Around 1997, at 16 years old with no knowledge of cars, I purchased my 1989 Mitsubishi Mirage VL from a local Mitsubishi dealer with 100,000 miles on the clock for $2000. Powered by an economical 1.5L 8-valve 80 horsepower engine coupled with a power sapping 3-speed automatic, the Mirage was simply a car. I still remember the smell of that fresh vinyl and smooth ride on the drive home.
A few weeks passed by and I eyed up a K&N power filter at the local auto parts store. I purchased the air filter and the modifications began. I fabricated a custom and cheap cold air intake out of silver dryer ducting. There were no such after market parts for the Mirage. The check engine light sporadically popped on and I quickly educated myself about the mechanics and electronics of the vehicle. I removed the factory rubber intake hose from the MAF to the throttle body. Little did I know the engine vibrations quickly cut the dryer ducting.
I took the car into the Mitsubishi dealership to figure out why the car was driving poorly. The service manager came into the waiting room and sat down next to me. You would’ve thought someone died. They informed me, along with a bill nearing $1000, that the O2 sensor had seized in the exhaust manifold and my custom cold air intake was also leaking, allowing additional air to bypass the factory MAS air sensor. The price was to replace the exhaust manifold, the intake pipe, O2 sensor, and some other stuff I don’t remember.
With this information, I drove home and I purchased factory service manuals off of Ebay. I spent hours in auto class working with the teacher to free the O2 sensor without having to replace the manifold. I experimented with breaker bars, heating and cooling effects and expansion and different sized sockets for the first time. A week later after fighting with the oxygen sensor for seven days, I equipped myself with a five foot breaker bar in my driveway and let the car warm up to operating temperature. I popped on the socket and pulled down with constant force. I felt the sensor pop loose. My eyes lit up with excitement and I quickly tightened in the new oxygen sensor. Along with a stock air intake pipe in place I found at a junkyard, the check engine light ceased to flash. I became an enthusiast.
After that point, my mind raced with new ideas and upgrades. My research yielded the 1989 Mitsubishi Mirage turbo hatchback. A factory 1.6L turbocharged hatchback. This engine was nearly physically identical to the 2.0L, 200 horsepower 4G63 engine found in the Eclipse, Talon and Laser vehicles. I quickly convinced myself that the 2.0L engine would fit in my vehicle with minor modifications. I picked up the July 1999 edition of Sport Compact Car. I flipped to page 93 where I found Mike Ortiz' black turbo hatchback with the 2.0L swap. My goal was set and I wasn't stopping until it was achieved.
I realized the 3-speed automatic was no good for a lightweight street racer so I quickly sourced a 5-speed transmission in a local pull-a-part. Carrying a bucket full of tools, I spent the day pulling out the donor transmission. I also took a compatible clutch pedal, shifter linkages and hydraulic clutch release system. I spent a day mounting the pedal, linkage and master cylinder by punching out the factory indents in the firewall with a screwdriver and a hammer. I pulled the scrap metal out with a needle nose. That was the extent of my mechanical abilities back then. The next day I removed the automatic transmission. I installed a compatible flywheel and clutch and mounted the transmission. I retained my stock axles and the Mirage was now a 5-speed. I removed the horsepower robbing air conditioning system and power steering system. With the reduced weight and strain on the engine, chirping second gear was effortless.
In late 1999, back in the days of the Talon Digest, I slowly pieced together a complete 4G63 engine. I meticulously cleaned each part and labeled each baggie of parts. I spent a year researching and purchasing parts. I sent off the block to be worked over at a local machine shop. I purchased new 1995-1999 4G63 pistons. My 2.0L would now have 8.5:1 compression compared to the factory 7.8:1 compression pistons. I purchased motor mounts and sourced a stronger, shorter geared Mirage Turbo transmission better suited for drag racing. I picked apart a totalled Talon for a wiring harness, ECU, and completed my list of needed parts.
