1990 Mitsubishi Mirage – LIL EVO

LILEVO 1990 Mitsubishi Mirage
The current LILEVO 1990 Mitsubishi Mirage. The original LILEVO was a 1989 model year and maroon in color.

The LILEVO story began in 1997

I purchased my 1989 Mitsubishi Mirage VL from a local Mitsubishi dealer with 100,000 miles on the clock without having any knowledge of cars. Powered by an economical 1.5L 8-valve 80 horsepower engine coupled with a 3-speed automatic, the Mirage was simply a car. A few weeks passed when 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 custom and cheap cold air intake designs out of 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 took the car into the Mitsubishi dealership to figure out why the car was driving poorly. They informed me, along with a bill nearing $1000, that the O2 sensor had seized in the exhaust manifold. My custom cold air intake was also leaking, bypassing the factory MAS (air sensor).

With this depressing $1000 estimate, 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, the check engine light ceased to flash. I instantly became an enthusiast.

My mind raced with new ideas and upgrades. My research found the 1989 Mirage turbo. A factory 1.6L, 130hp turbocharged hatchback. This engine was 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’s black turbo Mirage 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. Unfortunately I didn’t have a 32mm socket to remove the axles so I found a twenty foot long pipe elsewhere in the salvage yard. I used this pipe to separate the hub and axle from the transmission so it would drop out of the chassis. It worked and I hauled my treasure to the counter.

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 just flathead screwdriver and a hammer. I pulled the mangled scrap metal out with a needle nose pliers by bending it back and forth. Talk about dedication.

The next day I removed the automatic transmission when my parents were out of town so they couldn’t stop me. I installed a compatible flywheel and clutch and mounted the transmission. Unfortunately I forgot a few ground wires from the transmission and when I dropped the transmission it dangled in the engine bay, spilling 5-10 quarts of ATF on a brand new asphalt driveway. To top off the damage the transmission I bought was trashed with a bad gear or two, bearings, and silver fluid. Lesson learned. I found another transmission and performed the swap a second time.

I retained my stock axles and the Mirage was now a 5-speed. I removed the horsepower robbing R-12 air conditioning system (I regret doing this today!) and power steering system. With the reduced weight and strain on the engine, chirping second gear was effortless and made a lot of people shake their heads and laugh on the local cruising strip.

In late 1999, 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. A friend of mine said he had a 1990 Eagle Talon parts car that I was free to come grab parts off of. Unfortunately it was the middle of summer, 90+ degrees and humid out, and I battled mosquitoes and sweat for hours pulling various engine harnesses and miscellaneous parts to complete my conversion.

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, pulley, and a come-a-long to lift out the old engine. I dropped in the 4G63 engine, completed the wiring harness 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 Phantom Grip spring “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 AMS (back when they used to work on DSM’s) race 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. Do the math. 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 only a tape measure to determine wheelbase and subframe angles, 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 original LILEVO came to an end during a crash at a local circle track spectator drag event in late 2004.

No more than 6 months later in early 2005 I found my next Mirage.

Here is my play by play of events.

I spotted the two tone white and gray car on Ebay the second week of March of 2005. I’ve been searching for “Mitsubishi Mirage” for the past few months, daily. So I came home after a long and stressful day at work and searched. This gem popped up, no bids, $500. I couldn’t contain my happiness! Then I thought, do I really want another Mitsubishi again? Shouldn’t I get something better, like a Toyota? I couldn’t let my salvaged parts, fully rebuilt rear subframe, etc go to waste in the garage from LILEVO1 so yes!. After a few emails back and forth between the seller, I found out that the car was located in central Pennsylvania and he had a local offer and was looking to get $1400 for the car. Out of any Mitsu strategist, I knew this was a little bit high, but still a fair price, considering it was going to drive me home 700 miles. Looking back on this in 2024, what a steal.

The seller put the car at a buy it now for $1400 on Ebay. I cringed. It was then lowered to $1200. I was checking my Yahoo mail account and ebay through my cell phone at work at this point. Think about the limitations of a cell phone in 2005. Clueless buyers quickly upped my $500 starting bid. I bought the car for $1200 without a second thought.

This Mirage was badged an “SE” model. (it’s labeled an RS on the window sticker and Carfax) included items I only wished for on LILEVO1 like intermittent wipers, adjustable steering wheel, better cluster, and nicer sport steering wheel. This car is a 1990 so it was still produced in Japan and shipped over. 1992 Mirages were built at the DSM plant in Illinois.

