Auto Reverse - Mitsubishi Eclipse
In 2012 the automotive world lost a rare celestial phenomenon: the Mitsubishi Eclipse. The Eclipse started it's life in 1990 as an inexpensive, sporty, coupe for enthusiasts with limited funds but not limited expectations. The Eclipse went on to ride the wave of 90's tuner culture to achieve iconic status there, even earning a spot as a hero car in the original "The Fast and Furious" movie driven by the late Paul Walker. Although it's time on this earth was historically brief, it lasted for four distinct generations. In that time it evolved from one or the first sporty import coupes in America to a new, improved, wildly popular second iteration. The polarizing third generation had it's share of detractors but survived in an automotive climate in which many coupes were going away. The fourth and final generation stepped back in the right direction but could not change it's ultimate course to oblivion.
The origin story of the Mitsubishi Eclipse starts way back in 1971 when Chrysler, looking to boost it's portfolio with smaller more fuel efficient vehicles, imported several Mitsubishi cars and labeled them Dodge Colts. While in addition to the sedan and wagon, there were coupe versions of the Colt. The Colt coupe was a mildly sporty car for it's time. In 1978 Dodge tapped Mitsubishi again when the odd decision was made to give Dodge's new imported small "sporty car" the storied Challenger name. Remember, this was in the middle of the malaise era and by this time muscle cars were almost entirely gone (consider the state of the 1978 Ford Mustang). Instead of trying to hide the Challenger's overseas sourcing, the advertisements touted the fact that the car was "one of Japan's most technological cars built by master car builders of Japan". This symbiotic relationship between Mitsubishi and Chrysler would continue for decades under the new name Diamond Star Motors (1985), a name paying tribute to both companies' logos. It wasn't until 1982 however, when Mitsubishi had their own dealerships and could expand their portfolio enough to include more interesting cars.
The Mitsubishi Cordia (1982-1990) was an awkward attempt at sportiness while the Mitsubishi Starion (1982- 1989) was a bona fide contender. Although the Starion was only a four cylinder, it was rear wheel drive, turbocharged, and offered Porsche 944 looks. It was an imported car that could lure the eyes of enthusiasts. Like the Eclipse, the Starion was also sold in Chrysler versions (as a Chrysler Conquest). While the Eclipse did not directly replace either of these cars, these are the cars that would predate the Eclipse and help to add some credibility to the notion of Mitsubishi's ability to build a sporty car.
When the Mitsubishi Eclipse arrived in 1990 it was a new car with a new name. But people warmed up quickly, thanks to it's sporty-futuristic looks. It was one of the freshest faces to grace the car mags featuring 1990's new cars. The car was a swoopy small to medium sized hatchback with (the then obligatorily trendy) flip up headlights. The development of the cars design was collaborative between the Mitsubishi and Chrysler design teams. The Eclipse was sometimes considered Japan's pony car because it was built more for impressive straightaway 0 to 60 times rather than the slalom. The Eclipse garnered fans because it was powerful and relatively inexpensive. Surprisingly this "import car" was designed exclusively for the American market and built here too, in Normal Illinois.
This first generation Eclipse lasted from 1990 to 1994. With the arrival of the Eclipse, Mitsubishi was gaining momentum in the eyes of consumers. The Mitsubishi Galant was a new, respected, sporty sedan at this time, and in 1991 Mitsubishi revealed a second performance vehicle positioned above the Eclipse in the form of the Mitsubishi 3000GT. The Eclipse was a four cylinder while the 3000GT powered by a V6. The Eclipse was offered in 4 trims with the Eclipse GSX situated at the top with a turbocharged 195 horsepower four cylinder and all wheel drive. The Eclipse was also offered as a Plymouth Laser and Eagle Talon. Dodge however, did not receive a version of this car because their Daytona was still going at this time using a car that originated in 1984.
