Mitsubishi Colt Lancer EX 2000 Turbo

This rare Mitsubishi Colt Lancer EX 2000 Turbo was saved from the crusher. We find out why it was worth such huge effort

Words Ross Alkureishi Photography Alex Tapley

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ravery is essential for rally drivers and for anyone minded to take on the restoration of this rally homologation special. Martin Fearnley must have required plenty of the stuff – he resurrected this 1984 example from a rotting hulk, aided and abetted at his Spa Garage premises in Royal Leamington Spa with the help of his ‘fitter, repairer, stripper and general nuisance’ Harvinder Cheema.

But then, even when new back in the 1980s the Mitsubishi Colt Lancer EX 2000 Turbo was a hell of a brave choice. At £8361 on the road – and another £300 for the decal and driving lamp pack – it took serious gumption to go for one, especially when a BMW 323i cost £7925, a Volkswagen Golf GTi £5700 and a Ford Escort XR3 £5692.

This 1981 model is one of just 400 of these UK specials, built primarily to homologate the Group 4 (later Group B) Lancer Turbo rally car and improve European Lancer sales in the process.

Martin’s car is a supreme and rare unmodified example (period exceptions aside) and a true reminder that you should never judge a box by its exterior. As this unremarkable-looking white saloon is reversed out of the garage, the BMW 2002 Turbo-style reverse decal is the only clue that this is a very special piece of kit. Time to see exactly how special.

Spectacularly unspectacular could describe the exterior. From a distance it looks like any standard three-box saloon – Mazda 626, Datsun Bluebird, Toyota Corolla – built in Japan circa 1980, one your nan and grandad might have driven when you were a lad.

Inside it’s much the same, with smart ergonomics, good-quality plastics and velour seats – not quite up there in terms of quality with period German rivals but less nihilistic in cabin colour, and far better constructed than British offerings.

The 2.0-litre, four-cylinder 4G63 engine – the family that was later to spawn the Mitsubishi Evo powerplant – fires and settles into a whispery tickover, mainly thanks to balance shafts. The gearlever on the five-speed unit shifts efficiently, but the steering is extremely high-geared and, with 175/70 HR14 Bridgestone tyres, low-peed manouvering is hard graft. Nan must have had big biceps.

Pootling through town, it’s all very docile and undemanding, if a touch crashy, but combine it with the burgeoning reputation for bulletproof reliability and you can see why many in Europe and America opted to buy Japanese.

Once out of town and on a dual carriageway, engage the throttle; and in your peripheral vision the boost needle down by the gearlever spins wildly as both kidneys receive simultaneous blows and the Lancer is punched violently towards the horizon. Hard acceleration is accompanied by a callous exhaust snarl and induction power roar – cue wide-mouthed frog grin.

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On full boost it’s easy to rush changing cogs and graunch the gears, but a steadier hand gives the synchromesh time to work, so you can enjoy ridiculous levels of unobtrusive, axle-tramp-free, velvety smooth thrust. Cheema’s words back at Spa Garage: ‘Everybody who drives one, buys one,’ ringing in my ears as I calm down and the Lancer gets in touch with its more docile side once again.

The original asking price is starting to make more sense, especially when you bring respective power outputs into play. The Lancer lays down a hefty 168bhp compared to its contemporaries: 143bhp for the BMW 323i, 110bhp for the Golf GTI and a paltry 96bhp for the Ford Escort XR3. Of course, the Blue Oval would later go down the turbocharger route with its RS Turbo, but still only manage 130bhp.

After a motorway blitz, during which the Lancer’s sheer pace surprises many a modern machine, it's off towards the Burton Dassett hills near Gaydon to put its handling charecteristics to the test. The Lancer features the same MacPherson strut front and trailing/semi-trailing located live rear axle set-up as a standard 1600 car, but with stiffer springs – hence the in-town harshness – and gas-filled dampers.

Point its snout into a bend and it feels remarkably composed with little body roll, which entices you to power-out early. Very quickly you graduate to shifting down a cog to stay on boost, and charging in harder – it remains firmly unruffled, whereas many front- and rear-wheel drive contemporaries would have you scrabbling to maintain controls and your personal composure. There’s a tendency to slight understeer, but unlike its straight-line experience no rapid change of character. It’s helped by precise steering and larger, Samurai sword-sharp disc brakes, which are ventilated at the front.

