Great Expectations

The Mitsubishi Eclipse has been beloved by American tuner culture since its debut for the ‘89 model year. It was a small, affordable Japanese sports car made in the US thanks to a partnership between Mitsubishi and Chrysler called Diamond Star Motors(DSM), a name that has become synonymous with the car and its rebadged siblings. The fact of the Eclipse being built in America and only in America made it special to US tuners and the car’s popularity only grew with the late ‘90s early 2000’s tuner culture explosion. Ask any gearhead about one of the most memorable moments from the first Fast and the Furious movie and it’s likely they’ll bring up Ja Rule screaming, “No Monica!!!” as Paul Walker pulls ahead in his tuned 2nd gen Eclipse during a street race. While later Eclipse models, made from 1999-2012, don’t have the same kind of performance or emotional appeal as the first 2 generations, they’re still owned by a dedicated cult following who appreciates them for being cheap to buy and having strong aftermarket support. Sydney is one of those owners, having bought her 2012 Eclipse new because she wanted something affordable and tuneable. 

While living in San Antonio in 2012, Sydney had a junky old Mitsubishi Lancer that she was tired of driving around. It was a car that she had bought just as a means of getting from Point A to Point B. It was finally time to get a car that she actually wanted to drive. She had the means to get a decent car new, but it still had to fit in her budget while being fun and tuneable. The 4th generation Mitsubishi Eclipse 4-cylinder was a perfect fit for her needs. Sure, the only available manual transmission model on the lot had a V6 and Sydney prefers a manual, but it was too far out of her budget. She was fine with driving an automatic 4-cylinder, not just because it was within her budget, but also because of the wealth of aftermarket parts available for the 4th gen Eclipse and its inline four engine. 

The mods that Sydney has are mostly bolt-ons, a list that includes: a short ram intake, a catback exhaust, and lowering springs, among others. The result is a car that probably isn’t that much faster than stock. The aftermarket springs mean the ride is harsh, but neither of those facts put a damper on the fun. Sydney’s Eclipse is a car one falls into rather than steps into. It feels fast if it’s floored. Even just riding around in the car is enjoyable. Sydney’s friends in San Antonio thought so too, and even began to recognize when she’d show up by the sound of her exhaust.

Now, Sydney makes a pretty comfortable living as an aircraft mechanic. However, back in San Antonio, Sydney was one of the DJ’s for a local nightclub, where she went by the stage name, DJ Draggy. Patrons of the club enjoyed her sets and could always hear her heading to the club a mile away thanks to her aftermarket exhaust. When Sydney wasn’t working or playing a set, she enjoyed hanging out with her fellow Eclipse enthusiasts from Club 4G, a fourth gen Eclipse community with a national presence and an especially large regular turnout in San Antonio. Sydney had a community with Club 4G where she could catch up with friends and show off her Eclipse to like-minded gearheads. Sometimes, even 3rd gen Eclipse owners would show up to hang out at meets, as well. The space was a haven for underappreciated cars that were less desirable alternatives to their earlier siblings. Sure, many people were spending a lot to modify the cars, but they had made pragmatic choices when selecting a less popular car over a first gen Eclipse, which has become harder to find and much more expensive lately.

One thing we’ve neglected to mention is that Sydney is a huge BMW fan. She already knows that she wants her next car to be a used, late model Bimmer. She’ll actually be able to afford it this time. In the meantime, she’s kept her expectations realistic. She’s had the same Mitsubishi Eclipse for almost a decade, has modified it according to what she wanted from a car, and has kept it running through several relationships, moves to various cities, and other life changes. She chose the Eclipse because, as much as she loves BMW’s, she had to keep her sporty car wishes within a budget. 

