Do you really need to spend more than 10 grand?
This has got to be a turning point. When you can buy a second-hand 1988 JDM Mitsubishi Galant VR4 for only about $8750 (thanks to the softer regulations surrounding the importation and compliancing of 15-year-old vehicles in Australia) we must surely be entering a new phase of affordable performance.
Let's get something straight. At this price the traditional bargain performance cars like TX3 Turbos, GT4s and Liberty RSs suddenly look like comparative rip-offs! Maybe you'd like to compare value to our local Aussie muscle? Sure, well $8750 will barely get you into a VN SS Commodore complete with a live axle and uninspiring 16.0-second quarter mile performance. And what about the Euros? A Saab 900 Aero Turbo is within budget, but - again - it doesn't have anywhere near the all-round performance ability of the VR4.
Fact - the 1988 JDM VR4 is the undisputed King of sub-$10,000 performance!
Enough gushing for now, though... The Mitsubishi (aka MMC in Japan) Galant VR4 was originally released in Japan in early 1988 and, as you're probably aware, it was built to make the most of the new Group A rally regulations. In the public market, though - to the best of our knowledge - the VR4 was sold only in Japan, Australia and (in limited numbers) in the US.
Under the bonnet, the VR4 sports the first incarnation of the 4G63 transverse DOHC, 16-valve turbo engine, which is still used (in much updated form!) in Evolution Lancer models. With a 85.0mm bore and 88.0mm stroke, the VR4 has a swept capacity of 2.0-litres and runs on a comparatively low 7.8:1 static compression ratio. Twin balance shafts are also installed to improve smoothness. Atop the iron block is a belt-driven DOHC alloy head incorporating 16-valves and hydraulic tappets.
A single TD05 turbocharger is fitted and boost pressures of up to 10 psi (so we're told) are channelled through a reasonably sized front-mount air-to-air intercooler. A recirculating metal blow-off valve is also installed.
Compared to the Australian-spec VR4 (which was first introduced in 1990), the '88 JDM import has a little bit more go. Whereas the local car is rated at 148kW at 6000 rpm and 279Nm at 3000 rpm (which isn't half bad!), the Japanese version cranks out 151kW (205ps) at 6000 and 294Nm (30kg/m) at 3000 rpm.
So where does this power difference come from, you ask? Well, the Japanese motor uses a 'Cyclone' intake manifold, a larger front-mount intercooler and, presumably, the ECU has a different set of maps optimised to suit Japanese fuel.
As far as we can determine, VR4s were all sold with 5-speed manual transmissions - no auto was available. The driveline then extends to a constant all-wheel-drive system using a viscous centre coupling, which delivers a 50:50 front-to-rear torque split under static conditions. Whatever you want to say about it, total traction is assured.
So with ample traction, 151kW and a kerb weight of (just!) 1340kg, the '88 JDM VR4 is surely no slouch - and our stopwatch confirms it. Easy 8.0-second 0 - 100 km/h (without a full-bore launch) make sense when you consider that - going by 1990 Australia road tests - the local VR4 managed a hard-driven best of 7.1-seconds, together with a 15.0-second quarter. At low rpm, the VR4 is much more responsive than a Subaru RS and feels much more 'alive' - at high rpm, though, it does feel a little strangled.
Fuel economy is around 11-ish litres per 100km - which is quite acceptable for a car of this performance and size.
But there's a whole lot more to the VR4 than its straight-line performance.
The AWD system combines with a sophisticated suspension arrangement and a four-wheel-steer system to provide excellent, secure handling. The VR4 uses MacPherson front struts, while the rear features double wishbones and trailing arms incorporating a so-called "toe control member", which provides a self-aligning mechanism. The toe control member is also connected to a hydraulically-actuated power cylinder, which forms the basis of the VR4's four-wheel-steer system. By moving the toe control member (and its associated trailing arm), the system can alter rear toe by up to 1.5-degrees. Note that the rear wheels are steered only in phase with the fronts (ie in the same direction) and the system is inoperative at road speeds below 50 km/h.
