There’s a saying: money isn’t made when you sell, it’s made when you buy, meaning that it pays to get something cheap if that thing carries future value. This notion also presents a very unique problem in that parting with said cheaply acquired item can be excruciating, especially when it’s a Caracas Red 1999 Mitsubishi 3000GT VR4.
For those of you who are new to The Garage, also known as the sub-blog formerly known as CarBuying, I buy and sell cars that I find interesting and challenging from a mechanical standpoint and chronicle them in a series called Art Of The Flip.
Sometimes, profit is involved and sometimes I bite off more than my Red Bull-stained molars can chew, throw my oil-saturated hands in the air and sell the cars at a loss, but this adventure is a little bit different. Come along, don’t dillydally.
About a year ago, I did something no one with any financial discipline and/or weak intestinal fortitude should ever do - I bought a used car sight unseen, and not just any used car, but one of the most controversial Japanese halo cars ever made - a 1999 Mitsubishi 3000GT VR4.
Although the car in its heyday was relatively well-received by critics and automotive-journalist-overlord John Davis alike, the public wasn’t quite so keen.
The 3000GT was the only hugely influential Japanese car not to make it into the Fast and Furious franchise and therefore didn’t benefit from the market boost that other cars like the Toyota Supra, Nissan Skyline, and Mitsubishi Lancer Evo did. It was also the only halo car range that featured a base model that was, in scientific terms, white-hot dogshit.
For instance, base 1999 3000GT like this prime example would essentially look almost identical to the top-spec VR4, minus some aero and badge tweaks, except that instead of the 3.0-liter dual overhead cam, twin turbocharged 320 horsepower V6 engine powering all four wheels through a six speed manual gearbox, Mitsubishi used the 3.0-liter single overhead cam naturally aspirated 160 horsepower engine derived from their Montero SUV.
Not to outdo themselves, they then had the unadulterated cheek to make this hulking behemoth front wheel drive and gave it an optional four speed automatic transmission. This meant that a run from zero to 60 miles per hour would take you nine seconds on a good day.
This, coupled with the facts that the top-of-the-line VR4s were too complex for most backyard technicians, often had penny-wise and pound-foolish enthusiasts tuning them into shallow graves, had less than stellar handling in bone stock form, and were more rare than Dick Cheney’s heartbeat, made the model a unicorn that no one wanted to own for the better part of a decade.
But that wasn’t important to me because it was a forgotten childhood hero of mine and as it was the last production year, it stood as the ultimate expression of what Mitsubishi could make with the platform that had been on the road longer than Chandler Bing was a household name.
I got the car on a whim, but had a plan from the beginning of selling it as the market was making a sharp turn towards the awesome for Japanese turbo cars. I hedged a bet on this car because it was one of only 287 imported to the US that year. Although technically the 1998 model year cars were more rare in production numbers, the ‘97 and ‘98 models looked identical and therefore weren’t as desirable. The 1999 had a one-year-only body kit with a ridiculously gaudy wing and none of the active aero that was included on previous iterations of the model. It also had some minor engine tweaks as far as changed placement of engine bay components and updated hydraulic lifters to combat the usual clickety operation of the previous model years.
I wanted to make this car look and perform as well as it possibly could, and that started with a complete gut and assessment of what it needed. After going on a test drive and realizing that it needed some sprucing up in the suspension and power department, I took to the forums to see what proverbial bells I could un-ring.
Because I didn’t want the car to blow up, I purchased an OEM timing belt to replace the aging and questionable belt that was in the car, along with a new water pump and tensioners, having a local shop install it at a reasonable cost. Even on a cramped engine bay like this one, it shouldn’t cost more than $400-500 for labor, with parts being another $200. It’s cheap insurance to make sure that an interference engine like this one doesn’t have the pistons and valves high-fiving each other at once.