Finally, by 2001 I was ready to begin the engine swap. I drained the fluids out of the 1.5L engine for the last time. I used the rafters in my garage and a series of chains and pulleys to lift out the old engine. I dropped in the 4G63 engine, completed the wiring nightmare and fired up the Mirage for the first time on March 5th of 2001. I decided on a license plate of "LIL EVO", combining the 4-door style of the early 1990 Lancer Evolution and Lancer GSR's of Japan with my front wheel driven drag monster. I would cruise the local area, quickly knocking off any competition and dropping mouths of nonbelievers. No one had ever seen anything like the Mirage. Half of the victims didn't even know what kind of car I was driving. A trip to the local drag strip resulted in consistent 14 second quarter miles at near 100mph on a near stock 4G63 engine. I found a second home at www.4G61T.org and met other people in love with Mirages and Colts. I posted archives on how to swap the 2.0L turbo into the Mirage as well as the 5-speed conversion. I also added write-ups on how to fabricate clear front blinkers, how to relocate the battery to the trunk, suspension upgrades and transmission teardown and LSD installation. It seemed that I quickly became known by everyone. I was addicted to speed.
Three years of upgrades continued. New turbo, wider tires, exhaust, fuel controllers, injectors, new fuel pump, larger intercoolers, boost controllers, even new transmissions at the cost of shattered bellhousings due to massive wheel spinning differential failure. In June of 2004, the crankshaft snapped at the flywheel fillet. The engine was removed in favor of an Automotosports supplied race prepped engine. The most recent upgrades turned track times of a rubber melting 11.7 at 127mph. Dyno sessions produced 405 horsepower and 360ft/lbs of torque on 93 octane pump gas. LIL EVO weighed in at around 2300lbs. Traction became an issue and change was needed.
In late 2004, I purchased an engine-less 1990 Talon AWD. With the Talon and Mirage parked side by side in the garage my work began. I enlisted the help of a friend and within one weeks time, approximately 70 hours of labor, the Mirage became All-Wheel-Drive. I spent hours with a sawzall removing old rear panhard mounts and rear floor paneling in the Mirage. I installed an AWD transmission and transfer case. I used angle iron and flat steel stock to construct drive shaft mounting points and rear differential cross members. With my finger permanently attached to my MIG welder, I spent hours welding custom mounts and brackets to hold the drive line together. By using a tape measure to determine wheelbase and equality, I mounted the rear end permanently in place. I also constructed new front and rear engine mounts due to the transfer case being mounted where the old engine cross member was located. The car was aligned within specification, proving that my primitive mounting efforts lined up the tires nearly perfect. I installed a factory fresh TRE race transmission with a Quaife front differential, providing power to both front wheels. The front to rear ratio was locked to 50/50 with a welded center differential coupled with a stock viscous limited slip differential rear.
The Mirage has yet to run down the track in AWD form. The Mirage spins all four to about 25mph with street tires. Compared with wheel spin to 90mph on the track with slicks while FWD, the AWD Mirage shows that a faster E.T. is inevitable. Sometimes I wonder how swapping in a K&N filter lead to such a car.
2003-2005 engine modifications:
Automotosports o-ringed 2.0L long block
Ross 8.5:1 forged pistons
Eagle connecting rods
Eliminated balance shafts
ARP main and rod bolts
Stock Mitsubishi head gasket
Stock Mitsubishi head with crower springs and retainers
HKS 272/272 camshafts
ARP head studs
Stock 1G intake manifold
Evolution3 exhaust manifold
Forced Performance FP 3065 ball bearing turbo
TiAL 44mm external wastegate
TiAL blow-off valve
Custom Spearco 2-120 Intercooler
Greddy Profec-B Spec 2 electronic boost controller
Walbro 255lph fuel pump
Denso 720cc injectors
3" turbo back exhaust
AEM Standalone engine management with wideband oxygen sensor
ACT 2600lb clutch kit
Team RIP (TRE) factory new AWD transmission
Galant VR4 input shaft and 1st gear (higher MPH)
Quaife front differential
steel shift rails
Diamond Star Specialties (DSS) Mirage Coilovers
Koni Yellow struts
Adjustable Camber/Caster plates
Front strut tower bar