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Driving the Last Brand-New Mitsubishi Evo to its Grave

Road & Track logo Road & Track 1/10/2019 Maggie Stiefvater
Mitsubishi was forced to send this preproduction 2015 Lancer Evolution Final Edition to the crusher. We gave it one last ride.© ANDREW TRAHAN Mitsubishi was forced to send this preproduction 2015 Lancer Evolution Final Edition to the crusher. We gave it one last ride.

IT BEGAN WITH TWO DELIBERATE POPS, as if the crusher were knocking politely. Excuse me, it’s Death, may I come in?

The windows exploded. The car squatted; the spoiler flattened. Part of the driver’s-side mirror shucked to the ground. Dirt-splattered fenders crackled. Doors winced and buckled; the ground effects fell to their knees before collapsing entirely. It sounded vaguely like a mouth stuffed with potato chips. Contemplative silence followed. The crushing plate pulled back to reveal a geometric slab of pearl-white metal. From car to carcass in less than a minute.

The car was a bone-stock 2015 Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution Final Edition-2.0-liter turbo four, 303 hp, 305 lb-ft of torque at 4000 rpm, Brembos, Bilsteins, Eibachs, Enkeis, a redline-limited top speed of 146 mph. Just a few days before, I’d been tearing down the 101 behind its wheel. Seeing that spoiler in the rearview mirror. Putting that dirt on those fenders.

As the forklift neatly speared it for transport, I noticed the badging had popped off the trunk. It was no longer an Evo. It was a 3550-pound paperweight.

a car parked in front of a mountain: Driving the Last New Mitsubishi Evo to its Grave© ANDREW TRAHAN Driving the Last New Mitsubishi Evo to its Grave

FIFTEEN YEARS AFTER its arrival to the States, the Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution-the Evo, as it is referred to in whispers or hisses, depending upon whether the speaker’s been wronged by one-is firmly lodged in the public consciousness as the action figure of the automotive world. It is not a car, it’s a car-shaped toy. Children, what is the antonym for "daily driver"?

Although it was born into rally, the Evo came of age in mass media-movies, video games, YouTube-before achieving its final form as an outlandish adult with a disdain for factory settings. To have an Evo was to have a modded Evo. A better intercooler. A bigger spoiler. A shocker decal, or possibly a sticker outlining what the driver would like to do with your mother.

Looking at an Evo now, one might not guess its past, but one can certainly guess its future as it rat-tat-tats past in the fast lane, flames barking from titanium tips, rap music muttering from a subwoofer.

a car parked in the desert: Driving the Last New Mitsubishi Evo to its Grave© ANDREW TRAHAN Driving the Last New Mitsubishi Evo to its Grave

I LEARNED ABOUT THE PEARL-WHITE EVO 10 days before its crushing. It was a preproduction model that had somehow survived for three years deep within the bowels of Mitsubishi Motors North America and was slated for the junkyard by the end of the month. Its crime? As a preproduction car without a VIN, government regulations called for its head.

All of which led to an intriguing offer: If I made it to California by the weekend, Mitsubishi would hand over the keys.

Three thousand miles away in Virginia, I opened the door of a different Evo: a 2012 GSR, 2.0-liter turbo four, 450 hp, 450 lb-ft of torque at 4200 rpm, top speed a matter between me and my god.

The registration said black, but it hadn’t been black in a while. It was yellow. Ish. Stripes and splatters were involved. Like many Evos, it had not escaped the sometimes heavy-handed affection of aftermarket suitors-engine, turbo, intercooler. Too many parts to list, it says, call for more details.

