If I asked you to name a vehicle tuned by AMG, you’ll almost certainly mention some sort of Mercedes-Benz product. For decades, AMG has created some fabled German muscle, but there have been times when the tuner has cheated on the three-pointed star. One of those times, AMG teamed up with Mitsubishi to breathe performance into a pair of models. One of those cars was the Galant, which AMG turned into a 168 HP screamer with an 8,000 RPM redline.
Last time on Holy Grails, we had a staff pick: The rare Chevrolet Avalanche 2500. The Avalanche was a six-passenger SUV that was also a pickup truck with a 5.3-foot bed that expands out to 8 feet. The Avalanche did it using GM’s then-novel midgate, which opened the truck’s interior up to the bed. Flip the rear seats down and the bed extends into the interior, making for a truck with an 8-foot bed that was 2 feet shorter than the equivalent Silverado. General Motors sold 622,380 Avalanches. Of those, around 9,524 are the Avalanche 2500, a version sporting an 8.1-liter big block V8, heavy-duty components, and an 11,900-pound tow rating.
This week, we’re continuing the trend of super-rare versions of common cars. In fact, you could argue that today’s subject vehicle has not just one, but two versions you might call a holy grail.
Today’s story takes us back to the 1980s. In 1977, Mitsubishi suspended its official rally program, only to restart it in 1981 with a pair of Lancer EX2000 Turbos sent to Greece with Team Ralliart. That year, Mitsubishi’s return to rallying netted it at best a ninth-place finish in the final RAC rally in the UK. Mitsubishi paused its rally program again for half of 1982, spending that time refining its rally cars. This worked as in August, Mitsubishi took third overall in Finland’s 1000 Lakes Rally. Mitsubishi stuck with its rallying and later, it would introduce a Starion 4WD into racing. The Starion 4WD was developed with Group B rallying in mind, but the class was banned before it got its chance to shine.
The late 1980s would mark another important point in Mitsubishi’s history as the company’s Galant got some serious firepower to compete in Group A rallying. But the Galant wouldn’t just get that spicy rally version. AMG, which was still an independent tuner at the time, also made a super-rare version of the Galant with a little more power and unique styling.
A Luxurious Tourer
The Galant was an important car for Mitsubishi. Introduced in 1969 as the Colt Galant, it became Mitsubishi’s first car to enter the North American market in 1971. This car had Chrysler connections. Chrysler was Mitsubishi’s new partner at the time and imported the Colt Galant into America as the Dodge Colt. The car also found itself in Australia as the Chrysler Valiant Galant. A year later, the Colt Galant popped up in South Africa as the Dodge Colt 1600 GS.
Here’s how Mitsubishi describes the original Galant, which eventually competed against the likes of the Datsun Bluebird, Honda Accord, Mazda Capella, and Toyota Corona:
The Colt Galant made its debut in December 1969 as the first Mitsubishi model to bear the name Galant. With the advent of the highway era now in earnest, the model was developed to the key phrases of “more beautiful,” “higher performance,” “wider,” “quieter,” and “more luxurious”.
It was powered by 1.3 L and 1.5 L engines, Mitsubishi’s first OHC power units. The cabin was roomier and as well as offering generous front seat leg room there was ample head clearance for rear seat passengers and a spacious trunk. The dashboard located an oval instrument cluster with a patented non-reflective curved visor and together with fatigue-reducing double-spring front seats allowed the driver to enjoy their motoring in comfort even on longer distance driving. The addition of a 2-door hardtop and an estate van in 1970 expanded the target customer group. There were competition successes for the Colt Galant in both domestic and international rallies, including an overall victory for the 16L-GS in the 7th Southern Rally in 1972.
In 1973, the Colt Galant got its second generation and a new name. The new car was called the New Galant and Colt was retired. Mitsubishi notes that the New Galant gained a larger body, a curvaceous, sedan-like body, and styling that looks to my eyes a bit like an American pony car. These were positioned as a “personal sedan.” Here in America, you would find them as the Dodge Colt, Plymouth Colt, or Plymouth Cricket if you live in Canada.
A Technological Wonder
Today’s grail will require us to hit that fast-forward button to the Galant’s sixth generation, which launched in 1987 before heading over to America in 1989. During this era, Japanese automakers riding in the so-called Bubble Economy were showing off novel new technology while cranking up the horsepower of their wares. Even Japanese motorcycle manufacturers were experimenting with fresh tech during this time.
Mitsubishi said that in developing the sixth-generation Galant, it made a car that “answers the needs and requirements of those who have a clearly defined sense of values and who seek the genuine article“. The automaker’s advertising further described the then-new Galant as “the individual 4 door.” As for its design, here’s how Mitsubishi describes it:
Its muscular organic form crafted from a “reverse-slant nose”, tall stance and body sides which undulated like a wave from top to bottom really stood out among the low and wide proportions that were the fashion at the time.
The highlight of the sixth-gen Galant is what Mitsubishi called the Active Four component systems. Mitsubishi was really obsessed with the number four here. The engine under the hood was a 4-valve DOHC unit, the drivetrain had an available four-wheel-drive system with a viscous coupling center differential, and the car had a 4-wheel independent suspension, 4-wheel steering, and 4-wheel ABS. Mitsubishi notes that models without four-wheel-drive were available with an airbag suspension it claims to be the first production electronically controlled suspension system in a passenger car. The automaker further claims that the Galant is the first production car to feature all of the Active Four systems at the same time.
This is all to say that the sixth-generation Galant came loaded with all kinds of 1980s technology. It’s no surprise that the Galant won the Car of the Year Japan award in 1987 and Import Car of the Year from Motor Trend in 1989.
