To fans of the world rally racing circuit of the early 1980s, the excitement of the short-lived, three-year long reign of the Group B division was an unforgettable motor sports memory.A loosely interpreted rulebook helped Group B become history’s most extreme rally class and helped to establish the most fiendishly quick and powerful vehicles rally racing had ever seen contested for championship points.Audi, Ford and Peugeot, among others, fielded factory supported teams to carry what soon became 400-plus horsepower, mid-engine, Kevlar bodied, four-wheel-drive, multi-surface supercars that defined the Group B class.
Between fierce manufacturer competition and the Federation Internationale De L’Automobile (FIA) governing body’s relaxed rulebook, Group B became an ideal motor sport division for the swift development of vehicles using experimental technologies. Group B’s flexible homologation requirements allowed manufacturers to introduce modified or advanced“evolution” versions of their race vehicles at any point during the season once twenty copies of the vehicle had been produced. Evolution versions of Group B cars, such as the Ford RS200 Evolution allowed engineers to legally incorporate the additional engine, traction, and aerodynamic enhancements required to keep pace with similar mechanical advances made by competitors.
By 1986, the cars were so quick and the handling so tenuous that the vehicles were challenging their driver’s capacity to handle them on the narrow, spectator-crowded rally roads. The concern for safety, brought on by several fatal accidents, renewed the commitment to responsible racing that eventually brought about the sensible demise to both group B and the even wilder, stillborn Group S rally category at the end of the 1986 season.Beyond fabulous, petrol-soaked memories, the legacy left by Group B can still be seen in the technological influence that these fast, tall-winged, turbo-charged evolution versions of technical rally wizardry have had on current rally vehicles.Nowhere is that influence more evident than on Mitsubishi Motors’ homologation vehicles known simply as “evo’s.”
Lancer Evolution I
Lancer Evolution I in showroom trim.
While Group B might have been responsible for introducing rally racing fans to the concept of highly developed, limited production “evolution” vehicles, the word “evolution” has now become synonymous with the Mitsubishi Lancer series that competed in the Group A division after the demise of Group B.In October of 1992, Mitsubishi unleashed the first of what would ultimately become an all-conquering breed of Group A rally weapons: the Lancer Evolution I.This lightweight, compact, turbocharged, all-wheel-drive, four-door sedan replaced the heavier Galant sedan that had been competing on the rally circuit. The Lancer Evolution I showcased Mitsubishi’s technology at the time and implemented the lessons learned from the campaign that fielded a Galant in competition from 1988-1990.
Lancer Evolution I in competition.
To homolgate the Lancer Evolution I for competition in Group A, rules specified that at least 2,500 units had to be built for public consumption.This homologation model featured a 2.0-liter, DOHC, turbocharged engine that put out about 250 PS (Japanese power rating) with what had been the Galant VR-4 all-wheel-drive sedan.The Lancer Evolution I unibody was reinforced with additional welds and materials to improve torsional rigidity by 20 percent.
The suspension was modified with pillow ball mounts replacing bushings on the control arms mounting points.An aluminum hood helped reduce weight to a feathery 1,170 kgs while a front spoiler and lift reducing rear spoiler offered improved aerodynamics. As a road car, the Lancer Evolution I offered exhilarating performance in the compact sedan category, and began to whet the appetites of Japanese and European enthusiasts for later versions.
Lancer Evolution II
Lancer Evolution II in showroom trim.
In late 1993, Mitsubishi released the Lancer Evolution II to the public to meet competition vehicle rules requirements in the FIA’s Group A rally division.Based on the same Lancer chassis as the Lancer Evolution I, the Lancer Evolution II incorporated performance improvements that had resulted from the lessons learned on the rally circuit. The Lancer Evolution II specification raised engine output by 10 PS thanks in large part to a less restrictive exhaust system that reduced backpressure. The Lancer Evolution II’s front control arms and struts were lengthened to improve wheelstroke and handling increasing the vehicle’s cornering limits.In addition, lightweight O·ZÒ aluminum road wheels help improve suspension performance with a reduction in unsprung weight.
