If you stop and think about it, cars are often a reflection of the eras in which they were built. There were the cost-no-object Bugattis and Dusenbergs of the Roaring Twenties, the youthfully exuberant GTOs and Mustangs of the Swinging Sixties, and the soul-suckingly wretched Pintos and Vegas of the Sloppy Seventies. So which car best typified the early ‘90s, better known as the dawn of the Digital Age? The more patriotic among you might vote for the Oldsmobile Troféo, with ahead-of-its-time options like a multifunction CRT touchscreen in the dashboard and an integral hands-free cell phone. But not everyone enjoys reliable-but-wheezy pushrod engines and enough potential wiring kafuffles to make even the most hardened electrical engineers break out the crucifix and garlic; some people love to drive, and quickly. For them, the best techno-laden car of this era is the Mitsubishi 3000GT.
In the late 1980s, as its rivals released increasingly more impressive halo cars and Super Potential incarnate grew increasingly long in the tooth, Mitsubishi (and its patron, Chrysler Corporation, which sold rebadged Starions alongside the genuine article over here) realized a clean-sheet redo of its 2+2 sports car was needed. The new car would be a near carbon copy – both stylistically and technologically – of the HSX concept car of 1989. When introduced in the home market, the car was christened the GTO, after the iconic Galant GTO coupe of the 1970s. However, most international versions would wear the name “3000GT,” due to fears of backlash from enthusiasts of the Ferrari and Pontiac GTOs (not to mention, one would guess, fears of backlash from the Ferrari and GM legal departments). Also, like the Starion before it, the 3000GT would have a companion model – the Dodge Stealth – sold at the same time in North America, although there were significant sheetmetal differences; for the purposes of this article, however, we’ll focus on the Mitsu. The standard 3000GT and the slightly upmarket 3000GT SL featured a transversely mounted 3.0L DOHC V6 that produced 220hp and 201 lb./ft driving the front wheels through either a 4-speed automatic or 5-speed manual transmission. The real hot ticket, however, was the 3000GT VR-4. The V6 received twin turbochargers and twin intercoolers, which elevated output to 300hp and 307 lb./ft of torque. The added power was routed to a sophisticated all-wheel-drive system through the 5-speed stick. But as with the Galant VR-4, the baddest 3000GT was more than a turbo and AWD; other equipment not found on the standard versions included a four-wheel steering system, electronically adjustable suspension damping, electronically adjustable exhaust baffling, and Active Aero, a system which automatically raised the rear spoiler and lowered the front air dam at speeds above 50 mph to reduce aerodynamic lift, thus increasing grip. When the time came for a facelift in 1994, the VR-4 was upgraded to 320hp and 315 lb./ft of torque, and its manual transmission was upgraded to a 6-speed. However, 1994 marked the final year for the adjustable exhaust system; the adjustable suspension was gone one year later, and Active Aero vanished a year after that. But 1995 also marked the debut of the ultra limited production 3000GT Spyder. Available in both SL and VR-4 trim levels, the Spyder featured a retractable hardtop designed and built by ASC; a paltry 1,618 were built over the two model years, and all for North American consumption. Dodge discontinued the Stealth after 1996, so the ’97 3000GT inherited the SOHC version of the 3.0L V6 as a base engine. It also received a few tweaks to the exterior lights and trim. Further revisions were made in 1999, but by that time sales had slowed to a trickle, and North American sales of the 3000GT ended at the end of the model year, while production ended altogether the following year.
Base and SL coupes have been known to trade hands at $4,000 or less, while at the other extreme, clean, loaded VR4 Spyders can blow right past the $20,000 mark. Common problem areas include the air-conditioning temperature display, ticking noises coming from the valve lifters in the engine, and engine stalling caused by worn capacitors in the engine control unit (ECU). The Spyder’s top is also obscenely complex, and fixing it is not a simple job that the average shadetree mechanic can knock out in one afternoon. But even with its warts, the 3000GT is a great buy, for it’s not only a solid performer even today, but it also signifies the high tech high watermark of its era.