A two door / four seat grand touring sports car made by the Japanese firm Mitsubishi through-out the 1990s. The car was unique in being one of the few performance cars of the era that could be had with all-wheel drive. It was known in the Americas and Europe as the Mitsubishi 3000GT (or in Japan as the Mitsubishi GTO), but was sold concurrently as the Dodge Stealth in North America.
First produced in Japan in 1990 as the Mitsubishi GTO, the U.S./European version was showcased at the Tokyo Motor Show in 1990 under the name HSX. Its goals were to
replace the Mitsubishi Starion (and the Chrysler Conquest) and to create a contender for Mitsubishi in the sports car arena of the Nissan 300ZX, Mazda RX-7, and Toyota Supra, while following the Japanese tradition of under pricing and outperforming more expensive, luxurious cars. The first American and Canadian 3000GTs were produced at the Nagoya plant in Okazaki, Japan and publicly distributed in the fall of 1990. At that same time, Dodge released the sister car of the 3000GT, the Dodge Stealth. The Dodge Stealth was mechanically identical to the 3000GT. The only differences were the body and some options. While the Stealth was only distributed in the US and Canada, the 3000GT was never sold in Canada. The GTO in Japan lasted from 1990 to 2001, the 3000GT in the US and Europe lasted from 1991 to 1999, and the sister car, the Stealth, lasted only from 1991 to 1996 (1995 in Canada). Here is an excerpt from the book “Japanese Supercars” (c) 1992, Mallard Press:
What Mitsubishi set out to do was to cram every bit of high-tech gadgetry available into its 2+2 3000GT, making it one of the most advanced sports cars on the planet. Despite its credentials, the 3000GT can trace its lineage to a very unimpressive sporty car called the Starion. A rear-wheel drive car, the Starion was initially conceived as competition for the Nissan Z cars of the 1980’s. However, with its boxy styling and modest performance and handling characteristics, the Starion was, by most measures, a failure. So, when Mitsubishi began planning for the car that would become the company’s top-of-the-line replacement for the Starion, they literally started with a clean sheet of paper. However, before the first line was drawn, some basic marketing decisions were made about the new car. Drawing in part on the marketing strategy made famous by General Motors founder Alfred P. Sloan, Mitsubishi decided the new car would be offered in multiple stages of tuning and equipment. This was especially important because Mitsubishi would be sharing the new car with its close U.S. partner, Chrysler. Although the car would be designed and built in Japan, it would also be available at Chrysler’s Dodge dealers under the name Stealth. Chrysler was insistent that a basic-level vehicle should be manufactured and sold for a price of just under $17,000. While the ultimate goal was to make a no-holds-barred sports car, the initial platform would have to be flexible enough to accommodate a bargain-basement model. The rear-wheel-drive platform that had propelled the Starion was discarded in favor of a front-wheel-drive set-up that could draw from Mitsubishi’s other front-wheel-drive cars. The basis for the 3000GT is the chassis used in the Eclipse, a very cheaply priced sport coupe that uses four-cylinders for power and employs front-wheel-drive in its most common model Ķ With all these goodies crammed in, the Mitsubishi 3000GT VR-4 demanded aggressive styling. Working jointly with Chrysler’s Highland Park International Design Studio, the stylists at Mitsubishi’s studio in Okasaki, Japan, created a car that makes a definite performance statement. Influenced by the cab-forward styling of the HSR-II and Dodge Intrepid prototype vehicles, the 3000GT is awash in air dams, air scoops, vent ducts and power bulges. All are functional, except the rear side strakes that are undoubtedly there to remind people of the Ferrari Testarossa.
The 3000GT with its 3.0L DOHC engine is first and foremost a grand touring sports car, with the VR4 running as Mitsubishi’s flagship. This 320HP twin turbocharged and intercooled model was considered to be the most technologically sophisticated of its competitors, with features such as All Wheel Drive, 4 Wheel Steering, Active Aero, Electronically Controlled Suspension, Tuneable Exhaust. These electronic features also gave the VR4 a 3700+ lb curb weight; in spite of its weight (and perhaps because of AWD) it compared favorably with its competitors in handling and speed, accelerating to 60mph in five seconds and running the quarter mile in 13.5 seconds @ ~ 100 mph. Many owners insist on improving its performance even further through aftermarket modifications.