I steam-cleaned the engine bay and repainted the front valve cover with wrinkle black high-temp spray paint and carefully sanded off the raised letters for a clean OEM look:
I replaced the dirty race-you-to-the-next-stoplight Autozone cone filter with a stock used airbox and a brand new K&N panel filter. Yes, I do like hearing turbos spool as much as the next car nut, but when the filter element is literally soaking up all the engine bay’s immense heat, it’s not a great recipe for horsepower. It’s also interesting to note that the VR4 and SL naturally aspirated airboxes are exactly the same, but have vastly different costs on the marketplace, so I saved money and got one for a naturally aspirated model for $30 shipped.
The car was experiencing a few small intermittent mechanical faults, but none that couldn’t be solved with throwing parts and money at the problem. After closely examining the engine while running, I noticed that one of the car’s three coilpacks was visibly arcing to the block, producing a misfire. After ordering a new coil pack, new spark plugs and beefier MSD 8.5mm spark plug wires, I got to the task of removing the upper intake manifold plenum to install them. While it wasn’t the hardest job in the world and I do understand that the engineers that designed the engine had a limited amount of room to work with, the placement of components could’ve been done a bit more efficiently.
For a DIY job with hand tools, it can be a bit daunting and challenging, especially if your car has never had this service done and you need to remove the small steel bolts on the back that are extremely vulnerable to stripping and breaking after years of heat soak and corrosion.
I also replaced the car’s wastegate solenoid and all vacuum lines - a component that was plugged off when I got it because one of the previous owners had installed an aftermarket boost controller. Not only was this triggering a Check Engine Light, but with the solenoid left disconnected, the car was only producing wastegate pressure, which on this engine stands at a Camry-startling 6psi. With the solenoid online, the stock pressure doubles under full boost, which almost doubled the power of the car. I actually do wonder how long the previous owner drove the car like this and quietly questioned when the 320 horses were going to finally make an appearance. After installing a new fuel filter, it was time to tackle the car’s somewhat wayward handling.
As far as the car’s less than optimal handling, I settled on buying and installing a Tein Type Flex adjustable coilover suspension with EDFC, a method of controlling the shock’s ability to dampen the bumps from inside the car. I also bought a set of square stanced 18 x 9” Rota P45Rs with some stick 265 millimeter wide rubber on all four corners, with the fenders getting a slight roll in the rear.
The car was lowered approximately an inch and a half from stock height and it’s one of the best and most cost effective setups that I’ve ever had. I changed out the car’s tie rod ends and greased all bushings, replacing the ones that were past the point of no return.
The interior of the car was in great shape, save for a few items that bothered me a bit, namely the aftermarket Greddy turbo timer that was perched on the steering column and the double-DIN Canal St. special head unit.
I ripped out the turbo timer and put all associated wiring back to stock, because - spoiler alert - turbo timers don’t actually do anything. They keep the car on in order to cool down turbos gradually, but not driving like a lunatic all the way back home accomplishes exactly the same thing. If you keep it under the speed limit for the last few blocks, the effect is the same. There, I just saved you $100 on your next JDM-tyte build.
I toyed around with keeping the no-name headunit, but the resistive touchscreen mixed with the non-stock aesthetic made it a no-go for this mild restoration. However, as I took the radio out, a problem arose - the wiring for the stock Infinity amplifier mounted underneath the passenger’s seat had been cut and the amp was missing, likely stolen by gremlins. I sourced one from a ‘99 along with a stock headunit that featured an auxiliary input for $80 shipped. I made sure to ask the seller for the wiring pigtails as well, so I could do some by-the-numbers wiring to get the car back to stock.
After everything was soldered, heatshrunk and working, I wanted to make the interior was as clean as when it left the Nagoya Plant in 1999. I bought a new shift knob and boot, both OEM, as a black leather cherry on top of an already good looking space. I used an arsenal of reliable and effective weaponry. Here’s the full list of what I used:
- Dishwashing Soap
- Spray Bottles
- Mr Clean Magic Eraser Pack
- Leather Conditioner/Cleaner
- Microfiber towels
- Invisible Glass (Ammonia free)
- Bissell Little Green Machine
Here were the results:
The exterior, however, needed some work. The car had a lot of minor dings and dents all around its otherwise good paintwork, and the front bumper canard needed painting. Fortunately for me, I had a paintless dent repair specialist nearby who carefully cleared the car of any and all dents over the course of an afternoon. It cost $400, but it’s well worth it to have a car that’ll appeal to the most anal of buyers.