A Rally Special Worthy Of A Grail
Mitsubishi didn’t just produce a technological wonder, but it also turned the Galant into a fierce competitor. The automaker fitted a 4G63T 2.0-liter turbo four into the Galant with full-time four-wheel drive and four-wheel steering. Mitsubishi says that the rally car made more than 300 horses from the start and the car found success in the dirt.
The Galant VR-4 won overall in the 1989 WRC 1000 Lakes Rally, which Mitsubishi says was its first WRC victory since the Lancer won the Safari Rally in 1974 and 1976. The Galant VR-4 was also taken to wins in the Asia-Pacific Rally Championship, the American National GT Championship, the 1989 Lombard RAC Rally, and the 1991 Swedish Rally.
Of course, to comply with WRC regulations, Mitsubishi produced a handful of roadgoing versions of the Galant VR-4. The Galant VR-4 America got made 195 HP and 203 lb-ft torque from its 4G63T. Though, versions in other markets got as many as 237 horses and 224 lb-ft torque under the hood. The street version borrowed some of the tech from the racer such as the four-wheel drive, four-wheel steering, independent suspension, four-wheel ABS, and the aforementioned electronically controlled suspension system. It culminated in a vehicle with a 130 mph top speed and a 60 mph sprint of about 7 seconds. Here’s a review from the lovely folks of MotorWeek:
Just 3,009 of these made it over to America in just 1991 and 1992 and it’s estimated that there are maybe a couple of thousand examples elsewhere. Later, the Galant would pass the speed torch to the Lancer, which would become the Lancer Evolution. By all accounts, the Galant VR-4 is worthy of being a grail. In fact, our reader, John B, suggested the VR-4:
Debuting in Japan as a 1987 model year, and the US market for model years 1991 to 1992, the E39A Galant VR-4, sometimes referred to as “Evo 0”, was very much the predecessor to the Lancer Evolution. The 4WD, turbo 4G63 sedan with AWS had 3,009 examples imported to the United States. Exhaustive USDM import numbers [here].
GVR4 fans will be quick to point out these are technically not DSM models as they were manufactured in Japan and shipped to the States, as opposed to the first generation Eclipse/Talon/Laser co-manufactured with Chrysler.
The cars still pop up from time to time on the GVR4 forums in the form of shells, disassembled projects, running and driving projects, and clean examples. They’ll typically range anywhere from a few thousand to $15k. I’ve lurked these classifieds on and off since 2008 when I first discovered the Galant VR-4. Listings have dwindled since then, especially in the last five years or so, and it’s become increasingly unusual to find these on Craigslist.
Bonus Galant history: there was also a rare Galant tuned by AMG (yes, that AMG) that was a quick naturally aspirated FWD sedan that could scream to an 8000rpm redline!
However, do you see that bonus line down there? I think John buried the lede here. Yes, AMG even got involved with the sixth-generation Galant!
The Other Galant Grail
Not much is known about why Mitsubishi and AMG got together on a variant of the Galant. Mitsubishi writes just a single sentence about the Galant AMG on its site: In 1989 the lineup was joined by the Galant AMG, with modifications by German tuning company AMG.
Mercedes-Benz purchased a controlling interest in AMG in 1998. Before that, the company was independent and free to work with any company it wanted to. Despite that, there are only a couple of examples of AMG deviating from souping up Mercedes-Benz cars. This is perhaps worth a look into at a later date, but Mercedes and AMG teamed up to create wacky South Africa-exclusive Honda Civics.
Before that, in 1987, Mitsubishi and AMG created the Mitsubishi Debonair V3000 Royal AMG. Perhaps unexpectedly, the Debonair AMG didn’t have any extra power, but instead, AMG adorned the car with a body kit, wheels, and interior touches. Later, the Debonair AMG would get a longer wheelbase version. But that was it, the AMG-tuned Debonair was more luxury and style than speed.
All of them were made just for the Japanese market and the Galant AMG was a different take on making the Galant faster. AMG took the 4G63 2.0-liter four and gave it stronger internals, new pistons, more aggressive cams, and a free-flowing exhaust. The result was an output of 168 HP and 141 lb-ft torque, up about 25 horses and 14 lb-ft torque from the standard engine. Redline also jumped to 8,000 RPM, up about 1,000 from the standard engine and even the VR-4.
Mitsubishi sold the Galant AMG in Type I and Type II forms until about 1991. Both had the same performance, but different styles provided by AMG. The latter company gave the Galant AMG new 15-inch wheels, a body kit, a wood shift knob, and a leather interior. Sadly, given the rarity and the fact that this car was limited just to the Japanese market, I haven’t found performance data for them.
Thus, the Galant AMG is a bit of an oddball on top of being exceedingly rare. It’s barely even a footnote in Mitsubishi’s retelling of its own history. And it’s one of the rare times AMG touched on anything that wasn’t a Mercedes. Either way, this is another one of those cars that offer up two different Grails. If you want speed, get the VR-4. If you love the style or you’re a fan of rare cars or AMG, the Galant AMG awaits.
The Galant AMG is so rare that only one of them has ever shown up on Bring a Trailer, and it sold for less than $10,000. As of right now, I see exactly zero Galant VR-4s and Galant AMGs for sale in Japanese auctions. So, if you want one of these from Japan, you might have to sit and wait a bit.
(Images: Manufacturer, unless otherwise noted.)
Do you know of or own a car worthy of being called a ‘holy grail’? Send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org or drop it down in the comments!
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