5-speed sedan. Pretty rare to begin with, I wasn’t going to buy an automatic sedan no matter what. A blue Mirage popped up on Ebay with 16k original miles. It was an auto and went for $2500. (What’s $2500 in todays money?)

Two-tone paint. Sweet option, looks like a 1G DSM. The lower half of the car including the bumpers are a silver gray color. There is also plastic gray moulding in between the white and gray around the car with a red plastic pinstripe in the center of the moulding.

Color mirrors. Unheard of. Usually found only on the Mirage Turbo (only 800 or so imported in 1989) or other high line Mirages. Not many floating around. Mirrors and bumpers are a dull, flat black usually on almost every Mirage/Colt I’ve seen.

3-spoke sport steering wheel. Again, found on the 1989 Turbo Mirage. This steering wheel is also adjustable along with tilt/telescope. It’s also smaller than the school bus size wheel in the base line Mirages.

Sport seats/Cloth interior. Seats and doors are full cloth. Headrests have holes in the center. I actually have interior door handles now and not screws sticking out like my hacked cloth interior attempt on LILEVO1 🙂 LILEVO1 came with all vinyl interior stock.

Tach cluster. Not found on base Mirages. This car also came stock with a clock. I didn’t have either until I swapped them in LILEVO1.

Remote latches. Has both remote gas door and trunk releases. Neato.

I quickly paid the $200 deposit via Paypal when I won the auction. No way was I taking a bus to Pennsylvania so I booked an Amtrak. I haven’t been on one in 20 years (literally) and was looking forward to it. Total cost, $74!

03/21/06, 2pm

I arrive at the Amtrak station. I packed basic tools, CDs, some clothes, toothbrush, bottled water, cookies, Triscuits, Wheat Thins, some chocolates, Ipod, Valentine 1, IPass, laptop.
The train leaves Milwaukee at 3pm to Union Station in Chicago. We get there around 430pm. I wait a half hour and board the Superliner to Pittsburgh at 5pm. It was almost 6:30pm before we even left the station, I’m still enjoying the train ride, listening to the Ipod. The seats were quite comfortable and reclined quite a bit. I had both seats so I was able to lay sideways, in the prone position over both seats and anything else I wanted to do. I made a dinner reservation for 8pm in the dining car and ate a salad, roll, salmon, mashed potatoes and broccoli. It wasn’t too bad aside from the rocking of the train car back and forth.

9pm. We cross through Indiana and it becomes 10pm EST. The train stopped a few times, South Bend, Cleveland and some other places. I nap briefly for 15-20 minutes at a time, but am too distracted from other idiots on the train. One guy, that I originally thought was a girl, started to cut an entire garlic and put it into this plastic bin. WTF! The whole train car stunk. I saw some sprouts and noodles and who knows what else go in the container. He/she warmed it up, came back and started eating it like soup. Unreal. Then around 11pm this guys phone began to alarm. Of course he was passed out. After alarming for 20 rings, the guy/girl behind him kicked his seat and he woke out of his slumber and shut it off. Nevermind that it happened two more times in the next half hour. I brush my teeth and try to sleep around 1130pm before arriving in Pittsburgh at 4am.

03/22/06, 12am

I think I was able to sleep decently from 1am-530am when we arrived in Pittsburgh. I woke several times and was quite sore though. Since we left Chicago 1.5hours late, we got to PA at 530am. I sat around until the next train left at 7am to Lewistown PA. Central/northish PA. So 1130am rolls around and we finally make it to Lewistown. The seller meets me at the station which is an hour from his house and drives back in the Mirage.

03/22/06, 2pm

Still haven’t eaten since the Salmon dinner on the train last night. All I’ve been “eating” was Triscuits and bottled water. He gave me a box of CVS brand chocolate chip cookies. Those complimented the water and Triscuits very well. Transfer the title, get gas and I’m on my way 700 miles west on I80. Snow everywhere, wind, up and down mountains, my ears are popping. The Mirage is crusing at 4000 RPM at 75mph. Gotta love it. I got around 32mpg on the way home however. I bought another 6-pack of Ice Mountain water when I got gas at some point.

