By on February 8, 2014

Mitsubishi Mirage Hatchback (1992-1994)

Stumbling upon old family photographs is a funny thing. Sometimes, you find out that your parents were actually pretty cool in their day, devoid of middle-aged paunches or wrinkles, and decked out in stylish clothes, with good-looking but rarely mentioned companions on their arm that elicit scowls and glares when you innocently inquire about their identity. Looking at old photos of the Mitsubishi Mirage is a little like that.

While our North American Mirage was a dowdy also-ran B-segment car for credit criminals and second-tier rental car agencies, the Japanese market Mirage fell victim to the irrational exuberance that plagued the Japanese economy, and paradoxically gave us the greatest generation of Japanese cars to ever exist.

No matter that the Lancer Evolution, Galant VR-4 and Legnum VR-4 (that’s a Galant VR-4 wagon) already existed. American sales and marketing execs were content with just the Eclipse, and aside from the cost of homologation any other nameplate, they likely would have nixed another sporty model, for fear of cannibalizing sales of the Eclipse GS-T and GSX.

But Japan is different. Having overlapping, redundant models sold under the same brand (but different sales channels) was a requirement in the Bubble Era. And so, the Lancer Evolution was joined by the Mirage Cyborg family, which was a three-door hatchback with a naturally-aspirated MIVEC 1.6L 4-cylinder engine making 172 horsepower and a VTEC-esque 124 lb-ft of torque. It wasn’t enough that Mitsubishi had conquered the four-door rally special niche. They needed a competitor to other now-forgotten bubble-era specials like the Toyota Levin BZ-R, the Nissan Pulsar VZ-R and the Honda Civic SiR (are you sensing a trend here?).

While the Levin was primarily known for its innovative 20 valve, individual throttle body engine, and the Civic became famous for arriving in America in the form of an engine with the wiring harness hacked in half, the Cyborg R never achieved much beyond appearing in Gran Turismo. But at least it was cool. Not like the one that’s for sale right now.

Today’s Mirage is either a pur sang back-to-basics subcompact or the world car on sale today, depending on the biases of the journalist reviewing it. I think it would be a great basis for a grassroots Spec Racing series that would cost very little and provide, at the very least, marginal thrills. The production spec Mirage weighs 1,973 lbs in base trim with a manual transmission, or the same as a Lotus Elise, but it puts out just 74 horsepower and 74 lb-ft of torque from its 1.2L three-cylinder engine.

A freer flowing intake and exhaust system might bump up output by another 10 horsepower and 10 lb-ft, while stripping the car out for race duty should shave another 150 lbs or so out of the car. There is no real way to make these things fast while keeping costs down. Off the shelf suspension components and better brake pads might turn the car from a “jellyfish” (as one British magazine described the handling) into something tolerable. With any luck, the cars will lap as fast as an NB Miata, the ubiquitous, but slow entry-level track machine that everyone so politely describes as a “momentum car”. Think of it as a stepping stone to tin-top racing, one rung below B-Spec.

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22 Comments on “Announcing A (Proposed) New Grassroots Racing Series: Spec Mirage...”

  • avatar

    “Civic became famous for arriving in America in the form of an engine with the wiring harness hacked in half”


    • 0 avatar
      bumpy ii

      The B16 was available in the Del Sol and (eventually) the Civic, but most of the ones on this continent today came over in a container, harvested from Japanese scrapyards.

  • avatar

    Mitsu is junk. But the car missing here in the US is the Suzuki Swift! You have to be institutionally inept to not be able to sell quality Japanese small cars in America, Suzuki!

  • avatar

    The current Mirage is what happens when you look at old family photos and notice that your once middle-rolling coke-snorting womanizing uncle is now unemployed, alcoholic, living in a bus shelter, and has a bad meth habit. You know be all logic he shouldn’t be alive but for some reason, he’s still not dead.

  • avatar

    The Mitsubishi 3000GT was the one I fondly remember wanting. I just thought they were so cool. I had a friend with a Dodge Stealth version who redlined that Mitsu engine a lot and it just kept going.

  • avatar

    That interior shot of the Japanese Mirage is the near spitting image (minus the right-hand drive) of the Eclipse/ Eagle Talon of the early ’90s. Always loved that fighter cockpit feel.

  • avatar

    I think we should just proposed a Time Machine so that civilization can go back to the Bubble Era and somehow turn it into a Groundhog Loop in the Space Time Continuum where we’ll never leave. Then we can have an endless supply of all the best Japanese cars that have ever created.

    In reality I just went to buy a BRZ, close enough it’ll have to do.