In North America, Mitsubishi enjoyed success in the early years as the 3000GT outsold the Nissan 300ZX, the Mazda RX-7, and the Toyota Supra combined; however, like the other Japanese supercars it fell victim to over-optioning and overpricing. The VR4 reached exotic prices approaching $50,000 and could not compete with the likes of the Chevrolet Corvette. The Dodge Stealth was discontinued in 1996 and Mitsubishi would kill the 3000GT in 1999, although sales of the Mitsubishi GTO continued in Japan. The market had shifted towards minivans and SUVs, and the automakers responded accordingly. The 3000GT and Dodge Stealth still live on today, maintained by their small group of enthusiastic tuners.
The Japanese Mitsubishi GTO came in various models including the base model, SL, VR4, and the lighter, tuned-up MR (Mitsubishi Racing). In the U.S., Canada, and Europe the 3000GT models included the base, SL, VR4 and in 1995 and 1996 there was a special edition hardtop convertible, or Spyder, versions of the SL and VR4 which were only available in the US. The Dodge Stealth carried the base, R/T, and R/T TT. In addition for the first three years, there was an ES model, and in 1994 there was an R/T Luxury model.
The 3000GT base model was at first the cheapest 3000GT, but slowly began to increase in price such that it approached the value of earlier 3000GT VR4s. From 1991 to 1996, the base model was powered by a 3.0 L DOHC 24-valve V6 engine at a 10.0:1 compression ratio. This engine produced 222 hp at 6000 RPM, while producing from 1991 to 1993 201 lb-ft. of torque at 4500 RPM, and from 1994 to 1996 205 lb-ft. at 4500 RPM. In 1997, there was a change in the engine used in the base model. From 1997 to its end in 1999, the base model used a 3.0 L SOHC 12-valve V6 at only 8.9:1 compression ratio. Producing 161 hp at 5500 RPM and 185 lb-ft. of torque at 4000 RPM, it is regarded by many enthusiasts as a disgrace to have been included in the powerful 3000GT family. Worst of all, the MSRP was still in the 25 to 27 thousand dollar range for such a drop in performance. All base models had a 5-speed manual transmission standard with overdrive and an automatic transmission as an option also with overdrive. The 3000GT had front wheel drive and had an independent front suspension and a multi-link rear suspension. The wheels consisted of 16″ aluminum alloy rims with 225/55/VR16 tires.
The 3000GT SL was the luxury version of the family. This model was mainly interpreted by the standard options that were not standard or available on the base models. Some examples were the rim size, ECS (Electronically Controlled Suspension), anti-lock brakes, alarm system, sunroof, cruise control, power options, leather, and in the last three years, the engine plus many others.
Sticking through its whole life with a 3.0 L DOHC 24-valve V6 at a 10.0:1 compression ratio, it produced the original 222 hp at 6000 RPM. The torque from 1991 to 1993 was 201 lb-ft. at 4500 RPM and from 1994 to 1999 it was at 205 lb-ft. at 4500 RPM. The MSRP slowly went up from its first year at $25,000 to a $35,000 max in 1996 and continue around the lower 30s. Like the base model, it had a standard 5-speed manual transmission and an optional automatic transmission, both with overdrive. It was front wheel drive with the same independent suspension in front and multi-link in the back as the base model. The wheels consisted of 16″ aluminum alloy rims from 1991 to 1996 with the chrome option in 1995 and 1996. From 1997 to 1999, the rims were upgraded to 17″ chrome rims. The tires from 1991 to 1996 were 225/55/VR16 and from 1997 to 1999 they were 245/45/ZR17.
VR4 – R/T Turbo
The monster of the family and the reason why the 3000GT & Stealth is well known, the VR4 surpasses the rest in multiple aspects. Powered by a well built 3.0 L DOHC 24-valve, twin-turbocharged, twin-intercooled V6, the VR4 produced either 300 BHP at 6000 RPM and 307 lb-ft. of torque at 4500 RPM (10 pounds/square inch of boost in the 1991 to 1993 models), or 320 BHP at 6000 RPM and 315 lb-ft. of torque at 2500 RPM (12 pounds/square inch of boost in the 1994 to 1999 VR4s). To compensate for the lost power in the 1991 to 1993 era, (because of the lower boost), a modification called the “Free Boost Modification” was made to increase the first generation VR-4 boost from 10 pounds/square inch of boost to 12 pounds/square inch of boost. This would successfully make the 3000GT VR-4 first generation make equal power to the second and third generation 3000GT VR-4.