On the road, the VR4 feels very comfortable, secure and yet agile. Turn-in is quite nice and your chosen cornering line is very
easy to stick to. There can be a little understeer at times - including power understeer - but nothing tragic. Point-to-point this a very quick and inspiring machine. Ride, meanwhile, is surprisingly soft - your buttocks would never pick the VR4 as a performance car.
ABS was also starting to become popular in the late '80s and the VR4, being a technical tour de force, didn't miss out. With anti-lock control over 276mm ventilated front and 265mm solid rear discs, there is good stopping power. Our test car did have a spongy pedal, however.
Oh, and we are told that some import VR4s (perhaps the stripped-out RS, which we'll come to) were not equipped with ABS.
So what have we got so far? Performance, fuel economy, traction, handling, good brakes - what's left? Ah, that's right, a fully-equipped comfortable interior with family car practicality...
Standard gizmos run to electric windows, aerial and (retractable) mirrors, two-colour selectable instrument illumination and, in some examples, cruise and climate control. Instrumentation includes a 180 km/h speedo, 7000 redline tacho, fuel and temp, a digital vacuum/boost graph (with no scaling) and twin trip meters. The instruments are big, the driving position is comfortable (all of the seats are very comfortable) and there is ample cabin space for four - five at a bit of a squeeze.
From the outside the VR4 is not a particularly sexy car. It is, however, a very unassuming car that you can park pretty well anywhere with minimal fear of theft/vandalism - especially if you get rid of the all factory stickers and badges...
Japanese market VR4s are recognisable by their less bulky bumper bars (the fat bumpers fitted to Oz versions were the same as required to meet US crash standards), different fog lights, different shape rear spoiler (with only a filament bulb stop light) and a pair of blinker lights on top of the front guards. Fifteen by six alloys with 195/60 tyres also come as standard.
The vehicle on test here (supplied by Adelaide Japanese Imports) is a very honest example of an '88 imported VR4. It had a genuine 160,000km on the odometer, the trim was all in excellent condition, the body needed a few paint touch-ups (probably a result of importing damage) and nothing mechanical needed urgent attention. Sure, there was a slight suspension noise and the top-end sounded a bit tappety when cold, but nothing to really stress about. And the cost? Well, that magic $8750 figure.
Best of the VR4s
An extra-hot Evo and Evo RS version of the VR4 was manufactured for the Japanese market from about 1990 onward. We're told the Evo makes 162kW (220ps) and the Evo RS pushes a healthy 176kW (240ps) - the extra grunt coming from a bigger turbo and intercooler, an upgraded cooling system and oil cooler. A revised close-ratio gearbox was also fitted.
These are not yet eligible for compliance under the 15-year-old rule, but wait a couple of years!
Being a 15-year-oldie it's fair to expect that any imported '88 VR4 might need a little maintenance.
A common problem with VR4s is cracked exhaust manifolds and turbine housings - these can be expensive to replace, but Evolution versions can be used as upgrade replacements with only a little bit of modification. Engine and driveline wise, though, these are strong buggers - over 200,000 kilometres is quite common before an overhaul is needed. If abused, clutches can wear out before then.
Unlike many 'grey' imports, the '88 JDM VR4 has a comparatively good parts back up - the vast majority of its body, interior and driveline parts are the same as used on the locally-delivered VR4 (from 1990). Engines and gearboxes are also in abundant supply in the Japanese import wreckers - for now.
The power-up potential of the VR4 is truly immense. Worldwide, it's fair to say the Mitsubishi 4G63 has undergone more aftermarket development that perhaps even the Subaru EJ20 turbo. In the US, for example, the 4G63 is fitted to the DSM (Diamond Star Motors) Eclipses, Eagle Talons, Plymouth Lasers and, of course, Mitsubishi Galant VR4s and the latest Evo VIIIs; the fastest of these, with and without nitrous, are running into the 9 and low 11-second brackets respectively...
1988 JDM Mitsubishi Galant VR4 Fast Facts...
- Quick in a straight-line and around corners
- More torquey than a Subaru at low rpm
- Immense modification potential
- Not particularly pretty, but practical and comfortable
- Parts back-up not a major issue
- Without question the cheapest all-round performance car
Adelaide Japanese Imports
+61 8 8369 1156