• Car of that decade

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    mitsubishi20161122If you lived through the ’80s, there was no way you could have gone through the decade without encountering the Mitsubishi Lancer Box-Type

    Last week, we talked about a car that few people had ever seen in the metal, and that even fewer had ever ridden. This week, we’re discussing one that almost everyone and their uncle know: The “Box-Type” Mitsubishi Lancer.

    This car marked the final years of the Marcos era. As Ford, Toyota and Volkswagen pulled out of the market due to a deteriorating business climate, only Mitsubishi and Nissan remained to service the Filipino motorist. Nissan led with the largely forgettable and forgotten Stanza. Mitsubishi gave us the wonderfully high-tech Lancer EX—aka the “Box-Type”—assembled in the Philippines and sold for the measly sum of P25,000.

    Nowadays, a running example in good nick will net you some P50,000. A well-restored one goes for twice that much. Which means you’ve made a 100% to 300% profit from simply holding onto the car. This is ignoring, of course, the 30 years of registration fees, insurance, oil, tires, belts and replacement parts that have gone into the car. Or what’s left of it under three decades of rust, masilya and repaints. And it’s hard to get excited about doubling your money in 30 years when dinner and a movie cost 10 times as much as it did back then.

    Anyway, at one point in time, this car and the Nissan Whatsit were the only two cars you could buy brand-new in the Philippines. And almost everyone bought the Mitsubishi. The handsome styling marked it out on the streets. With rubber mudflaps, that upright grille (with the proud MMC logo on it) and clean lines, it was a looker.

    The interior—with its thin-rimmed wheel, white-on-black instrumentation and sporty-looking shifter—was modern and comfortable. The coil-sprung rear suspension and the reinforced chassis gave it better ride and handling characteristics than its leaf-sprung predecessor, the Lancer “L-Type.” Engine choices included a thrifty 1.4-liter motor and the powerful 1.6-liter overhead-cam “Saturn” engine, with its twin Solex carburetors and five-speed transmission.

    Despite all this high-tech wizardry, the basic Lancer was not what you’d call an exciting car to drive. Long-geared recirculating ball steering and mild understeer were the order of the day. For dessert, you had acceleration that would make a brand-new 1.2-liter Mirage blush. With the Saturn engine, performance was respectable, but on streets still cluttered with 2TG Toyota Sprinters, RS2000 Ford Escorts and gas-guzzling V8 dinosaurs left over from the Age of Americana, it was no big deal.

    So what made the Box-Type legendary?

    Simply this: the Sirius engine. A fuel-injected turbocharged monster snuggled under the hoods of imported EX 2000 Turbos. With 168hp motivating a mere 1,000kg of car, it was incredibly quick. These unassuming little buzz-bombs were Fast & Furious fodder back before Fast & Furious was a thing.

    The Lancer was often spotted screaming along EDSA in the middle of the night at over 200km/h, or lining up against Toyotas, Fords and American muscle along the Ortigas drag strips. Back then, the Philippine Constabulary was willing to turn a blind eye if you knew the right people. These were high-stakes games involving big money, dropped trannies, blown engines and occasionally a bad crash. In this chaotic milieu, if you had a Sirius-powered Lancer, you were a boss. If you didn’t, you could simply pour money and mods into your GSR until you felt like one.

    Beyond the seedy underbelly of the illegal racing scene, the Lancer was the de facto poster boy of Philippine motoring, with an almost universal appeal. It was one of the few constants in an inconstant world. And post-EDSA, the Box-Types soldiered on, and when they rusted away, their guts found their way into stainless-steel “owner-type” jeepneys around the country. Beyond that, the mighty Sirius would lead directly to the 4G63Ts that propelled Mitsubishi to success in the World Rally Championship, and which would make the Lancer Evolution the poster boy of a new generation.

    But before the thousands of fiberglass body-kitted imitations it inspired, there was the Box-Type. With its boxy air dam and rubber spoiler, this was the turbocharged herald of the coming Japanese sports-car revolution. If you didn’t care about all of that, the fact that your favorite gold-chain-wearing uncle probably had a Box-Type at some point in his life is certainly enough to make this car one of the coolest ever.

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