To help control all this surge of power, 1991 to 1993 VR4s used a Getrag-manufactured 5-speed manual transmission, while 1994 to 1999 VR4s used the 6-speed version of that same transmission. From there, power was set to the four wheels through an all wheel drive (AWD) system composed of a center VCU (Viscous Coupling Unit) differential sending torque to the open front and the limited-slip rear differentials. The Viscous Real-time 4WD system, from where the term “VR4” comes, is not a front-wheel drive w/ rear-assist system. Assuming that the VR4 system is simply a modification of the front wheel drive unit of the non-turbo cars (to allow it to send torque to the rear if needed) is a common mistake. Under ideal conditions, the system transfers 45% of available torque to the front and 55% to the rear, however the viscous center can send up to 95% of the torque to either axle.
A standard four wheel steering (4WS) system turned the rear wheels up to 1.5 degrees in-phase (same direction as the front wheels) when traveling at 30 mph or more, supposedly to improve very high speed stability. This is generally considered a technological toy meant to show off Mitsubishi’s engineering aptitude rather than a legitimate performance modification. Indeed the 3000GT itself has been accused of being designed for just this purpose (rather than as a viable long-term production asset). The VR4 also included notably larger brakes with 4 piston calipers and 18″ chromed alloy wheels with 245/40R18 Z rated tires. In addition to these specifications, there were multiple other options only available in the VR4. For instance, 1994+ VR4s had the 6-speed transmission. The VR4 also enjoyed the tunable exhaust (similar to that found on the Ferrari 360), ECS, and the Active Aero system until 1994, 1995, and 1996, respectively. Other things included many standard options and options themselves only available on the VR4. All VR4s were manual transmission only.
A rare special edition version of the 3000GT SL and VR4 came out from 1995 to 1996 named the SL Spyder and VR4 Spyder. These convertibles had retractable hardtop, not soft-top roofs. The Spyder was the first hardtop to come out in the US since the Ford Fairlane Skyliner. Speculation that their demand (when considering their outrageous $20,000 markup over the hardtop VR4) was what inspired Mercedes to introduce the SLK has circulated for years. The Spyders were identical to their regular brothers in mechanical and body styling, except for the rims, rear fascia, and in the VR4 Spyder, the active aero system. One advantage of these Spyder models was that the extra weight of the motor that retracted the roof in the trunk equalized the weight of the car to near 50:50. However the Spyder suffered from inferior chassis rigidity even with the extra braces in the underbody, and with the excess weight, they were not quite as good at handling curves as their fixed roof counterparts. The Spyder was discontinued in 1997 because of slow sales, but they are still regarded by many as amazing machines to see. The Spyder was never officially available in Europe and Japan. Note: A customization firm in the United States based their entire business on converting normal 3000GTs into soft-top convertibles. These machines should not be confused with the Spyder, which was Mitsubishi designed and built.
VR4s from 1991 to 1996 included an Active Aero system. This system consisted of an electronically activated rear spoiler and a lowering front air dam under the front bumper. At a speed of 45 mph or more, the system activated and the front air dam lowered to reduce air flow from under the vehicle, which can cause lift. At the same time, the rear spoiler tilted at angle causing air flowing by to hit the wing surface, creating pressure, which in turn creates downforce on the rear of the car. When the car slowed down to 30 mph, the Active Aero system deactivated and the air dam retracted back and the spoiler returned flat. There would also be an option on the Active Aero to change the Auto to Regular or More Downforce.
