation cars don’t seem far behind in outright rarity. I actually saw a red post-facelift RS earlier this summer and thought to myself I hadn’t seen one in ages. These were still the types of vehicles my social circle gravitated towards at the time, and I have a friend who had a silver 1995 GS, his sister had a green 1996 GS, and his parents owned black and red GS-T Spyders at differing points as well. The turbo cars were ridiculously fast for what they were, but even before a certain movie franchise catapulted these cars into a certain type of infamy, other drivers were aware of this facet and would try and goad you into doing stupid things constantly. They got used up and subsequently threw out pretty quickly by the time secondhand prices made them obtainable to people attracted to such antics. The naturally aspirated cars were still fun and good handlers, but not particularly quick compared to their contemporaries. I owned a 1995 Toyota Celica GT coupe at the same time as my friend had his ‘95 GS, and the Celica could, would, and did show him its back side if so desired (and my car was not particularly quick, either). Comparing the two was actually quite the contrast; the Eclipse was ridiculously cramped in the back “seats” with nonexistent head or leg room if you were over say 5’7”, material quality was passable but hardly refined, and all the Eclipses were loud. The Celica was downright luxurious by comparison and the rear was realistically useable for grown adults, something the Eclipse couldn’t emulate if you insisted on wearing a seatbelt. I have no experience with a first generation car, but I do not know how those managed to be smaller still (!) in interior accommodation. That said, the Eclipse was much cheaper, and trounced nearly every other (all?) competitors at the time in sales. A basic RS with A/C was a big step up from a typical economy car of the day and was not a significant outlay more to obtain before factoring in Mitsubishi dealers willing to negotiate on price; that did not happen with a typical Celica, Integra, or Prelude transaction. With that all in play it is not hard to see why people gravitated towards them. They looked great to these eyes. I don’t have even remotely similar fondness for the earlier ones, particularly the hidden headlamp examples; they instantly looked dated the moment the 1990 Celica arrived, and a complete absence of airbags during that entire generation’s run was a bridge too far even for me at the time. Another friend owned a third generation car, but I will save my contrasts with that example for the forthcoming post. Many, many memories were made in and around these cars for me over the years.

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