If you’re a JDM car fan in the US, now’s one of the best times to pick up the cars you could only see in theaters or import-car magazines. The Celica GT4, R32 and R33 Nissan Skyline GTR, Mitsubishi Montero/Pajero, 70-Series Land Cruiser, and Mitsubishi Delica are just some of the cars old enough to import. And there’s one more performance icon that’s now joining that list: the Mitsubishi Lancer Evo III.
Mitsubishi Lancer Evo III history
Although Mitsubishi’s been most successful in the Paris-Dakar races, it has also competed in the World Rally Championship. In fact, Car and Driver reports the brand’s been in the WRC since 1961. And, in the 1980s, Mitsubishi wanted to compete in Group A, the successor to the infamous Group B.
Initially, the company used a modified version of its Galant sedan, complete with a turbocharged engine and all-wheel drive. However, as Donut Media explains, rally race stages started getting narrower. So, Mitsubishi put the Galant VR-4’s engine and AWD into the smaller, lighter Lancer to create the 1992 Lancer Evo. And to homologate it for racing, Mitsubishi built 5000 Lancer Evos for the Japanese market. The US wouldn’t see a Lancer Evo until the Evo VIII in 2004, Hagerty reports.
Initially, success eluded the Lancer Evo. But Mitsubishi kept updating the car, releasing the Evo II in 1993 and the Evo III in 1995. And it was with the Lancer Evo III that Mitsubishi found world-wide recognition.
In 1996, Finnish rally driver Tommi Mäkinen won the WRC Driver’s Championship with a rally-prepped Lancer Evo III. It was the first time a Mitsubishi had done so. He won again in 1997, 1998, and 1999 in the Evo III’s successors, the IV, V, and VI. But those Evos were built on a different platform. The Evo III was the last model to use the original Lancer Evo’s platform. However, the Lancer Evo III has a few more claims to fame.
Jackie Chan drove one in the film Thunderbolt, previewing the Fast and Furious scene by several years. The US enthusiast community was introduced to the Lancer Evo III, and JDM cars in general, via the original Gran Turismo. It also made a big appearance in the Initial D anime.
Lancer Evo III specs and pricing
The Evo III came with a 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder, developing 266 hp, linked to a 5-speed manual. Like the Evo II, the Evo III was slightly longer and wider than the original and had revised suspension for better handling. And, just like the original, it had AWD and 4-wheel disc brakes.
For the Lancer Evo III, Mitsubishi tweaked the car’s grille, improving airflow to the radiator, brakes, and intercooler. It also gave the Lancer Evo III a larger rear spoiler, and a new rear bumper and side skirts, which increased downforce.
Mitsubishi sold the Evo III in two trims, GSR and RS. The GSR is the more daily-drivable, offering front Recaro seats, a leather Momo steering wheel, A/C, and power windows. Japanese Classics reports Mitsubishi also offered the GSR with power-folding mirrors, locks, and an automatic one-touch driver’s window.
The RS was for more-serious racers and was stripped of most creature comforts to save weight. No A/C, radio, ABS, or rear wiper; and instead of power windows, it had roll-up ones. The RS kept the Recaros but swapped the steering wheel for a Cobra II one.
Relatively few Evo IIIs have been imported so far. However, they do appear to be relatively affordable. Japanese Classics has an Evo III GSR available for $18,995 as of this writing. This is similar to earlier Evo I and Evo II GSRs sold by Montu Motors, Duncan Imports, and Toprank Importers.
Overall, though, barring the extremely-modified examples, these cars are fairly reliable. CarComplaints reports no Evo III-specific Lancer issues. And GarageDreams reports that as long as the previous owner performed regular maintenance, the Evo III’s engine is “fairly bulletproof.”
That being said, the Evo III was a performance car, and not every owner treated them gently. The turbochargers can fail over time, and an overheated engine can damage its head gasket. And although the 5-speed transmission is pretty robust, synchro failure is not unheard-of. The best way to prevent buying a lemon is to get the Evo III you want to purchase inspected by an independent mechanic.
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