SLs and VR4s from 1991 to 1995 had the ECS system, or electronically controlled suspension system. This system incorporated a computer controlled suspension that has two settings. These settings include Sport and Tour which were controlled by the driver and in accordance to the setting the system automatically switches the damping force in the four shock absorbers. In tour mode the computer uses the onboard speed, g-force, throttle position, and steering wheel angular velocity sensors to determine which of the three steps to set the shock absorbers to. These three steps are Soft, Medium, and Hard. In sport mode, the shocks are kept at a hard damping force for a more sporty feeling, better handling, and improve response. In the case that the ECS computer (which was separate from the ECU) lost contact with any of the struts, the system will default to sport, setting the remaining struts to “hard.” The strut which lost contact will do the same, and thus the driver is ensured that all the struts are on the same damping force. When this happens the system flashes the “Tour / Sport” light; one of the most common problems for 3000GT owners, which can usually be fixed by tracing the wires to each individual strut and repairing any frays. It should be noted, that any 3000GT that came with a power sunroof had the ECS option omitted. (Source: 3000GT Sales Brochure)
Tunable exhaust was available only in VR4s from 1991 to 1994. The basic operation of the tunable exhaust is to control the flow of the exhaust gases. There are two modes, Sport and Tour, and in sport mode it allows the exhaust gases to flow more freely through the exhaust system lowering back pressure and thus improving power and performance, but at the cost of increased noise. In tour mode it reroutes the exhaust gases through the main muffler thus reducing the sound released by the exhaust gases, but this causes increased back pressure and lowered performance.
It is a common misconception that the 3000GT was equipped with a very weak transmission (which is technically a transaxle due to placement). Some even accuse it of being fabricated entirely of aluminum, which is quite ridiculous. This may stem from the fact that the external casing of the W5MG1 transmission was made of aluminum. The transmissions do have a tendency to fail, however this was not due to weakness or poor design. Rather this can be blamed on Mitsubishi’s poor deal with Getrag, the transmission manufacturer. In the agreement, Mitsubishi agreed to consider the transmissions “non-serviceable,” and instruct all their dealers to simply replace the entire transmission if there was ever a problem. Indeed, the factory service manual has a single page devoted to the Getrag transmission, saying exactly this. This of course generated significant increase in sales for Getrag, at the expense of the loyal owners one might add. The major problem with the transmission was the synchronizers (notably 1-2 and 2-3), coupled with the fact that Mitsubishi specified the wrong viscosity fluid for the transmission. Some even speculate that this fluid is the major reason for said failures. As a result, many 3000GTs have developed grinding synchronizers that sound terrible and cause mis-shifts. In some cases, switching to a modern synthetic like “synchromesh” or a combination of Redline fluids, has been known to cure the problem entirely, or at least ameliorate it significantly. The fluids also go a long way to preventing new transmissions from developing this problem. Unfortunately, Mitsubishi technicians and dealers either do not know this or do not tell their customers this. Instead they [correctly] suspect bad synchronizers, and the only course of action is to replace the entire transmission. Getrag also refused to offer parts to any transmission mechanics who tried to fix the problem. As a result, many a VR4 owner has had to replace their transmission, and the car has developed a bad reputation for such, however it is unfair to accuse the transmission of being weak. Until recently there were absolutely no internal modifications for the transmissions, which clearly means that all the 700 and 800 horsepower VR4s out there run with perfectly stock transmissions. Though output shafts breaking is a common occurrence at that level of power (as it is for all AWD cars with that kind of power), internal failure is virtually unheard of.
Note: Getrag and Mitsubishi have lost a law suite and were subsequently forced to sell internal parts for the transmissions. Today, any competent transmission mechanic can fix a damaged synchronizer for $150 + labor. Gone are the days that a grinding syncro costs the owner $3500 for a whole new transmission. In addition, companies such as Kormex Trans Parts have begun offering superior internal components, specifically synchronizers that do not fail so readily.
First generation (1991-1993)
The first-generation 3000GTs were the upcoming introduction models. Compared to the later generations, the most noticeable difference in the generation one 3000GTs is that the headlights are pop-up. The second difference is the hood with the caps on top of the suspension area. Those were placed there to accommodate for the ECS connectors. Then there is the rear bumper with the black ripple plates on each side of the license plate. The last exterior change is the rims which were only 17 inches. Internally, though, there were two differences. First was the engine. Generation one 3000GT base and SL models produced 201 lbs.-ft. of torque at 4500 RPM and the 3000GT VR4’s produced 300 BHP at 6000 RPM and 307 lbs.-ft. of torque at 4500 RPM. Secondly, the only transmission available on the VR4 was the 5-speed Getrag W5MG1.
