My whole life I've loved the look of 90s Japanese sports coupes, so when it came time to find a winter beater / project car of my own, I knew which direction I was heading. The first issue I came across was narrowing the list of vehicles down. I knew that I wanted AWD. I knew that I needed a stick shift. I knew that I wanted something that started, ran, drove, and could be registered immediately with as few quirks as possible. As with any large purchase, I asked for the opinions of my peers - In this case, my fellow HardForum members.
I had narrowed the list of possible candidates down to just four - A first-generation Subaru Impreza, a second-generation Eclipse, a second-generation 3000GT, and an E30 BMW 3-series. Other options were considered as well, but discarded for various reasons. The Toyota Celica All-Trac, for example, was well outside of my budget.
After much hemming and hawing, I set about Craigslist, eBay, and local print ads looking for any of the above vehicles. I stumbled instead across a first-generation 3000GT VR4 nearby. I wasn't even considering one until I saw it on eBay. Something about the slimmer design and porno-red interior caught my eye and tugged at my heart. The same vehicle was being sold on Craigslist. I got in touch with the owner despite it being late at night, and was driving up there early the next day. A handful of paperwork, a quick slice of pizza, and a full tank of gas later, and my new car was sitting in my garage.
It had just come in from California, and although it had a number of minor issues there was nothing preventing it from being immediately registered and drivable. There were only a few dings and dents, but no rust anywhere to be found. The paint was in good condition. The driveline worked. It had four new(ish) quality tires mounted on semi-tasteful (if cheap) aftermarket wheels. It was exactly what I was looking for.
Of course, it wasn't perfect. The first issue needed fixing immediately. The driver's side mirror had cracked and needed replacing. The housing itself was in great condition, but the mirror was shot. A new mirror was a part of the deal when I bought the car, but it involved a third party, and an awful lot of waiting. I'm not a patient fellow, so I went looking for a temporary solution to the issue. My local junkyard had a '92 Stealth ES with a perfectly good mirror. It wasn't heated. The connectors don't line up. It's RED. But, it will do until the third party ships out the right one. If C-3PO can sport a red arm, I can sport a red mirror. At least for a little while. So, $20 later, my new vehicle is noticeably tackier.
Up next was dealing with the lack of trunk space. The previous owner had added a subwoofer, box, and amplifier to the trunk. I prefer a solid sound stage, where all parts of the system work together in harmony to allow for a more rounded experience. The bump-n-thunk just isn't for me. Plus, "back to stock" is the theme for this build (for now, at least). So, out it went, and a buddy of mine ended up getting the whole kit 'n kaboodle for free. Removing the sub was easy. Removing the amp was a bit harder. The installer had gone through the trouble of removing the carpet to run the lines for the new amplifier, and duct taping them to the chassis. That meant I needed to do the same in order to remove it.
This project was sidetracked the moment I took out the passenger seat, as there was a level of nasty under there I'd not encountered in many years. I believe Moog of MCM calls this "Automotive Archeology". I just found it to be disgusting. A few hours with a scrub brush and a vacuum lent to a much cleaner interior.
I had noticed that my headlight covers weren't lining up properly. It turns out that a few screws and bolts had disappeared sometime in the last 25 years. A quick trip back to the junkyard fixed them right up.
One of the previous owners had replaced the factory airbox with a K&N filter system. It was functional, if filthy, but not for me. Back-To-Stock. It's becoming a mantra! One quick trip to the junkyard later, and I've got a factory airbox again! It's a little dirty, but nothing that some elbow grease can't fix. And of course, a new filter to go with it. Now if only I could find a factory Y-pipe...
A thief had broken into the car while in the previous owner's possession. They took a crowbar to the passenger door handle, and then to the glovebox. In doing so, they ruined both the glovebox and the dash - and the passenger door will no longer unlock from the outside. The previous owner had already replaced the glovebox with a black one. This obviously doesn't match the charcoal dash, but it is functional and so it will remain... For now. The door, however? Unacceptable. Back to the junkyard Stealth for a few parts!
One of the first things you should do with any used car is change the oil. The VR-4 decided that it was going to leak all over my beautiful, clean concrete slab, so an oil change became a priority. The previous owner neglected to mention that the oil pan drain plug wasn't holding in the oil. I picked up a new plug and some 10W-30, and gave it a quick change. While I was under the car, I also swapped out the coolant, even though there were no indications that the stuff in there was bad. No telling how long it had been since a flush, and it's cheap insurance.
Next, I fixed the driver's door handle. It was separating from the door skin when you'd open up the door. It turned out to be a simple loose bolt. Oh, that all issues were so easily fixed.
I was in the middle of cleaning the engine bay when I discovered that one of the previous owners had the audacity to sheet-metal screw an aftermarket alarm system to my car! This simply would not do. During the process of removing it, I managed to crack my rheostat surround. 25+ year old plastic can get brittle!
I bought myself a present to help remove the bubbling tint on the rear hatch. It was a life saver. I could not imagine trying to do this without a steamer.
I was getting tired of getting so filthy every time I'd even glance under the hood. Time for a little minor cleanup work. (And yes, I put my new steamer to work. It's multi-talented!)
Next up was trying to figure out why my ECS system wasn't working right. My Sport light was blinking, and my Tour light never would come on. I connected an analog multimeter to the diagnostic port, and read the resulting pulses. It looks like I've got a bad strut up front. (Later on, both front struts would die.)
I wasn't content with the pulses, though. I wanted to know WHY they died. So, I took a 9V battery, and my cheapo multimeter, and ran a couple tests. Using the battery, I powered the motor in the struts to shift between the different settings. I then marked down if the strut had any issues or not. Turns out, they didn't. I also tested out the strut caps - no problems there either. Okay, well how about the harness? Nope, no problems.
I continued working my way backwards to the ECS computer. Mitsubishi of this era didn't use the highest quality components in their electronics, and failing capacitors are common. I cracked open my ECS computer, and sure enough. Failed caps. Well, at least it's an easy fix!
Strangely, with the new, fixed ECS computer, I now had TWO failed front struts. Lucky me, there's a guy just a few hours away who knows so much about these systems that he designed a replacement computer from scratch! I took a drive up to his place, and had a lot of fun diagnosing the issue with him and another enthusiast. Apparently, even though my struts move, they aren't moving fast enough for the computer. New ones are currently #1 on my list.
To Be Continued...