From rental sedan to winning machine, the story of the Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution

Posted by: TalesofToyCars in Member Blogs

By Olivier Dath

Few car manufacturers have been so committed towards rallying as Mitsubishi Motors. Among all the models entered through the decades, the most memorable is probably the Lancer Evolution.

Mitsubishi came back in the World Rally Championship in 1989 with the Galant VR-4. While powerful, the car proved too big and heavy for the numerous tight corners of the rally stages. Mitsubishi and Ralliart, its motorsport department, came with the idea to cram the Galant's turbo engine and 4WD transmission into the smaller Lancer sedan. The first Lancer Evolution was born. Sporting a rather discreet body kit by today's standards, it appeared on the Japanese market in October 1992. Like all further Evos, it was available in two versions : GSR (fully equipped) and RS (stripped down for rally specs).

Mitsubishi then began a politic of making these cars as limited editions, building enough of each evolution to comply with the Group A homologation rules. And indeed, in January 1994 came the Evolution II. While the exterior remained the same, many modifications were done on the engine (power went from 250 to 260 hp) and chassis. So far, no Evolution I or II has been made in small scale die-cast.




The Evolution III appeared in February 1995. Things began to get serious. The aero kit became more aggressive, with enormous air intakes in the front bumper. Power was up to 270 hp. At the same time, the Evos running in the World Rally Championship began to win events and got the attention of rally fans. Jada Toys recently released an Evolution III in small-scale.


Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution III 1995 "Initial D" - Jada

The fourth Lancer Evolution came in August 1996 with a whole new bodyshell, less boxy than the the previous one. Many modifications were also done under the hood. Power reached 280 hp, a self-imposed limit among Japanese car manufacturers. Meanwhile, Finnish driver Tommi Mäkinen became World Rally Champion for Mitsubishi later that year. Tomica released the Evolution IV in various stock and rally liveries. A casting later copied by Pioneer.


Mitsubishi Lancer RS Evolution IV 1997 - Tomica

Mitsubishi Carisma GT Evolution IV 1997 - Tomica

Mitsubishi Lancer RS Evolution IV 1996 - Pionee

The Evolution V, which debuted in January 1998, was a significant step in Mitsubishi's rally career. The FIA introduced the more liberal WRC rules a year before, yet Mitsubishi chose to stay faithful to the Group A and further developed the Lancer. As a result, the Evo V was noticeably wider and more technologically refined. And Tommi Mäkinen clinched a second World Rally title.

The only real Evolution V done in small scale comes from Hongwell, and it is one of the best models they've ever made. Even if Hongwell often calls it an Evo VI WRC, it is in fact an Evo V in full Group A rally trim, including roof scoop, antenna, bucket seats and a full roll cage. The same model is also sold by Schuco.



Mitsubishi Lancer RS Evolution V 1998 (rally) - Hongwell

Modifications to the rallying rules forced a new, and somewhat less aggressive, aero kit for the sixth Lancer Evolution, appearing in January 1999. The strength of the bodyshell was also reinforced. The best small scale replicas come from a relatively unknown manufacturer called Carisma. Three distinct versions were released : a stock Evo VI, the same in Ralliart "Zero Fighter" tuning trim, and the Group A Lancer which won the New Zealand Rally in 1999. Jadatoys also made a rather goofy-looking tuner version of the Evo VI.


Mitsubishi Lancer GSR Evolution VI Ralliart Zero Fighter 1999 - Carisma

In November 1999, Mitsubishi released a special Tommi Mäkinen Edition of the Evo VI, to celebrate the four consecutive World Rally titles won by the Finnish ace. The car had a specific front spoiler, a lower stance, and an optional Ralliart-inspired decoration. Yet no replica in small scale have been made.

However, the following Evolution VII from January 2001 proved much more popular. Using the bodyshell from the new generation Lancer Cedia sedan, and carrying more electronic gizmos than ever, the Evo VII had a more refined look.

AutoArt released the Evo VII in several colors, while Bandai, in its Hot Wheels Charawheels range, made a fantasy French Gendarmerie version, inspired from the French blockbuster film "Taxi 3". Racing Champions and Muscle Machines both provided an extreme tuner variant.




Mitsubishi Lancer GSR Evolution VII '01 - Auto Art

Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution VII '01 (tuning)

Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution VII '01 (tuning) - Racing Champions/Tomica

Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution VII '01 Gendarmerie - Charawheels

In the same year, the rally Lancers took another road. By complying to the WRC rules, they began to lose some ties with the road versions. Unfortunately, the results didn't follow. Three-inch replicas of the 2002 Lancer WRC come from Hot Wheels (with a plastic body and an inaccurate 2004 livery) and AutoArt.



Mitsubishi Lancer WRC MRE/ 2004 - Hot Wheels

Mitsubishi Lancer WRC MRE 2002 - Auto Art

Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution VII GTA 4p 2002 - Tomica

The lesser-known offspring from the Evo saga appeared in January 2002. The Evolution VII GT-A was a cheaper, detuned version of the original. Nevertheless, Tomica provided a replica.

The 2003 Evolution VIII marked another chapter in the Lancer history, as it is the first incarnation of the car to be regularly sold in the world's major markets such as North America and continental Europe.



Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution VIII 2004 - Johnny Lightning

Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution VIII '04 (tuning version) - Jada

Mitsubishi Lancer GSR Evolution VIII '03 - Auto Art

But it seems Mitsubishi is never satisfied with the performance of its products, and the Lancer Evolution VIII MR was launched in February 2004. M-Tech is already offering one in 1/72 scale.


Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution VIII MR 2004 - M-Tech


That was the final chapter of our story until the next Evolution IX arrives!

Editor's note: I was unable to provide images of all the model mentioned here as some are not yet in my collection.

Tags: Vehicles, Tales of Toy Cars

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