Lancer Evolution II in competition.
Lancer Evolution III
Lancer Evolution III sedan.
The Lancer Evolution III debuted in 1995 adding yet another 10 PS of total output for a total of 270 PS at 6,250 rpm thanks to a new turbo compressor and less restrictive exhaust, and an additional intercooler sprayer that helped stabilize boost and power at high speeds.Aerodynamic improvements dominated the exterior appearance of the Lancer Evolution III.With a revised air dam, side skirts, and a much larger rear wing, the Lancer Evolution III wore an aerodynamic package that helped improve high speed handling as well as add visual distinction.The Lancer Evolution III was the first Lancer vehicle to enjoy outright victories on the world rally stage.Lancer Evolution III’s victories began to cultivate a reputation as one of the world’s top shelf performance cars and through the 1996 season helped Tommi Makinen win his first driver’s title and garnered Mitsubishi a second place in the manufacturers title.
Lancer Evolution III in competition.
The Lancer Evolution III sedan was the first to enjoy outright victory in the World Rally Championship.
Lancer Evolution IV
Lancer Evolution IV benefited from a redesign of the Lancer chassis and a new interior layout.
Following the complete redesign of the Lancer chassis in 1996, engineers sought to build a vehicle that fully exploited the virtues of the new unibody, and continued the Lancer Evolution’s success on the rally circuit.This basic Lancer design helped deliver the majority of Tommi Makinen’s dominant stage victories and championship conquests for the World Rally Circuit.As a result, he won a record four consecutive championships from 1996 to 1999. The Lancer Evolution IV would signify the largest leap in mechanical improvements of the Lancer Evolution lineage.
Lancer Evolution IV in competition.
Appearing at the end of 1997, the Lancer Evolution IV’s 4G63, 2.0-liter, four cylinder engine received several modifications, such as a metal head gasket and revised intake manifold, that improved power and durability under boost.Combined with revised cam timing, lighter pistons, and a new, more efficient turbocharger, this highly evolved 2.0-liter engine produced 280 PS at 6,500 rpm.The vehicle also offered a choice between a close ratio and a super-close ratio five-speed gearbox as well as a choice between low and high final drive gears. Other drivetrain technologies included the Active Yaw Control system for the rear differential and a torque adaptive helical gear LSD front differential that also increased cornering capability by controlling wheel slippage.These modifications helped make the Lancer Evolution IV as capable on the track as it had shown to be on the gravel.
Lancer Evolution V
Lancer Evolution V was the first vehicle in the series to wear widened fenders to accommodate the increased track.
With the debut of the FIA approved World Rally Class in 1997, carmakers were allowed to compete with one-off, group-A rules-based prototypes with no intention of building for public consumption. Mitsubishi elected to continue the more radical development of the Lancer Evolution Group A vehicle that had already proven its success in competition. To stay competitive with the new breed of purpose-built WRC racing machines, Mitsubishi sought to increase the Lancer’s performance envelope more than ever before.The Lancer Evolution V was launched in the beginning of 1998, and was immediately distinguished by its muscular new look.The vehicle’s front and rear track had been widened considerably making it the first Evolution model in the series to wear bulging wheel arches on its aluminum fenders.An aggressive front spoiler improved cooling and intercooler performance.The tallest rear wing yet to appear on an Evolution vehicle became adjustable for downforce.
Lancer Evolution V in competition.
The Lancer Evolution V’s suspension geometry was optimized to compliment the increased track and control arm and link pivot points were substantially reinforced.An increase wheel stroke and a relocated steering box helped increase control and response to driver input.
The Lancer Evolution V rode on large 17-inch wheels, and also was the first Lancer Evolution to include upgraded BremboÒ brakes.The Lancer Evolution V had transformed into a world-class performance car whose engine could sprint with the best and combined adhesive-like handling capability with raw, aggressive purposeful appearance.As the Lancer Evolution legend grew in Japan and Europe, the custom had become for the limited run of retail units to sell out within months of introduction. Considering the demise of the turbocharged performance car market in the U.S. at the time, the Lancer Evolution series seemed poised to remain one of those rare, delicious automotive morsels that would only be enjoyed by enthusiasts outside of the U.S.