  • avatar


    Let Tf = Fun on Track
    H = Headaches associated with owning/racing said car.
    M = money to buy and build the car
    A = Age of car
    P = Popularity of said car

    Tf α 1/H
    H α A/MP
    M α 1/A

    If set M constant and equal to the cost of a race-prepped Mirage you’ll find that Tf(A,H,P) has a maximum in the vicinity of Used Mustang.

  • avatar

    Whatever happened to the 12 Hours of Sebrings concept that was supposed to compliment LeMons or ChumpCar? The thought of people showing up and racing rental Chrysler Sebrings intrigued me.

  • avatar

    my current daily driver is a relative of this – 1994 Galant VX-R. 2.0 V6 MIVEC engine shared with the FTO. 195hp and revs to 8000rpm

  • avatar

    Not meaning to self-pimp or anything:

    So 7whp from bolt-ons… about spot on for 10bhp, Add a Dastek Unichip, and that 10bhp extends to the redline from the 5,500 rpm peak. That’s about it for simple bolt-ons. The stock pipes are basically straight through, so nothing else left on the table there.
    The big restriction will probably be the cams and the throttle body. It’s tiny. Microscopic. Overseas markets get only a MAP sensor, but you guys get a MAP-MAF combination that will preclude any wild alterations to the TB.

    The brakes are fine if you have enough grip. We’ve gotten the stocker to stop from 62 mph in 39 meters, that’s just four more than an STI, on cruddy stock tires. Pads may be all it needs.

    Suspension mods available include strut bar (doesn’t feel like it does anything), rear anti-roll bars (necessary) and a front subframe reinforcement (I think). Might already be lowering springs, but I don’t like the lack of spring travel in the rear, as it is… probably doesn’t matter, anyway.

    This thing is a hoot on the racetrack in stock form. Meaning to say: It bounds over curbs like an old Citroen and has a properly stiff chassis and decent dynamics despite the horrible suspension and featherlight steering. Improve both of those (have yet to figure out which wire to pull to kill the EPS) and it should be a decent spec-racer.

  • avatar

    Some of us in the US remember when the Mirage was more than just a meek economy car. I had a ’86 Mirage Turbo which was one of Mitubishi’d best offerings IMHO. Not as good as the ’89 16V Mirage Turbo but a great car nonetheless. Unfortunately the Miata came along and I sold it but I still think fondly of the car.

  • avatar

    I like the idea. The rules should be to keep the car as stock as possible. This will keep money from ruining it like most other series.

    • 0 avatar
      Felis Concolor

      Sadly there are those who will ruin it with parts-bin sorting and scores of rebuilds in order to produce that almost perfectly balanced and blueprinted engine which destroyed any illusion of affordability in SCCA’s Showroom Stock classes in the late 80s.

      Perhaps the race organizers can specify order sheet codes which will result in a wired shut engine and power train from the factory along with unique and unlisted tell-tales to keep competitors honest. Even Car Craft’s Cheap Street engine claimer rules were gamed by people who simply walked away from the series and left 18 months of win/loss records in disarray.

  • avatar

    good old days when jap cars were cool! here in europe mitsubishis were quite desirable when i was a kid: the mirage 4wd was cheaper and smaller than the sunny or the mazda 323 (those were more powerfull).
    the space wagon was probably the only minivan with a poper engine, and the eclipse was cheap, practical and fast enough to sell good numbers.

    • 0 avatar

      Not to mention all those advertising of Mitsubishi cars in Jackie Chan movies of the 80’s and 90’s. It’s not everyday you can find a company that makes so many different kinds of vehicles for all kinds of roles.

  • avatar
    Felis Concolor

    Ah yes, one of my favorite rarities to unlock in Genki’s outstanding Shutokou Battle highway racing series.

    For those who remember its Dreamcast and later POS2 release, it was named Tokyo Extreme Racer, although with most of the Japanese character names replaced by Hispanic ones, it should have been more appropriately labeled Barrio Extreme Racer.

    My first interest in that model began in the pages of a late-80s Option Magazine, sent over by parents of Japanese ESL students to help maintain functional literacy away from home. The XYVYX special editions were especially memorable, even if a modern smartphone would serve as a better video shooting, editing and playback platform than the electronics-stuffed “AV Chamber” hatchback used in the promotion.

  • avatar

    Forget Spec Mirage. BRING ON #SPECRANGER!

    Some of us have been hatching this plan over on the Facebooks for a while now.

  • avatar

    Toyota Levin?

    Japanese cars with Jewish names…go figure.

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