Letting go is hard. You can delete all traces of a former love from your life, cut contact, stop looking at old pictures, resolve to hit the gym and move on to something better, but the memories will always linger. You realize that what existed was good, but what the future holds is better… but the moments where you reflect that maybe the bliss ended too prematurely still manage to haunt you, no matter how much you occupy yourself with new thrills and diversions.
I had just landed at home after the introduction of the Chevrolet Camaro Convertible, three days in San Diego, where I was granted a stay of execution from the brutal Midwest winters of home. The governor hadn’t just ordered more time for appeal, but clemency in the form of short sleeves, small block V8s and a memorable blast through the canyons. Chasing down the other journos along the canyon roads and desert badlands parallel to the Mexican border was the kind of memorable driving experience that sticks with you. I dreaded a return to the grey winters and ever present slush, but I longed to be with my then girlfriend, a constant companion via Blackberry Messenger through most of my press trips.
When I landed, I knew there would be a message from her waiting, and she had asked me if I would like to come see her at college, about 80 miles away. The late hour and jet lag compelled me to go home and rest, in spite of how much I missed her company, so I offered up an alternative. “Wait until next week – I’ve got a car that really needs to stretch its legs on the open road.” That meant nothing to her, but the promise of a visit was enough.
The car I had so eagerly awaited was the Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution X, a car that remained out of reach to North American consumers for so many years, but never failed to live up to its promise once it arrived as the EVO VIII. The lady who is no longer a part of my life was at a similar distance. We had known each other for years, were briefly intimate and parted ways amicably. Three years later, we were together exclusively, and she did not disappoint. We were in constant contact during the intermittent period, and came to know the details of each other’s lives to the point where our relationship felt like we had been together far longer than its brief tenure.
After a near-decade run, the EVO is slated to be killed off, a too short timeframe for such a fantastic machine. The outcry of despair from the EVO’s internet cheer squad will seem silly to the many who snarl “well if you want it to live on, go and buy one.” The EVO is a car designed to appeal to 21 year olds but is priced for someone double that age. On top of that, the usurious insurance rates and tank-a-day dino juice habit make running costs prohibitive for anyone who doesn’t have sponsorship from the First Parental Bank of Indulged Children.
That does not diminish the enthusiasm that this car deserves. It really is a superlative machine, with steering as precise as a chronometer-spec watch movement, turbocharged grunt in the entire rev range, a dual-clutch gearbox that behaves as close to a manual as you can get without having three pedals, and driving dynamics that lead you to believe that the car pivots around an axis mounted squarely in between the front and rear seats.
Sure, the interior trim is appallingly crude, the trunk can barely hold a carry-on suitcase and a Bell helmet bag and the car’s bumpstops seem to be made of granite, but who hasn’t overlooked glaring flaws at one time or another because the visceral thrills provided manage to cloud the left side of one’s brain?
The girl and I set out for her college residence with clear roads and light traffic, but it only took 10 minutes for us to hit yet another biblical dumping of snow, causing traffic to crawl to a snail’s pace. No matter – the EVO was able to dart around the hordes of paralyzed SUVs and incompetent compact drivers, to the point where I was able to remove my heavy Canada Goose parka without incident while maneuvering around a meandering Durango piloted by the world’s most panicky and indecisive motorist.
A brief stop at Starbucks was precluded by the necessary donuts in a freshly blanketed strip mall parking lot, and the girl sat motionless as I grinned with glee, making the car’s tail dance to and fro around a lone lamp post. “You could never understand what I’m feeling right now”, I said, as I counter-steered effortlessly, and for a moment I flashed back to our second date, another blizzard more severe than this when I drove her home in a purple Toyota Avalon. Cruising home on the freeway, I was making constant steering corrections as the Avalon clawed for grip, and new Civic started to wag its tail in the distance ahead, launching itself into a shotput-like trajectory straight towards us. Stopping was not an option, so I kept on the accelerator and moved right as the Civic’s rear bumper just missed the front of our car, coming to a miraculous stop right before it would have smashed the guard rail. The usually fair skin on her hands turned white as printer paper against the navy blue of her Longchamp purse, but once the Civic was out of sight, they were again clasped in mine as we drove home at a slightly slower pace. We continued talking as if nothing had happened, but the incident burned in both of our minds.
To her credit, she didn’t complain for another 10 minutes, when I pulled into another parking lot sideways after a masterful Scandinavian flick, the EVO flattering my mediocre driving skills as she frantically cried “OK I’M NAUSEOUS”. Ladies, to a guy trying to show off his car control skills, this is the way to say demonstrate immense affection without the requisite freak-out about commitment and “needing space”.
The rest of the weekend was not as sweet as the drive up. I had planned to go to a track day the following day and pop in to say goodbye after I had finished my lapping in all its hazardous glory. It emerged that during our weekend, an old flame, who never managed to consummate his relationship with my girlfriend, had caused her to question how she felt about us. In a moment of torment and confusion, I left before any tears could be shed by either party or any proper resolution could be reached. My Blackberry rang in a frenzy with messages from her as I scorched through traffic on the highway home. The EVO was due back the next day, and I was determined to enjoy every last moment, knowing that there could be no extension of my time with the car or with her.
A Lancer Ralliart and a Cadillac CTS Coupe followed, and like the women that followed in the weeks after, they were enjoyable but empty, a simulacrum of something that transcended the familiar but fleeting pleasure that most other cars and women, the two passions of my life, had given me. I saw the girl once more and drove her home in the Ralliart, and while everything was familiar, the dopamine jolt that was once present was gone, and the Ralliart’s restrained nature, the missing extra edge that the EVO served up plentifully, mirrored the way we were free to hold hands and barely squeak out thoughts of remorse and hidden longing, but not kiss or share what lurked deep beneath the surface.
To trot out another lame parallel, having constant access to press cars is similar to a revolving door of women eager to sleep with you. After a while, the different shapes and skin tones become a mélange of femininity, in the way that most cars become an indistinguishable representation of just how far the automobile has come. But the EVO stood out in its single-minded approach to performance, despite all its shortcomings, the EVO demands you accept it for exactly what it is and makes no excuses for its warts.
We all try and let the world see us for who we want to be, from the Facebook profile of us battling it out on track, to the pretensions of having sophisticated tastes on a low five-figure salary, or adopting a gruff and curmudgeonly attitude to mask our deepest insecurities. The Evo is a welcome respite from the masks we employ, a refuge from the branding and lifestyle tactics employed by automotive marketing machines. One could easily buy a top-spec BMW 335i or another luxury marque and be treated to middling cappuccinos, a loaner car during service appointments and the prestige of telling friends that you drive a “beemer”. If you buy an EVO, you will be purchasing a car from a company that may not be around in a couple years, where the showrooms are shabby and the sales staff’s shirts and ties come from the same Men’s Warehouse box. Your associates won’t even know what an EVO is, just that you’re driving a car that has a comically large wing and red brake calipers.
Doing the right thing is rarely the easy thing, and it would be easy to indulge your baser instincts with a status symbol, but the honesty of the EVO is what makes it a truly standout product, and Mitsubishi’s decision to kill it fundamentally sound. The company’s upcoming lineup of electric vehicles and renewed mainstream products will put them in a position to be financially sound during a tumultuous economic period, and we should respect their integrity as they double down on the products need to ensure mainstream survival.
That doesn’t mean we can’t mourn the EVO, remember the joy it gave us and resolve to move on – even if we occasionally creep its Facebook page and scroll through pictures of happier times, and gloss over its manifold defects. But you can’t love a person without being charmed by the idiosyncratic flaws that separate them from the ones you passed over – or could have had.