Lancer Evolution VI
Lancer Evolution VI.
Lancer Evolution VI Tommi Makinen Edition.
The Lancer Evolution VI arrived at the beginning of 2000 with additional enhancements to help maintain its competitiveness with the fast-evolving WRC-spec cars that were competing on the World Rally Circuit. The Lancer Evolution VI incorporated small refinements over the Lancer Evolution V that ultimately made for a stronger and more flexible performance car.
The Lancer Evolution VI proved capable in competition and often enjoyed victory.
Following an FIA regulation that reduced the wing size, the Lancer Evolution VI made up for the lost downforce with a new, lower-profile, dual wing design.Radiator cooling was improved with a larger bumper inlet that improved airflow, and a revision of the engine’s coolant passages that helped reduce water pump cavitation.A revised oil pan baffle and a larger oil cooler helped stabilize oil temperatures under heavy load.The 2.0-liter engine did not receive an upgrade in power, but subtle intake and engine management upgrades (including a titanium alloy turbocharger turbine) improved engine response and torque.
The Lancer Evolution VI undercarriage marked the use of high-strength lightweight forgings for suspension components.The forged aluminum control arms, trailing arms and links were introduced with the intension of reducing unsprung weight and improving suspension performance. To maximize the function of the new suspension, the Lancer Evolution VI unibody was reinforced with an addition of 130 more spot-welds, and the use of strategically placed thicker structural metal.A later development of this sixth generation Lancer Evolution was introduced to commemorate Tommi Makinen’s unprecedented fourth consecutive driver’s championship after the 1999 season.Sporting an exclusive exterior and interior package with graphics and styling mimicking the race vehicle, the Lancer Evolution VI Tommi Makinen edition also included a stiffer, lowered suspension, quicker ratio steering, and optimized roll-center height.
In 2000, a version of the Lancer Evolution VI would find its way into the U.S. press fleet, so that North American journalists could get acquainted with this legend and drive this most spirited of Mitsubishi vehicles.Universally, it seemed, anyone who drove the vehicle pleaded for its availability in U.S. showrooms.
Lancer Evolution VII
Lancer Evolution VII.
In 2001, with the launch of an all-new Lancer Cedia sedan, the Lancer Evolution VII completed a transformation into an ultra-high tech, super performance sedan whose capability on the road rivaled that of far more exotic machinery. The sum of the small evolutionary mechanical enhancements of the previous model combined with the addition of an all-new, longer-wheelbase platform designed with an eye toward competition, helped the Lancer Evolution VII attain new levels of performance and refinement in the series.
In racing, the Lancer that competed on the highest level was now a purpose-built WRC spec vehicle and would come to dominate the Group N rally category for more street-oriented vehicles.It utilized an all-new, more-aerodynamic styling treatment with mildly bulged box flares, a more capable driveline complete with the latest generation of electronic differentials and traction control aids.The venerable 4G63 engine was refined to a point of delivering broad, almost lag-free power across the entire rev-range, its new peak rating (276 horsepower) now a gross underestimation of actual output. Drivers and enthusiasts worldwide found it to be a driving thrill matched by only an elite few vehicles available off the showroom floor today.
Lancer Evolution WRC race vehicle was developed to take advantage of WRC-car class rules.
The Lancer Evolution VII’s surreal cornering limits and ribcage compressing acceleration left journalists awestruck and in disbelief that a vehicle that began its path down the assembly line as a humble Lancer sedan could be tuned to offer such amazing performance.After the test drives and after the articles went to print, members of the media and enthusiasts wondered aloud and begged to know if the Lancer Evolution series would ever be offered to U.S. consumers, and when that time would come.That time is now.
The Lancer Evolution sedan series were designed primarily to serve as a basis for top-flight rally racing vehicles.