An unbroken gallop would get me to California in time to be the last thing Mitsubishi’s Evo saw before it died. I got in my Evo. I began to drive.

the engine of a car: Driving the Last New Mitsubishi Evo to its Grave© ANDREW TRAHAN Driving the Last New Mitsubishi Evo to its Grave

THERE WERE 10 GENERATIONS of Evolutions, each titled with roman numerals, like royalty. Evo II is dead; long live Evo III. The model was bred for one purpose: rally. The world was rally-mad in the Nineties, and no one was more enthused than Mitsubishi. Success makes one starve for more success, after all, and the three diamonds had been busily racking up international wins with the Colt and the Galant. In 1992, the first Evolution rolled out with the Lancer’s unibody, the Galant VR4’s all-wheel-drive setup, a completely redesigned trailing-arm multilink suspension in the rear, and a 247-hp 2.0-liter turbocharged engine that could do 0-to-60 in just over six seconds. It sold out in days.

A fairy godmother granted each successive Evo an assortment of gifts. For the II: increased boost and suspension tweaks. The III: new styling and a higher compression ratio. The IV: new active yaw control and twin-scroll turbo. The V: improved torque and widened track. So on. So forth. This fairy godmother’s real name was homologation-if Mitsubishi wanted a better rally car, it had to make a better street car, and sell at least 2500 of them. It worked. From 1996 to 1999, Tommi Mäkinen drove four gens of Evos to four World Rally Championship titles as each generation of Evo sold out.

When I asked Mitsubishi if it considered the Evo a streetable rally car or a street car that could also rally, chief engineer Chiaki Tsujimura’s answer was simple: "Both."

a car parked in a parking lot: Driving the Last New Mitsubishi Evo to its Grave© Andrew Trahan Driving the Last New Mitsubishi Evo to its Grave

ON MY CROSS-COUNTRY SPRINT, I encountered only one other Evo, a white X that sported with me through Arizona’s splendid Virgin River Gorge. When we stopped for gas, the driver told me they’d come from Manitoba. I was the first Evo they’d seen too.

There were never many to begin with. The United States only got slightly defanged versions of the VIII through X. From the beginning, few made it to their birthright: rally stages. I asked 10-time Canadian rally champion Antoine L’Estage what he remembered of the car he drove to multiple North American titles. He spoke with fondness. "It was just a good car and a good team. . . . I have very good memories of my years driving the Evo."

In his opinion, the rarity that maintained the Evo cult streetside was what kept it out of the Subaru-dominated rally scene. "We were one of the first to build one in North America. It was very difficult to find performance parts; we needed to be a little bit ingenious," L’Estage said. "It’s much easier if a guy starts rallying right now to find a Subaru. . . . They’re both good bases to start from."

It wasn’t impossible to find parts for the Evo, but it was expensive. And money was the last thing American Evo enthusiasts had.

a close up of a sign: Driving the Last New Mitsubishi Evo to its Grave© ANDREW TRAHAN Driving the Last New Mitsubishi Evo to its Grave

SWEAT TRICKLED DOWN MY BACK as I stood surrounded by more Evos than I had ever seen in one place. I’d made it to Mitsubishi Motors North America in time for their annual Owners’ Day. The massive parking lot overflowed with modded cars bright as poison-dart frogs.

While waiting to collect the fabled final press car, I wandered through the assemblage. As I did, the guys (and one woman) shared why they’d chosen Evos (Need for Speed, 2 Fast 2 Furious, Initial D, Gran Turismo), their favorite memories ("Dude, when you popped that intercooler hose!"), and where I could find them on Instagram. They introduced me to their crews; they showed me their logos. They told me how they got their cars: "When I wrecked my BMW." "Sketchy kid on Craigslist." "Salvage title."

They were wired and insane and generous and very educated about their rides. I loved them.

Nearly everyone there had bought their car used. "I got this car off my brother because he f***ed it up, spun it out, burned up the tires, the brakes," said the owner of a deep-red Evo X, who wanted to be known only as Troy or "squeakycahlean." "He’s totaled five cars. My mom calls me while I’m snowboarding and says, 'Do you want an Evo?'"

Current Evo culture has less to do with the actual practice of rallying and more to do with the underlying spirit of it: an average person doing something incredible. The underdog becoming unlikely hero. Modding is a way to conjure something previously reserved for those with disposable income: lots of horsepower in a unique package. Autonomy, individuality, bravado, the chance to look like the swaggering protagonist in the action movie of your life. With a base price around $35,000, the Evo was already accessible to a new class of enthusiasts. And if you managed to snag a used one with a salvage title, why not go for it?