Sydney got an Eclipse because she already enjoyed and was familiar with Mitsus, instead of hunting for, say, an E30 BMW. Not only that, but Sydney went with the generally unliked 4th gen Eclipse over more popular 1st or 2nd generations. She did this because she wanted new car reliability over likely having to deal with a powertrain that has over 200,000 miles on it. If she’d gotten a 1st gen Eclipse with the 4G63, she probably would’ve been able to sell it for a profit now. That may be true, but between 2011 and now, she would’ve had to spend a lot to keep the car in running and driving condition, especially once the 4G63 needed a rebuild. Most importantly, Sydney wasn’t looking to invest in a daily driver. She just wanted something that she could mod into a fun daily driver without the wear and tear of buying used. These are all of the reasons why Sydney chose her 4th gen Eclipse. This kind of outlook on cars is something this writer wishes was more common for multiple reasons, chief among which is that the insistence on certain kinds of cars or a certain level of performance has driven up prices on so many cool cars. These price hikes have created a car culture that is more of an exclusive playground for wealthy enthusiasts. It really sucks, but this can be fixed by remembering to love what we have(or what we can more easily have), rather than what we can’t.

As an example of how to think more practically by searching for alternatives, pretend you want a 1st/2nd gen Eclipse. Even if you do find one, it will likely be hard to afford as a project or weekend car since a lot of nicer 1st gen Eclipses are going for 5 figures nowadays. Sure, the guy selling a ‘95 Eclipse on your local Craigslist for $6k says he’s done regular maintenance and has a lot of new parts installed, but he isn’t getting back to you about your request for engine bay pictures. You could get that sketchy ‘90s Eclipse, but a better idea might be to consider a 4th gen Eclipse. After all, the newest ones are less than a decade old and still fairly cheap and easy to find. If the 4th gen Eclipse’s curb weight is a concern, check out a 3rd gen. The V6 coupe weighs the same as a 2nd gen Eclipse Spyder Turbo and a bit less than a 1st gen GSX(the AWD trim).

While it’s true that the 3rd and 4th gen Eclipse are relatively slow and don’t handle particularly well, a less desirable car won’t always have the best performance. What those generations of Eclipse are, though, is cheap, easy to find, and awash with aftermarket support. One can fix a lot of the complaints they have with those cars through modding. Better yet, because both of those generations are cheap and easily moddable, they also have large established communities here in the US. It’ll be easy to make friends in these communities, and more importantly, find some help with modding. That’s something anyone needs, whether it’s just suggestions on what parts to get or even help wrenching on that new(to you) Eclipse. Something else that works is to look for a dream car alternative that’s made by the same manufacturer as your dream car.

The issues we’ve outlined with unrealistic expectations in car culture may have driven prices on a lot of cool cars up, and the rise in market prices due to Covid certainly doesn’t help. It’s important to realize that managing expectations and thinking of alternatives to our dream cars is one of the best things we can do to mitigate the sting of surging enthusiast car prices. It’s easy to do if you have a favorite manufacturer, and this writer has certainly already done that. We used to want a 1995 Brooklands Green Acura NSX-T. Unfortunately, prices for the first gen NSX have gone into the stratosphere, so that’s likely never happening for us. Nowadays, we’d be willing to settle for a 2nd gen Acura Legend coupe. It’s a more attainable choice that has been rising in value, although it looks possible to hunt one down before prices are out of control. In the short term, importing something like a Honda Beat seems to be the move.

 Sure, the Beat is slow and won’t drive well on American roads. It’s also not an NSX or a Legend, but who cares? It’ll definitely handle like a go-kart. It might be hard to find parts, but Hondas are known for reliability and JDM cars are generally taken care of very well by owners. Reliability wouldn’t be a likely issue. That way it’ll end up being way cheaper than an NSX or a Legend since Beats can still be found for 4 figures. Many Honda Beats have already been imported to the states since they became legal to import 5 years ago, so one could be bought that has already been imported. This also means that there’s a community of American enthusiasts who have owned and wrenched on them for just as long. It would be possible to reach out to them, ask questions, and make friends. It may not fit exactly with what has been discussed above, but the decision to get a Beat instead of an NSX definitely fits the spirit of this blog post.

It takes some time, but searching for a good alternative to your dream car is honestly fun and therapeutic. Letting go of unrealistic expectations feels like a burden being taken from one’s shoulders. The best rule of thumb, honestly, is to get a base model that you can mod and/or engine swap instead of the performance model that collectors are speculating on. If car culture can become a community where this is the norm, being like Sydney by managing expectations and finding alternatives to dream cars won’t be considered such a bad thing after all.