EVOLUTION vs. CREATION? Even with the GRM $2007 Challenge sticker package and the low stance, this 1993 Mitsubishi Mirage would hardly convince anyone of its performance capabilities. When it fires up, the raspy exhaust note provides a hint, but it is still not persuasive. When it launches though, the point is made loud and clear, that this is no ordinary Mirage. The absence of wheel spin despite the almost explosive acceleration will also not go unnoticed. Whether I am at an autocross, rallycross or the drag strip, the questions are always the same; does it have a turbo? Is it all wheel drive? In America it is seen as an economical commuter car that can hardly get out of its own way. And that is to those who are even aware of its existence. It was by no means as popular as the Corolla, Civic or Sentra. It is, however, the basis for one of the most iconic performance cars of all time, the Lancer Evolution. This Challenge car started life as an obscure 92 HP 1.5L FWD econobox and over the course of 2 years, developed into a 260 HP 2.0L AWD EVO wannabe; all for less than $2007! It was a GRM Challenge regular, Johnny Pruitt, who pointed out to me that this was the first AWD conversion to make it to the Challenge. I am extremely proud of that accomplishment, and believe me, this one just barely made it.Evolution I have always wanted to own a Mitsubishi Evolution. Even with the current ones loaded with all the fancy electronics, my favorite is still the first generation bodystyle Evo I, II, III. Short of importing a grey market RHD version, it was clear that if I was to ever own one in the US, I would have to build my own. The early Evos shared the drivetrain configuration with the AWD DSM cars and the Galant VR4. The most straightforward conversion would be the 90-94 AWD DSM drivetrain in a 93-96 Mitsubishi Mirage/Eagle Summit/Plymouth Colt. The bodystyle of the Summit is quite different, but underneath it is the same. The earlier Mirage (89-92) is also a good candidate, and actually 4G63T conversions are relatively common. A quick Google search for “AWD Mirage” or “4G63 Mirage” will yield numerous results of projects (most not completed and lots still in the dream phase). It is definitely one of the most desirable conversions out there. From an engine swap standpoint it is not as popular as the B series swaps in Civics or the SR20 swap in 240SXs, but when combined with the AWD conversion, it is definitely high up on the Ultimate Project Car scale. In terms of research, probably the most valuable resource during my project was Stewart Dibbs’ website (www.pixcl.com/summitgtx/awdlancernotes.htm). He lays out everything from start to finish; tons of background information on differences and similarities between different Mirage/Summits, DSMs, and other Mitsubishis. It is a must read for anyone considering this conversion. I was lucky enough to meet him in person once when I was in Canada. We traded AWD conversion stories for hours.One thing that seemed common across the board was the strong opinion that the Talon conversion that I decided to do was to be avoided. Most people recommended getting the Lancer GSR/Evo “back-half” instead of messing with the DSM parts. This would provide the floorpan that would have all the mounting locations to allow the suspension components to bolt right up. Of the few conversions that I am aware of, only two of them (both ’89-’92 body styles) did the conversion using the DSM pieces. I understood the difficulty going in, but I was convinced that it would be worth it in the long run. Both approaches require a considerable amount of fabrication. Admittedly, using the Talon subframe is more challenging, but once I conquer that, I will end up with a car that all my replacement components can be sourced locally; a true USDM car. No need for fancy overrated (and super rare) JDM parts here. They built many more Eclipse/Talons/Lasers than they did Evos & GSRs. I found a 1993 Mirage in decent shape for $355 on eBay; a white base model, a perfect canvas. I was lucky enough to have another great find; a 1992 Talon TSI with 80 K miles for $800, also on eBay. Except for the facelift courtesy of a guardrail, it was in great shape. It was clear that this car was well taken care of before its demise. There were some performance modifications but nothing overboard. I was tempted to fix it up. My wife liked it too. She thought it was moronic to strip down that nice sporty looking Talon for parts to use on the dinky little economy car. The 500lb penalty for the sportier look was not worth it, and being an old school BMW enthusiast, I have always preferred boxy sedans over sport coupes.The Fantasy So I have the two cars, now what? How do I turn that into a 2000 lb, 500 HP trackday terror? I would strip the car down to bare metal, seam weld the chassis, fabricate the subframe mounts, and integrate them into the 8-point rollcage that would be stitch-welded to the A, B and C pillars. Fabricate and install all nylon and spherical bearing bushings with custom Penske triple adjustable shocks all around. The engine would be a fully built 2.4L stroker with HKS cams, ported heads with oversize valves, custom intake manifold and a Garrett GT35R ball bearing turbo. Backing that up would be a Shepherd Racing built transmission with Cusco diffs all around, and an Exedy twin disc clutch bolted to a Fidanza flywheel. Stoptech big brakes and an Evo 8 steering rack would handle the stopping and turning. Making contact with the tarmac would be 235/40 17s Falken Azenis wrapped around Enkei RPF1s. There is no doubt that this package would result in the ultimate track car, but with the time demands of my day job and modest salary associated with it, this would take years to accomplish. Surely there had to be a more attainable middle ground. I needed a way to just focus on the AWD conversion and the work associated with that.Reality I have long been a fan of the GRM $200X Challenge, following it from the very first event, although back then I was not really