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Car Stories: Mitsubishi Lancer OZ Racing Rally Edition

American Government Special Collections Reference Desk

Topics:  Mitsubishi Lancer
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Car Stories: Mitsubishi Lancer OZ Racing Rally Edition

Bill Crittenden
August 20, 2013

The OZ Racing Lancer sticks in my mid as one if the greatest automotive disappointments of my lifetime (not counting numerous concept cars that never saw production).

During my year at UTI, taking automotive technician courses in 1999, working with the cars took me from a fan of big American cars to little Japanese cars. Learning about the technology that goes into cars took me from making jokes about Japanese engines having fewer liters than a soda bottle to poring over issues of Sport Compact Car and Turbo & High Tech Performance in my spare time.

I went into the new millennium playing Gran Turimso 2 and excited to see Japanese cars take center stage as performance cars in The Fast & the Furious. My two favorite cars were the Toyota Supra and Nissan Skyline. I also really fell in love with the Subaru Impreza driving rally on GT2.

On the streets of the USA, the Subaru Impreza was a mere shadow of its JDM counterpart. The Mitsubishi Lancer wasn't even that, we had the appropriately named Mirage...it looked like a sporty car from a distance...

A segment of the American public, the kind who had been reading Sport Compact Car, had been begging Japan for cars that had until then been only specially imported.

Mitsubishi, one of the two Japanese known particularly for performance-oriented cars, appeared to answer the call. Instead of redesigning the Mirage, we would get the Lancer.

The news was spectacular. Without the artificial 276hp limitations of the Japanese market, we could get a real beast of a car not seen from the marque since the 3000GT. Oh, sure, the petrolheads knew that Mitsubishi's bread & butter would be the basic front-drive version, but a performance version had to be coming. That was the advertising, the image, the reputation of the car.

And then it didn't. 2 naturally-aspirated liters putting out 120 horsepower is all we would see for the first few years, and even then the 2.4L/162hp Ralliart fell far short of expectations.

Worse than that, adding insult to the deprivation, was the "sporty version" we did get: the OZ Racing Rally Edition.

The "Rally" car was an appearance package including OZ Racing wheels and a badge. Front wheel drive, 120 horsepower, rally wheels and a badge. It was nothing close to a Lancer Evolution.

I think the greatest example of how failed this car was comes from a coworker at the time. Imagine George W. Bush was your night shift security guard, just as boring and only a few years off from living in Sun City (literally, that's where he lives now), and he comes in one day proud of his little blue "special edition" Mitsubishi. Isn't it a great "commuter car?"

Epic, epic fail, Mitsubishi.

Of course, the wheels were nice, so Americans bought a whole bunch of them and looked like fools that could be tricked with badges & rims. In the end, it wasn't the people who really mattered...the "trendsetters," the people who inspire other people to copy their cars by buying the same thing...that bought them. Sales were decent enough, but not good.

In the end, Mitsubishi was fooled into thinking that rally wheels were all Americans wanted, and were caught quite flat-footed by Subaru's release of the full STi on American shores. Today, there are Subaru clubs that meet near me, I park among multiple modified Imprezas where I work now, and my former coworker (last I saw) has a Mitsubishi crossover parked in Sun City.

Not to completely disparage older drivers, who are a large component of new car buyers and vastly ignored by the automakers, but that was not the image Mitsubishi was aiming for. He's certainly no Vin Diesel, to put it mildly.

America is enjoying perhaps its final golden age of gasoline performance automobiles, and the manufacturer that came up with the Starion, 3000GT, and won rally championships is largely the forgotten brand of cheap deals to people with bad credit.

The OZ Rally Edition was a colossal disappointment, fairly insulting to Americans who actually know what a rally car is, and perhaps the difference between having a cult following and desperately trying to get performance buyers' attention.

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