Vince Pornelos / Dean Ang, Brent Co | March 15, 2018 16:16
How an old rally car can tell a very unique story
In the 1980's, Mitsubishi wanted to be more involved in rallying.
Before then, the company had already taken a few stabs at several rally events, and with plenty of success. In the early part of the decade, they campaigned the Lancer 2000 Turbo (the ever popular “box-type”) as a rally car, and it had a good measure of success; it even won the 1000 Lakes rally in Finland. But they wanted to achieve more and, with the newly established Ralliart team, they set out to conquer the most legendary of rally classes: Group B.
Mitsubishi developed their Group B contender from the Starion, a two-door sports car they were producing at the time. While the Group B rally project may have been based on the Starion, in reality it was modified to extreme standards to be competitive. There was a very liberal use of carbon kevlar all around the body; with the hood, tailgate, doors, bumpers, arches, and rear spoiler all made of the high-tech material. The result is a curb weight of just over 1000 kilos; to put that in perspective, the Starion had a weight that's comparable to small econo-hatchbacks and sedans.
The engine may have been based on a standard 2.0-liter turbocharged 4G63T, but really it was a 2140cc, 350 horsepower monster that drove all four wheels via a transfer case from a Pajero. Yes, they wanted to take on Audi's Quattro that was dominating Group B.
The Starion 4WD Rally project, however, wasn't to bear fruit beyond the prototype stage. Group B was notorious for being so fast that it resulted in the deaths of many rally drivers and spectators alike. The crash that killed Henri Toivonen in his 480-horsepower Lancia Delta S4, however, broke the camel's back, and Group B was no more.
Now Mitsubishi Ralliart had developed all this technology and performance, but had nowhere to use it... until the sixth generation Galant came along.
The 6G Galant
Mitsubishi released the sixth generation Galant in 1987, and quickly it became a very popular front-wheel drive midsize saloon. Mitsubishi even had some performance variants, more specifically the Galant GTi which used the 2.0-liter 4G63. Even without a turbo, the Galant GTi is a fun drive, so much so that AMG (yes, the same one that modifies Mercs) came out and produced a limited run (known as the Galant AMG) tuned to produce 170 horsepower and had a special bodykit and interior appointments.
Despite the AMG's desirability which continues to this day, the coup de grace was undeniably the Galant VR-4. Like the Starion, this Galant has the turbocharged 4G63T, but at the smaller 2.0-liter displacement. Power is still impressive, as this Galant made 241 PS and 304 Nm of torque; figures that are still comparable to today's models like the WRX and Golf GTI.
Unlike the standard Galants with front wheel drive, the VR-4 is four-wheel drive like the Starion, and even has four-wheel steering. And that made it a very worthy contender to turn into a rally car, and they did. And it won.
The 1992 Galant VR-4 Rally Car
The Galant VR-4 you see here is one that you would rarely see out in the open; actually, it came from the museum of Mitsubishi Motors, and was brought to the Philippines from Japan a few years back to be displayed at one of their events.
But despite its museum status, this VR-4 has clearly seen better days, and has quite a lot of wear and outright damage. The reason for that is car manufacturers tend to preserve their most important rally and racing cars because, quite frankly, the battle scars tell quite a story.
This VR-4 was piloted by one of Mitsubishi's most successful pairings: Ken Shinozuka as driver and John Meadows as co-driver/navigator. This was the very same car used in the Rally Bandama in the Ivory Coast (Africa) in 1992. And not only did it participate: this is the winning car.
In order to win, the VR-4 has been extensively modified to not only go fast, but to withstand what the demanding Ivory Coast (French: Rallye Côte d'Ivoire) rally has in store, as it is one of the most challenging rally events ever. The conditions were especially difficult, and the rally became known for battering the cars, the drivers, and the co-drivers, so much so that drivers in the early days statistically only had 10% chance of finishing. In 1972, all entrants ended up being DNFs... did not finish.
The body looks far from “stock”, but all of the modifications and additions are all geared for speed and for endurance. There's a rusty bull bar in front that reinforces the bumper; it's also been fitted with canard-like attachements to protect the headlights, a mesh grill to protect against rocks destroying the intercooler and radiator, as well as a pair of massive PIAA driving lights with washer nozzles. Another pair of big lights were installed just forward of the A-pillars, while we can also see vents on the roof (it can get hot in a race car), and some kind of clamps that appear to act as an extra set of hold-downs to keep the windshield in place. This VR-4 was definitely intended to take a lot of abuse.
This VR-4 has a rather tall ride height; that was expected, given the off-road nature of African rallies. The wheels are definitely Ralliart's own, and come fitted with Yokohama tires for dirt. If you look closer, you can see the big AP brake rotors and calipers, along with a mesh shield behind them to allow for some cooling.
Perhaps the most striking feature about this VR-4 are its mud/dirt flaps. Most cars have 4 of them (one for each wheel), but this one has many more underneath the body, undoubtedly meant to protect the underside (particularly the 4WD propeller shaft and other components) from damage.
Undearneath the hood is the 4G63T; it actually doesn't look too modified apart from the big carbon fiber airbox and huge metal tank (looks like a coolant tank to us), but everything around it appears to be about enduring the tough conditions rather than for outright speed. Every component just looks beefier like those pipes, how they're bolted onto the body, and even the welds for the massive strut tower bar's bracket. One interesting thing to note is how Ralliart (or whoever built this) used a lot of allen screws around the engine bay instead of the normal 10mm or 12mm hex bolts.
As expected, it's been fully stripped out. Weight is the enemy for any race or rally car, and so all the creature comforts (apart from two carbon kevlar seats), all the carpets, all the insulation, basically anything that we consider essential for any road car is gone. In their place is, well, nothing. All that's inside is meant for surviving the drive like the roll-cage, the big water tank, the fuel cell, and a variety of hydraulic and water lines running around the car to the many systems within. They did retain one feature we normally see in an older road car: the manual window cranks, though there's a cross wrench mounted beside it for easy access.
The dashboard is basically the standard unit, but has been gutted out of all its decorative panels. Instead, the engineers just screwed in some steel panels with a variety of switches, dials, and gauges; all very functional. The gauge cluster has been removed and replaced with a carbon kevlar panel with a big tachometer and a boost gauge.
There's a cool (but now vintage) Momo steering wheel that has clearly seen a lot of use and abuse. One thing to note is that unlike modern rally cars with sequential gearboxes and the like, this one still has the classic 5-speed manual with three pedals. And mind you, there are no fancy accessories; everything is functional, including the AP Racing handbrake/E-brake. The only thing that's really unusual about this VR-4 is the foot-actuated button switch on the co-driver's footrest; we presume it's some kind of engine cut off or fuel cut off in the event of a crash.
There really is something special about old race cars. Each of them tells a story in their unique way, and that goes double for rally cars, as every rally has very specific demands on the cars and the drivers, making them even more interesting to walk up to and examine.
Rarely do we get access to actually see these cars outside of museums, and that's why many car enthusiasts appreciate that Mitsubishi Motors Philippines is more than willing to “borrow” and ship a few of these cars at a time from their collection in Japan and display them for us to get close to during their events... battle scars and all.