Taking in the view atop the Burton Dassett Hills Country Park, I’m a bit confused as the car feels far faster than its stated 0-60mph in 8.6sec stats and popping the bonnet reveals why – a non-standard intercooler and a BBW Motorsport sticker. From new, racing driver David Brodie’s engineering firm could supply upgrades from a Phase One set-up, which offered circa 200bhp, an intercooler, ECU upgrade, modified turbocharger and suspension and cost £1649. Phase Two added to that a gas-flowed and ported cylinder head, BBW camshaft and high-pressure fuel pump, and cost £2100. The big-money Phase Three gave you an engine rebuild, BBW forged pistons and a larger turbo. Cheekily, neither Martin or Cheema mentioned its extra perk. With the measure of the Lancer’s multi-faceted character, the return journey is an absolute joy. When the road opens up ahead there’s no point in resisting the temptation to boot it, and integrating a boost-gauge glance into your cornering technique greatly enhances your ability to skewer apexes. It’s an epic sleeper for a Sunday morning blast.

Back into town and it’s time to relax, give way to those of a more rushed disposition and, as the typhoon of performance falls away, allow the Lancer to return to a state of nondescript suburban Zen.

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'We must have had a dustbin full of rust 'Poor parts supply and epic rust meant that the restoration took four years, ‘Bodywise it’s easier to tell you what I haven’t replaced on the body, rather than what I have,’ says Martin. ‘The car was scrap, but importantly it had an original and complete interior.’

The poor parts availability was a key factor in the restoration, as was the fact that he had a donor car. ‘We chopped up the black car and kept the good bits. You can't get new panels, so for other parts I re-fabricated them using the black car as a template.’ Rust is the enemy of this generation of Lancer. In his parts hoards Cheema had complete outrigger chassis legs that had never been on a car. ‘They were shot-blasted and painted, and three holes appeared before we got the chance to fit them.’

When the Lancer was first put on the ramp, the triangular plate joining the front panel, wing valance and outer drop wing valance simply fell off. ‘We removed the whole front end from the bulkhead,’ says Martin. ‘We must have carried a dustbin full of rust and scrap. The chassis was opened up and rebuilt inside, before being put back together and new front panel valances made.’

Martin wanted to ensure that any repairs were invisible, with meticulous attention to detail. ‘I had rear suspension turrets made, but they were hit and miss, so I made my own.’

Even where parts were available, ordering them was difficult because Mitsubishi require a parts number and records in Japan are held on microfiche. 'It's one of the reasons that the restoration took so long; it sat on my ramp for a year, while I looked for dampers. I ordered two from Mitsubishi, and they sent me one – the last in Japan.’ Cue an internet hunt, which turned up one in Coventry.

‘For convenience's sake, we fitted a spare Starion engine, but we still have the original,’ says Cheema. Getting the new engine running smoothly was hard. ‘It’d run fine and tick over, but then wouldn’t rev. All we got from Cheema was “it’s the fuel pump, it’s the fuel pump” for months,’ laughs Martin. ‘We tried changing the fuel pump but it still didn’t work. Apprentice Lewis Checkley found a loose wire coming out of the ECU, but to this day it’s still “the fuel pump”’.

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Mitsubishi Colt Lancer Turbo 2000 (standard)

Engine: 1997cc/4-cyl/SOHC

Power: 168bhp @ 5500rpm

Torque: 181lb ft @ 3500rpm

Maximum speed: 124mph

0-60mph: 71.sec

Fuel consumption: 22-30mpg

Transmission: RWD, five-speed manual

HOW MANY LEFT? 14 (UK)

WHAT TO PAY?

Concours: £15,000

Good: £12,000

Usable: £8000

Project: £2000


The Modern Classics view

The Lancer is a real Samurai warrior in commuter clothing. Its rival-obliterating levels of straight-line performance are an acceptable pay-off for its heavy steering and firm suspension in town. Out in rally territory, adapt your driving methods to make the most of its turbo performance and you can see exactly why it made such a formidable weapon – or would have, had it not arrived just as the four-wheel-drive rally revolution exploded. Mitsubishi’s time would come, though, and today the Colt Lancer EX 2000 Turbo should be viewed as the most significant link in the evolutionary road towards the Evo.

Restoring a rough one will never add up financially, but Martin’s decision has saved a car destined for the crusher and resulted in one of the most original-specification examples still in the UK. It gives him a terrific driver’s car that almost everyone will disregard, until it rushes past in full-blown fury.

Thanks to: Spa Garage (01926 428592),

Ross Sport (rosssport.com), Darin Frow and the Mitsubishi Lancer Register.(lancerregister.com)