I also lucked out in paint selection because the car was Caracas Red, a single stage gloss paint that had no clear coat. What this essentially meant is that you’d never see this car have the peeling and hazing issues that other 3000GTs experienced due to poor clear coat quality. This also meant that I could have a perfect match of Caracas Red - paint code R71 - mixed up in an aerosol can for around $30. I sanded back the panel that needed painting and applied a few light coats of paint, buffing to a shine when it hardened 48 hours later. The results were indistinguishable from original and it’s some of the most cost-effective painting I’ve ever done.
To bring out the shine in the car’s impossibly red exterior, I washed, clay barred, polished and waxed the car using the products listed below. Working on a car with single stage paint is a bit more challenging than one with clear coat, only because you’re actually grinding back layers of paint and one could, in theory, go too far, so it pays to be methodical and take the appropriate time and care to do a panel. In the world of detailing, less is often more.
- 2 buckets
- Dishwashing soap
- Meguiar’s Gold Class Car Wash
- Meguiar’s M205 Mirror Glaze Polish
- Meguiar’s Clay Bar
- PC 7424XP w 6” backing plate
- 3 pads for agressive cut , medium cut and fine cut/polish.
- Collinite 845 wax
- Microfiber Towels
I also followed these tutorials, made by Larry Kosilla at AMMO NYC and /DRIVE:
- Audi R8 BLACKBIRD: Basic Car Wash Techniques -/DRIVE CLEAN
- Top Ten Detailing Mistakes -/DRIVE CLEAN
- Interior Detailing: Tools, Techniques, and Materials -/DRIVE CLEAN
- Polishers and Swirl Removal Tips -/DRIVE CLEAN
Here were the results:
I put the car up for sale on eBay at a Buy-It-Now of $21,500 which was around fair market value at the time for a red-on-black car of this quality and rarity. After a few days and several spirited runs through local mountain roads later, I was hit with what porn addicts call “a moment of clarity”. Not only was this car the epitome of what I loved about driving, but I had made it my own canyon carving exotic for a fraction of the price of anything half as fun. It’s a bright red masterpiece that drives through town like a used Mack truck but transforms into a taught grand tourer as soon as the slightest bend is introduced to the eager and anxious driver. It’s a car that will hold butt-clenching speeds through turns and put a smile on your face when the kinda-sorta accurate boost gauge climbs past its halfway mark.
Odds were, I was never going to see this car again and I would never find one that had been cared for in this way, not to mentioned previously owned by a reader of my work that declined higher offers for the sole purpose of me immortalizing the car with the written word. This car was no longer a commodity - it was a prized possession and the start of a collection of cars with a story in which I played a pivotal role, a story that no Carfax or Autocheck would be able to adequately convey, so I ended the eBay listing and talked myself into keeping the car.
...and then I got a text message from an interested buyer saying that they’d pay me a lump $25,500 for the car which was more than fair market value by a good margin. With the market trending upward with no end in sight, I swallowed the $25k lump in my throat and respectfully declined the offer and cried myself to sleep.
After consulting with my more-money-than-brains symbiote Rob Dahm about the car, he assured me that although it might make no financial sense, keeping the car is indeed the right thing to do as a gearhead. It also allows me to use the car for things like road trips, track days, and meeting with Doug DeMuro so he can see what driving a well-set up all-wheel-drive twin-turbocharged Japanese halo car is really like.
I hear he may have an opinion on that sort of thing.
While I don’t rule out the possibility of selling in the car in the future, I think that keeping the car just a little longer to squeeze out a few novel white-knuckle experiences is worth $25 grand today, because although boring cars don’t deserve your time, really good ones are worth paying for.
Tavarish is the founder of APiDA Online and writes and makes videos about buying and selling cool cars on the internet. He owns the world’s cheapest Mercedes S-Class, a graffiti-bombed Lexus, and he’s the only Jalopnik author that has never driven a Miata. He also has a real name that he didn’t feel was journalist-y enough so he used a pen name and this was the best he could do.