The 3000GT’s sold in Europe differed from those sold in USA and Japan. Most remarkably they featured headlight washer nozzles which were placed on a blind that replaced the parking light lenses. The parking light was separated from the headlight and moved to the front bumper to be combined with the turning signals and elongated over the front fenders with a reflective blind. Also the only model available in Europe was the twin turbo version. Instead of the TD04-9b turbos (capable of 265 CFM @ 15 PSI) of the American and Japanese version, the TD04-13g turbo (capable of 360 CFM @ 15 PSI) was used alongside with a stronger version of the Getrag transmission to enable longer full-throttle drives on roads without a speed limit such as the German autobahn. In most countries the only option to the European 3000GT was the alarm system. The sunroof was not available. Except for that, it incorporated every option from the American version. The turbo itself is highly sought after in the United States (being able to producing ~520 rather than ~400 BHP on a VR4 with appropriate fuel system but no other modification).
Second generation (1994-1996)
Generation two 3000GTs received a face-lift. The front bumper was changed lightly to accommodate regular headlights and small round fog lights. The hood was shaped to remove the caps for the ECS and the rear bumper was re-stylized. The engine on all models received a slight boost. The base and SL models got an increment in torque to 205 lbs.-ft. at 4500 RPM, while the 3000GT GT VR4 received an increase from 9.7 pounds/square inch to 11.9 pounds/square inch in turbo boost. This raised the power from the original 296 BHP (rounded to 300 by Mitsubishi marketing) to 320 BHP at 6000 RPM and increased torque from 307 to 315 lbs.-ft. at 2500 RPM. To compliment this increase in power the VR4 included a 6-Speed Getreg transmission which retained the viscous center and rear limited-slip differential. In addition, the interior was redesigned with dual air bags and R-134a refrigerant for the air conditioning. In 1995 and 1996 a special edition model of the SL and VR4 were sold. These were the hardtop convertible Spyder models. In 1995 the tunable exhaust was dropped and in 1996 the ECS was dropped. Furthermore, 1996 was the last year the 3000GT VR4 would have an active aero system. Also, 1996 also saw the end of the production run of the Dodge Stealth, (the Chrysler badged version of the 3000GT which was mechanically identical).
Generation 2.5 (1997-1998)
To provide accommodation for the drop of the active aero system the body was redesigned with a new front bumper with larger openings for less air flow restriction and a new arc-like tail (a.k.a. hoop spoiler). The base model received a drop in performance with the use of a SOHC engine producing only 161HP at 5500 RPM and 185 lbs.-ft. of torque at 4000 RPM. This engine was originally only available in the 3000GT’s Chrysler twin, the Stealth, which ended production in 1996.
Third Generation (1999)
Produced in 1999 it was the last 3000GT to be sold in the U.S. and Europe. The engine had a few unnoticeably small updates, including newly designed lash adjusters / lifters that solved the dreaded “lifter tick” problem. The main changes were mainly exterior. A new front bumper was installed with an even wider opening in the middle and styling on the side air ducts were installed that lead to the intercoolers. New more aerodynamic headlights were installed with built-in turn signals and a redesigned taillight with a black insert with the reverse lights in it. The sail panels (rear-side windows) were replaced to fully cover the side since earlier models suffered from peeling. Finally the most noticeable upgrade is the aggressive aerodynamic wing which trends from the Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution models. Despite its appearance, the wing was the most functional of all those available save the active-aero systems of the 1991-1996 models.
In all fairness, all 3000GTs should be considered “1st generation,” as the term generation implies a significant redesign in this context. The Mark III and Mark IV Supras were hardly related, the z31 and z32 300ZX models were also completely mechanically different. The difference between “1st gen” and “2nd gen” 3000GTs is cosmetic aside from a few mechanical changes. The 6g72 engine is virtually identical aside from a few bolt patterns, the MHI TD04-9b-6cm^2 turbos are identical, the fuel system is identical, and in fact the crankshafts from any “generation” are interchangeable (though 1993-1999 models had a nitrated steel version instead of the cast crank found in 1991 & 1992, note: this actually changed a year before the “2nd gen” redesign). The transmissions (the Getrag W5MG1 and Getrag W6MG1) are also nearly identical in design with the exception of the extra gear on the latter, the same can be said about the suspension system, the differential setup and the brake system (though the 2nd generation got two piston rear calipers instead of a floating single pot system).