interested in putting a car together for it. I felt as if I would be stuck with a car that would be no fun on the street, not be much to look at and simply not my dream project car. Then I started to assess how much I had invested in my trackday project car so far. Between my project car and my donor car the total cost was just $1,155. If I put off doing the 500 HP motor and the other high dollar upgrades, I could put together a “stock” AWD Mirage for around $2,000. Suddenly, the $200X challenge was the perfect plan to get my project going. A deadline and a budget not set by me was exactly what I needed to stay focused and have the discipline to complete a task such as this. So now, the focus was simply on what it would take to incorporate all the stock pieces from the Talon into the Mirage. The two major segments of this project were an engine swap and the AWD conversion.The Engine Swap There was nothing ground breaking here, just your basic swap. The 4G63T is not foreign to the Mirage (Lancer) engine bay so there was no need for much fabrication. It is almost a drop-in. Actually, the only reason for fabrication was my stubborn non-JDMness. I used an engine mount from an ’89 Mirage Turbo. I have read online that this mount has to be cut and re-welded to properly locate the engine. I did not do this and it seems to be working just fine so far. On my recent trip to the Cayman Islands, I met with top tuner Tony Williams of Tony’s Toys and took some measurements (and got the ride of my life!) off his famous 500 HP Evo III, Gungo, and my valve cover to radiator support dimensions seemed to agree. The transmission mount was the stock Mirage mount with one mounting hole on the bracket raised about 10 mm and one needing a 2.5 mm spacer (just a fat washer). The front mount was a different story. The Talon front mount is very different from the Mirage. The front mount bracket is mounted to the engine block whereas the Mirage (and the Lancer Evo I, II, III) has the bracket on the transmission. The mount that attaches to this bracket is attached to a front/rear crossmember that will not clear the Talon engine trans combo. So, extensive modifications were needed to attach the mount bracket and the front/rear crossmember. Lesser mortals would just get the Evo transmission, crossmember, subframe and mounts, but this was not an option for me. Those parts by themselves would exceed my entire GRM Challenge budget. I was able to make the front/rear crossmember, bracket and mount by cutting and welding parts from the two cars. I also filled all the mounts with 3M Window Weld.The AWD Conversion Before I begin, let me just say that this is not by any means the easiest way to get an AWD performance car. Both the Evo and the WRX are being sold here now and the 1st and 2nd Generation DSM cars still running around and with a $2,000 investment in bolt-ons could be as fast as the latest crop. Then there are the more upscale Audis BMWs, Volvos and VWs. As I mention before however, I always wanted an Evo III, so none of these alternatives worked for me. Every trip I take to the islands (recently Trinidad, Cayman and Jamaica) where all generations of Evos regularly roam the streets, reinforces this decision. The Talon rear suspension is mounted on a bolt on subframe assembly which also serves as the mount for the differential. This entire assembly mounts to the body by only 4 attachment points (six if you count the upper shock mount.) So the basic task is to create 4 mounting locations on the Mirage body to accept the stock Talon subframe. I started out by cutting out the entire Talon rear floor and the intent was to use as much of it as possible. After multiple iterations of cutting and fitting, I ended up only using 4 small pieces with square tubes as cross braces. I had to perform major surgery on the stock rails to fit the subframe and to allow for suspension travel. All this was later boxed in and is possibly now stiffer than before. The mounts were designed and built to be incorporated into the future rollcage for even more chassis stiffness I had already accepted the fact that I will need a fuel cell. The stock Mirage tank is where the diff wants to be, and it would not have been worth it to fit the stock Talon tank. I got a good deal on a tiny fuel cell that included some lines, an external pump, filter and adjustable fuel pressure regulator. I will definitely need to get a bigger fuel cell soon though (ran out of fuel four times already)Putting it All Together The wheelbase of the 4 door Mirage is 1 inch longer than that of the Talon. This meant that the difference would somehow have to be made up. After several failed attempts to locate a shop willing to lengthen and balance my 3-piece driveshaft, I decided to just use a spacer. I came up with a design using the Maroon Racing CAD system (PowerPoint) and submitted it to mfgquote.com and in a few weeks got my shiny new turned aluminum spacer for $35. It was surprising how many bids came in from Asia and Eastern Europe, but I actually got my part from a company right here in Michigan and it was one of the lowest bids. I definitely recommend mfgquote.com to my fellow $200X challengers. I used the entire Talon engine harness and spliced in the needed wires from the stock body harness. With this setup, everything under the hood was a direct plug-in. The Talon ECU was also a direct plug-in and eerily a direct bolt-in. This was just one of the many pleasant surprises encountered throughout the build. It was fun discovering the many similarities between the two cars. The entire intake plumbing for example is the stock Talon setup. All I had to do was to create the mounting bosses for the Talon side mount intercooler and all the hoses and pipes fell into place. There was no issue clearing the driveshaft; the tunnel was already there just waiting for the mounting brackets which I made from the Talon mounting brackets that I cut out. The Talon shocks and struts bolted right up once the Mirage shock/strut mounts were used.