Lost Lustre?

 Mitsubishi has a new Eclipse coming out, and it will probably decide Mitsubishi's fate in the US auto market. Can a sports coupe really be that important? Let's go back in time for some perspective...

 Mitsubishi's first entry into the US market was sold by Dodge as the Colt. A modest econobox, it sold well enough, and the originals are now considered classics by some. The first hint at what was coming in the future was the Plymouth Arrow, a hot-rod version of the Colt. It's the 70's, so take that hot-rod description with a grain of salt. It was no 'Bahn Burner, but it pointed the way for future Mitsu coupes.

 Mitsubishi's next model came to the US as the Dodge Challenger and Plymouth Sapporo. It held it's own against the Celica's and 200SX's of the day, but most importantly it showed the Triple Diamond's pursuit of technology, with balance shafts in the engine and the MCA-Jet cylinder head (basically a Hemi). Again, it was a modest success, and lasted until 1983.

 1983 was also the year Mitsubishi started selling cars here under their own banner, and the Cordia was the Eclipse of it's time. Again, it was average for the sporty coupes of the day, and Mitsu's limited dealer network limited sales. Chrysler also opted not to sell a version of it, and it's one of the more obscure cars on the roads today.

 Stunning is not a strong enough adjective to describe the launch of the first Eclipse. The marketing was perfect (I still remember the commercials of a red Eclipse driving in front of a setting sun, gorgeous), and the car could be had as a simple NA four-banger up to a mind-numbing AWD turbo version, all at very competitive prices. There was nothing like it on the market, the magazines all praised it's excellence, and suddenly people were paying attention to Mitsubishi.

 It defined the brand, more than any car before it, and it's importance cannot be underestimated. If it would not have been a success, then cars like the 3000GT, Diamante, and today's Lancer Evolution would not be here. It's rare for a sporty coupe to be that successful, yet Mitsubihi did it. As time went by the lustre of Mitsubishi's Eclipse strated to fade as the car moved into the personal luxury coupe role, away from it's sporty roots.

 Now there's a new model arriving, and it's just as important as the first Eclipse. It will decide if Mitsubishi remains a player in the US market, or if the Triple Diamond fades away like Daihatsu, Daewoo, and Plymouth. It's a heavy burden for the attractive coupe, and history is not on it's side. Will the buying public welcome a new coupe enthusiastically? Will passion and excitement win out over practicality and frugalness? We certainly hope so. Mitsubishi is depending on it.


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