Despite the fact that technically all the 3000GTs should be considered a single generation, the community and forums generally consider the changes between 1993 and 1994 to be significant enough to merit a generation change. Typically all 1994-1999 vehicles are considered “2nd gen” and the term “3rd gen” is rarely ever used. The “2nd gen” did boast significant changes in some areas (the bolt pattern of the engine, the nitrated crankshaft, the drastically different cosmetics, the ECU, and the 6-speed transmission), which may justify the distinction, however the 1997 and 1999 changes were almost entirely cosmetic and are generally considered to not merit distinction from the 1994-1996 models.
The Planned 1997 Redesign
Initially Mitsubishi planned the 1994 (2nd generation) update to keep the car competitive until the complete redesign which was planned for 1997. The Mark IV Supra (producing 20 more horsepower and equipped with a 6-speed) had recently arrived on the scene (late 1993) and clearly outpaced the 1st generation 3000GTs. Also, the introduction of LT1 small block V8 Camaro/Firebird brought the power output and performance of those significantly cheaper machines far too close to that of the 3000GT for Mitsubishi’s comfort. Knowing that the planned redesign was not for another three years, Mitsubishi decided to simply match the Supra’s 320 BHP and six-speed, hoping this would hold over buyers until 1997. The extra 20 horsepower was almost entirely derived from an extra 2 psi of turbo boost. A simple modification to the boost solenoid of a 1st generation car will give it the same extra 20 BHP, and in fact both cars can be taken further, up to 14 or 15 psi, yielding another twenty or thirty “free” horsepower (note, over-boosting is very dangerous for the engine, consult your performance shop or 3Si.org before attempting).
Unfortunately for fans of the 3000GT and all Japanese performance vehicles, the popularity of the sports car in the United States had been declining throughout the 1990s as the two-seater was replaced by the three ton SUV as the status symbol of choice. Supra and 3000GT sales hurt significantly, while the Mazda RX7 and the Nissan 300ZX ceased to be imported in 1995 and 1996 respectively. Even in Japan, where these cars continued production for a few years more, sales did not justify continued development. In light of this, Mitsubishi decided to give up on the 1997 redesign, opting instead for yet another cosmetic change with even fewer mechanical changes. The hope was that the car would attract a few more buyers until, like all the others, 3000GT production was no longer profitable. The ploy was reasonably successful, allowing the 3000gt to outsell the three aforementioned Japanese competitors combined and outlive them all. Toyota dropped the price of their Supra by almost 15% in late 1997, and gave up importing the car in 1998. The 3000gt followed it into the history books in 1999. Even the Camaro and Firebird, American icons in their own right, were discontinued just a few years later, proving that the decline of sports-cars was not a problem that only the Japanese faced. In the category of sub-50k sports-cars, only the Corvette and Mustang survived the 1990s. Though the Pontiac GTO was reintroduced in 2004, it was not well received, implying that perhaps American demand for sports-cars is still limited.
1997 Redesign Performance
Fans of the 3000gt can only speculate about the performance that Mitsubishi planned to instill in the real second generation car. When first appearing in 1990, the 3000GT was very competitive with the Corvette of the day. As such, it is likely that Mitsubishi would have aimed for C5 Corvette performance for their next generation car. The 6g72 engine can easily and safely produce 400+ horsepower without any changes, so it is unlikely Mitsubishi engineers would have even bothered changing the engine for the redesign. A set of European turbos and a fuel system with increased capacity would have produced a reliable 400 BHP car with ease, though new pollution regulations may have limited the feasibility of this.
Note, on 3000GT VR4s, the viscous coupler unit, an integral part of the transfer-case has a tendency to develop small leaks. If depleted of fluid, the system will lock-up and cause all four wheels to lock. There is absolutely no warning and the problem is frighteningly common. If this happens at highway speeds, it could obviously be fatal. Imagine your brake system doing so but without yielding or brake fade.
The system will not unlock without repair, so if it does lock on you, it is impossible to even drive home (assuming it did not cause an accident in the first place). Even Mitsubishi, which is notoriously bad for ignoring problems such as this, acquiesced and issued a recall. The dealer will inspect your transfer-case and repair it or replace it for free. Please have your VIN number ready and contact your dealer (or the nearest Dodge or Mitsubishi dealership) immediately if you own a VR4 or Turbo Stealth and have not done so already. This problem does not affect front wheel drive (all US non-turbo) 3000GTs.