03/22/06, 5pm

170 miles or so and I’m out of PA. I try and hustle to the Norwalk exit (DSM Shootout!) because I know I only have 400 miles left to go before I’m at my house. I think I went another 200 miles or so before I was midway through Ohio. Nothing too exciting, I finally hit Indiana and it’s somewhere around 8:30pm. I’m making pretty good time, but I still haven’t eaten anything for 24 hours. I’ve been living on the water and my Triscuits. I push it to 85mph. (4300rpm) hehe.

03/22/06, 9:30pm

5 Miles to Middlebury Indiana. 160 miles to Chicago. If you know where Middlebury is, I’m sorry. Stereo cuts out. Oh no. Cluster lights dim, headlights dim. Game over. Alternator is dead. I make it without the alternator off the freeway, wait behind a crackhead semi-truck paying a toll on the offramp and try to rev the car to keep it alive. The toll lady has no idea where any civilization is much less an Autozone. I find out there’s a gas station a block off the freeway. I pull in and the car dies. I obviously didn’t bring a spare alternator. My mind races, nothing is open. There isn’t anything within a 10 mile radius. Back then there were big yellow phone books to use. That was the only way to connect with other people.


The gas station clerk was quite nice, gave me a phone book, told me where a few places were around. That wasn’t good enough. I had to get home. I called Advance Auto. Guy by the name of Chad Nichols answers. They have one remanufactured alternator in stock. I throw Chad my crazy story and offer him $40 to bring me the alternator when he gets off work at 10pm. He thinks about it and calls a few friends. This Autozone was nearly 30 miles southwest of where I was. Chad calls back, he will buy the alternator with his own cash and bring it to me. Unbelievable. If anyone finds this guy tell him he saved my life.


Chad arrives around 10:30pm with the alternator. I had the old one out in about 10 minutes well before he arrived. I tossed him an issue of Import Racer with LILEVO1 in it and talked about snowboarding and life. I maxed out my ATM limit earlier in the day withdrawing $500 for the car. Luckily, and I mean luckily, I had a check. I wrote him a check and he was on his way. So was I. What a lifesaver.

03/22/06, 11:30pm

I’m on my way once again after a 2 hour delay. I bust through Chicago and finally get home to Wisconsin at 2am CST. So the trip essentially took 11-12 hours, non stop. I still hadn’t eaten at this point and finished my Triscuits long ago. Haven’t eaten a meal in well over a day. I passed out.
3/23/06, 12pm

I finally eat at a local sub shop. I swapped on my Diamond Star Specialties coilovers, Koni shocks, my old wheels and tires and changed out the timing belt and crank seal. I had no idea when the timing belt was done last and didn’t want to chance it. Took a few hours. It was nice, and not so nice, to be back in the game.

I plan on taking a different course, at least for awhile, with this car and do things that I never really did with LILEVO1. I’ll be putting on my custom big brake kit (that has sat in the closet for two years) with Wilwood calipers. The kit consists of custom CNC’d black finished bracket calipers and GVR4 rotors. I’ll also replace all of the front suspension bushings, control arm bushings, etc with poly bushings and making the car handle and stop like it never knew it would. 32mpg will be nice.

It’s nice having a non-hacked up, completely stock wiring and interior paneling car. OEM pedals, shifter base, master cylinder (and clutch lines that are bolted to the firewall) and manual transmission. It’s unbelievably nice having an OEM 5-speed brake pedal. It is half the width of the automatic brake pedal, which is what LILEVO1 had. Afterwhile I cut the brake pedal in half and was left with a metal brake pedal. Since the car was made in Japan, the brake master cylinder is on the passenger side with a long tube going across, under the dash, connecting the pedal to the master cylinder. Can’t really swap in a 5-speed pedal out unless the whole dash comes out. So no more of that with this car.

After 8 years of owning LILEVO1, it has been through so much trial and error as well as dings and dents due to time. Now that I know exactly what needs to be done and how to do it, the end result will be a much cleaner and a much more professional looking product. This is something I couldn’t do by “turning back the time” with LILEVO1 as far as the factory stock aspect of the car. A/C and power steering will stay in and everything will be done with the utmost care. I can even fabricate the all-wheel-drive front crossmembers and engine mounts with the 1.5L engine that is in place right now. Not to say that I ever will convert it to.. or.. but, it.. yeah…

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