In motorsport history, there are countless periods of success that manufacturers or teams have enjoyed. It happens time and time again within disciplines, where victories flow with ease. What is decidedly rarer though, is cross-discipline domination, where a manufacturer is on top in different facets of the sport.
In the late-1990s, Mitsubishi strode the rally world as kings.
From the ice-covered mountain passes outside Monte Carlo to the blistering expanses of the Sahara Desert, the three-pointed diamond machines proved untouchable. The World Rally Championship? Easy. Four drivers’ titles on the hop from 1996 to 1999 as well as a sole manufacturer title in 1998.
But what about Rally Raid and the fearsome challenge of the Dakar Rally? Twelve victories on the world’s toughest event from 1985 to 2007 speaks for itself, but 11 wins in 16 years from 1992 onwards is about as dominant as you can be. Times were good for Mitsubishi, and competition success rolled over into their production car world.
But walk into a Mitsubishi dealership today, and it wouldn’t be unexpected to feel utter disappointment at the current lineup. That is, if you can even find a Mitsubishi dealership. In the UK and Ireland there are none. In Japan and the United States, you have the option of an Eclipse-badged crossover, the Outlander SUV or the Mirage compact. That’s it.
To make things even more depressing, had you strolled into a Mitsubishi showroom in the late-’90s, you would have had the choice of a Mirage, the FTO, an Eclipse, the wild-looking Galant, the dependable Lancer or a Pajero/Shogun for some off-roading. There was a genuinely good sports car in the GTO as well, while the whole range was peppered with performance models like the Mirage Cyborg, the FTO GPX and the Galant VR-4.
Even typing that last paragraph is mind-melting, such was the depth of the Mitsubishi model range 25 years ago compared to now.
But there are two halo models that existed in the 1998 lineup that were truly exceptional machines, and to stand and look at the pair today is incredible.
1998/1999 was a special time for Mitsubishi, as explained already, with unprecedented success on the WRC and Dakar. This flowed directly to the consumer when a pair of amazing homologation specials were unleashed upon the world.
While the Evolution name had existed alongside the Lancer since 1992, it was the Evo VI that is rightly lauded as the pinnacle of the model. Aggressive from nearly every angle, this was pure function designed for special stage victory. Wings, vents and openings are peak Evo, and when comparing the styling to an Impreza of the same era, it’s obvious how far Mitsubishi amped up what was once a basic four-door sedan.
The Evo we are looking at today is a JDM car that was exported to Canada in 2016 where it was bought by its current owner, Glen. When an opportunity for Glen to move back home to Ireland in 2021 came up, the Lancer was loaded into a shipping container to start another chapter in its life.
Walking around the incredibly well-preserved original paintwork, it’s obvious the car has been cared for throughout its years. Externally, a set of Yokohama Advan Racing RG wheels in a 17×8.5-inch fitment all round really sets things off; the black and gold contrast is utterly timeless. Wrapped in Michelin Pilot Sport 4 rubber and sitting on Tein coilovers, the Evo is rapid down the countless lanes that surround its new home in the Irish countryside.
Such is the extent that Mitsubishi went to in originally speccing the Evo VI, when modifying, much of the original equipment can be completely retained or just enhanced in some way. In Glen’s car, the brakes are the factory Brembos, but now benefit from Goodridge braided lines and Winmax W3 pads.
Stepping inside, it’s a festival of mid-’90s black plastic, but that is the remarkable feature of many homologation specials. From the driver’s eye, things aren’t far removed from the base model, although the addition of Recaro seats and a Momo wheel from factory gives a few clues to the Evo’s underpinnings. The only addition to the cabin is AEM air/fuel ratio and boost gauges, both integrated into the factory cluster.
While many of the touches that Glen has made in his ownership have been subtle, it’s a little different under the bonnet. The original 2.0L 4G63T engine remains, but it’s now fed by a Tomei M7960 turbo, FIC 750cc injectors and a Walbro fuel pump. A pair of billet GSC ‘Stage 1′ cams help with quicker turbo spooling while adding a little lump to the idle.
There’s also a GReddy LS Spec intercooler up front, and an exhaust comprising of C-Tec 3-inch divided wastegate, turbo elbow and down-pipe that meets a Fujitsubo Legalis R cat-back system.
The ECU remains stock, but it’s been custom-mapped. English Racing in Portland, Oregon are renowned builders of all things wild and fast, but have specialised in Mitsubishi Evo builds for events like the Texas 2K. An Evo VI is still not legally allowed in the USA, so I’d imagine its journey across the Canadian border attracted plenty of attention from JDM fans along the way. On their in-house dyno, the team at English Racing unleashed 334whp and 328lb/ft from the setup.
Following Glen’s Evo VI was treat in itself, but doing so from his other Mitsubishi was something else. Enter the Pajero Evolution.
You see, the Canadian climate can get pretty snowy and cold for long periods of the year, and when you own an incredibly well-built Evo VI that you like to keep fastidiously maintained, it makes sense to keep that tucked away and use something a little more rugged for the daily grind. This JDM unicorn has been in Glen’s possession since he purchased it in 2019.
Earlier on I talked about Mitsubishi’s utter domination of the Dakar Rally in the late-’90s, and for the 1998 event they decided mix things up. The Dakar trend for the T1 Unlimited Class was heading towards purpose-built buggies – as evidenced by the 1999 and 2000 wins for Schlesser – so Mitsubishi’s attention turned to Class T2, the realm of production-based vehicles.
Learning from their World Rally Championship knowledge, the Pajero Evolution was born in late 1997. While some homologation specials mimic the look of the competition relative, the Pajero was unleashed on the world pretty much ready to go – whether that be for the school run or a casual full-speed blast through the desert. Everything is turned up to 11.
Under the obscenely wide arches sits a suspension setup completely unique to the 2,500 Pajero Evos built. Double wishbones and extremely long-travel coilover shocks reside up front, while multi-link independent suspension with coilovers replace the antiquated coil-sprung live axle of the regular Pajero model.
The bulbous bonnet hides a 6G74 2.5L 24-valve V6 with MIVEC and dual plenum variable intake. This is a completely unique application, with many of the ancillary items used solely on this model. The majority of Pajero Evos produced by Mitsubishi between 1997 and 1999 – including this one – received a 5-speed automatic transmission, exactly as was used in the works Dakar machines, but there are a handful of factory manuals in the wild.
To be in the presence of a Pajero Evolution alone is special, but being thrown the keys was an unexpected bonus. Climbing aboard and getting snug in the beautiful Recaro interior, the gauges and carbon fiber-look trim bits give clues to the beast’s potential.
The wild nature of the Pajero Evolution is present from every angle. Save for the Ralliart exahust, Glen has retained its originality, right down to the day one toolkit.
And what about the 1998 Dakar and the decision to enter the T2 Production Class? Well, the Pajero Evolution, itself pushing the absolute boundaries of a production vehicle, not only won outright, but came second and third as well.
Mitsubishi may have become a faded version of their once dominant selves, but this Evo pair have found a new life on a third continent. While the Lancer is complete for now, the Pajero is set for a major restoration after a few great years of proper driving and exploration.