In 1992 Mitsubishi proactively updated the Eclipse, most noticeably, by replacing the flip up headlights with fixed units. This new look, while not as attractive as the original, still looked rather good. It was a more successful transformation than other cars that were going from hidden to exposed headlamps like the Chrysler LeBaron and the Dodge Daytona (See below). The Eclipse's interior was decidedly modern and featured cockpit styling that enveloped the driver.
A brief sidebar to show what was going on with Dodge's Daytona at the same time. Keep in mind that Dodge did not get a version of the Eclipse as Plymouth did. It soldiered on with a car that began it's life in 1984. In 1987 the Daytona's appearance was vastly improved as it was restyled with hidden headlights. In 1992 it received the exposed composite treatment and gained IROC (International Race of Champions) sponsorship which was previously best known for it's association with the Chevy Camaro. The restyled Daytona previewed Dodge's emerging design hallmarks established by the Dodge Viper concept in 1989. Although not having a version of the Eclipse, Dodge would benefit from Mitsubishi's 3000GT with their own new sports car (the Dodge Stealth) in 1991.
In 1995 the second generation arrived and was a huge success for Mitsubishi. Although the car was slightly larger, the engine, turbocharger, and all wheel drive options remained similar to the first generation. The Mitsubishi Eclipse and the Eagle Talon continued on but the Plymouth Laser never saw the new sheet metal. The second generation found room for a convertible version called the Spyder for 1996. The Spyder distinguished itself as a premium sporty convertible with a quality, well insulated, roof and heated rear glass. In 1997 the Eclipse received a facelift that was decidedly tuner, with a large lower opening that exposed the radiator, large cheek vents and projector fog lamps. It was a stock front bumper that almost appeared aftermarket. Just right for the Eclipse's target audience who commonly customized their cars. The Eclipse certainly enjoyed the surge of enthusiasm in imported and tuner cars.
The brand Eagle went away in 1998 and the Talon flew away with it. The Talon, though obviously similar to the Eclipse offered a sleeker less cladded body, some unique spoilers options, and had a rather large Eagle logo gracing (or defacing?) it's front end.
The third generation arrived in 2000 and was highly influenced by the Mitsubishi SST concept. It was popular enough, but it's styling was polarizing and it wasn't as sporting as previous models. Critics usually didn't have many positive things to say about it either. It's new V6 engine had less power than the outgoing turbocharged four cylinder. The concept car derived ribbing on the cars side was unique but at the same time reminiscent of Pontiac's textured cladding that they were about to swear off. It might be worthy of noting that the Eclipse's big brother the 3000GT retired in 1999, so the Eclipse went on alone, as the market for sports cars was drying up.
The Eclipse was robustly advertised throughout it's life and the third version was no exception including this dancing shotgun ad that was parodied by Dave Chapelle. In that spoof however, they used a Nissan 350Z. In 2001 the Spyder returned. 2003 brought a mild restyling with round fog lights and a front bumper even more inspired by the SST concept. This generation lasts until 2005.
The 2004 Eclipse Concept-E was a gas electric hybrid, but aside from its ambitious on-board power train technology it would preview many design elements to be seen on the next generation Eclipse in 2006.
The forth and final generation debuted in 2006. It's styling was improved over the previous generation with simpler, sleeker lines. The car ended up looking like the logical evolution of the second generation, as if the third generation never happened.
Joining the long line of Eclipse Spyders the forth generation came along in 2007 and it was beautiful.
During it's run, the forth generation was face-lifted twice. First subtly in 2009 where the grill was opened up and the fog lights were changed. In 2012 the car received a more substantial update with an Evo inspired front bumper that connected the upper and lower grilles with a black panel. The headlights became more sculpted within their housings. This would be the final Eclipse. In an effort to commemorate the end, it received a black roof and side mirrors as well as black side decals. The fourth generation ran for a long time and had run it's course. There simply was no replacement. In a way, the Eclipse was the last of its kind. It is a shame we never saw the 5th generation Eclipse, as I'm sure it would have been a sight to behold.