It’s hard, however, to maintain a brand when your primary fan base exists in the secondary market.

a close up of a car: Driving the Last New Mitsubishi Evo to its Grave© ANDREW TRAHAN Driving the Last New Mitsubishi Evo to its Grave

A FEW YEARS AGO, I TRIED TO GET MY EVO PAINTED. I went to four different paint shops. I’m not the guy for you, they said. No room at the inn. Several weeks into my search, one of them actually explained it. "That car ain’t worth the paint I’d put on it."

The Evo had a reputation, and classiness wasn’t part of it.

The Evo was in trouble-too spendy for its fans to buy new and too commonplace for the luxury market. It couldn’t find its groove in rally or club racing. It was capable of doing almost anything, but it was doing almost nothing. All you need is love, sang the Beatles, but love couldn’t save the Evo.

In 2015, Mitsubishi released the baldly named Final Edition. Number 1600 of 1600 sold for $76,400, almost twice its price, even as hundreds of less collectible numbers languished on lots. In the end, fans still couldn’t pay sticker. They’d catch 'em on the other side. Salvage title.

The Evo has always done everything at speed, including obsolescence: In the U.S., it went from car to carcass in just over 12 years. A generation of boy racers donned widow’s weeds. The Evo was dead.

a truck with a mountain in the background: Driving the Last New Mitsubishi Evo to its Grave© ANDREW TRAHAN Driving the Last New Mitsubishi Evo to its Grave

I READ ONCE THAT SERIAL KILLER Velma Barfield had Cheez Doodles and Coca-Cola as her final meal. It’s a tradition, the special meal, a taste of freedom right before the end. Steak’s a popular choice. So’s pizza. KFC chicken is more represented than one might expect.

I decided the meal the Evo X deserved as its last was actually its first. I drove the last Evo X several hours north of Long Beach to let it do what it had been made for: playing in the dirt.

a dirt road: Driving the Last New Mitsubishi Evo to its Grave© ANDREW TRAHAN Driving the Last New Mitsubishi Evo to its Grave

As I swiped big sideways arcs in a dry lake bed, I marveled that there was little softness to the Evo, even at the end. It wasn’t the heart attack that was my built Evo, but it still quivered at a touch. The handling was bright-eyed and responsive on both tarmac and dirt, thanks to the three-mode, active center differential. The yaw control had matured into Mitsubishi’s Super All Wheel Control, a sophisticated system that added braking to the active yaw control. With stability control enabled, it was nearly impossible to get the car sideways-it confidently tracked through every corner. Stability control off, however, and everything became loose and dirty and snarling.

It delivered what every Evo always has: frantic, capable joy. It whispered what the Evo had whispered to thousands of drivers before me: Drive it like you stole it; drive it like there’s no tomorrow.

a truck driving down a dirt road: Driving the Last New Mitsubishi Evo to its Grave© ANDREW TRAHAN Driving the Last New Mitsubishi Evo to its Grave

WHEN I PULLED INTO THE LONG BEACH JUNKYARD a few days later, a worker eyed my yellow Evo and asked, "Are you here to shoot a movie?"

"I’m here about the other Evo."

He told me I could go in without him. "I can’t watch."

I could.

Because after this was done, I was going to get back into my own Evo. It, at least, would live forever, becoming an ever more complicated amalgam of aftermarket parts. Eventually maybe no longer an Evo, but rather simply a vehicle built by an Evo driver.

Evo culture has never needed a new model to stay enthusiastic. The Evos that still sputter and gasp and roar dopamine trails across the country will dwindle, but the spirit of ingenuity they inspired will linger. Maybe the Evo didn’t realize its dream as a rally icon, but it’s evolved into something bigger and possibly even more immortal.

Research the Lancer Evolution -- and find your own Lancer Evolution - on MSN Autos >>

The Evo is dead; long live the Evo.

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