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A Clockwork Orange

Who does not know the reputation of Tokyo Auto Salon? It’s one of the world’s largest auto tuning meets, the only that could reasonably be compared to the America’s SEMA Show.

For a car to take away the sedan category, it must have been tuned to the utmost level. You can expect this monster to put out ultimate performance, to have been outrageously modified and look more like a UFO than an automobile. It’s the kind of object you see once in your life – or if you’re having visions.

And yet, the Galant Fortis Lowrider, the 2008 winner of the Japanese show, is everything but that. The list of mods fits onto half an A4 page and the added parts aren’t really that much to call home about.

So what’s the big deal? Well it seems swimming against the tide has been a good idea as Mitsubishi’s show car took everyone by surprise.

“The Galant? Not a pensioner’s ride!”

“Since the Diamante no longer sits on the range,” explains Mitsu PR’s Takashi Kiuchi, the Galant Fortis remains our only sedan. It’s got a rather sporty image and targets a broad range of drivers. In our market, however, youths are increasingly turning to SUVs or people movers. In terms of numbers, almost 70 per cent of Galant buyers are older than 50. So we took it to TAS to reach a younger audience.”

What looks like just another marketing operation concocted after numerous pompous meetings now sounds more like a corner table decision made by a group of friends at a coffee shop.

Two managers, Kazuhiro Kubota and Kosuke Fujii – a tuning parts expert – plotted their coup during Tokyo Motor Show 2007.

“Usually, it’s impossible for a manufacturer to make a decision in October for a car that needs to be tuned by January,” Fujii remembers. “But since there were only three of us, and since Mitsubishi is only a ‘small’ company and since our bosses keep an open mind and the project did not seem too extravagant to them, it was quickly embraced. By the time a decision was made, we only had two months left ahead of us.”

A quick stop at the SEMA Show 2007 allowed the team to grab fresh ideas and sharpen its direction.

“If we wanted to make the Galant really popular, the design would have to stay as close as possible to the original thing. We opted for the lowrider style as that’s something manufacturers shy away from,” Fujii-san continues.

Running out of time, they quickly walked their talk and the project came together in the Show-Up workshop in Tokyo, even though Mitsu HQ was no less than 400km away in Okazaki.

“We picked the red and orange hue in tandem with Nippon Paint staff.” Nippon Paint is the well-known developer of the Mazora tints used by the most high-profile Japanese tuners. And this Galant owes most of its success to its new colours. The car known as the Lancer outside the country retrieves a front spoiler ridded of its foglamps but added with a new grille, thinner-spoked rims and narrower Cooper Trendsetter tyres.

For a really low ride into the weeds, Show-Up used shorter suspension springs and, more importantly a Universal Air Suspension System kit. This allows the chassis to be lifted or dropped by up to 10cm with just one push of a button. Externally, that’s as far as the mods go. So there’s not much point in lifting the bonnet and find a completely stock set-up.

Hue’s on first.

Everything seems new in the cabin. However, customs parts inside are still pretty rare: a chromed steering wheel with flame-design spokes, a polished red dash, thick carpet mats. The flashiest part remains the leather job on the front and rear seats and ceiling as well as the various plastic hues matching the exterior.

“It’s visually pretty strong but, in the end, it bears few differences from the original model,” Kosuke admits.

“We’ve always presented tuned cars at TAS, but it was a first for the Galant Fortis, and the first trophy for us, which we had lost all hope for,” says Kazuhiro Kubota from marketing.

Still, the success has not deviated the Mitsu boys from their prime occupation, despite requests to exhibit the Galant in Russia and Singapore. “We don’t even intend to create a tuning parts catalog for this car,” says Fujii. Their goal of showing the Galant under a new light has been met.

“Some of the manufacturers must have thought we were idiots with this lowrider project, but we did it for the fans and they approved.”

Optimistically, there’s nothing stopping other tuners from drawing inspiration from this Galant that’s totally out of the left field.

Car: Mitsubishi Galant Fortis / Lancer
Engine: 4B11
Suspensions: Super low down springs, universal air suspension system
Wheels: Wire wheels and Cooper Trendsetter 175/75R14

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