It was a hot summer day, almost triple digits. The legendary Black Cherry 1G Talon made its’ way through the pits, everybody was watching. This particular car was holding the number one position all day, running in the mid nine second range. This pass was no different, and the Talon went on to destroy everything in its’ class that day. This was in 2002, and my life was forever changed since.
Flash forward several years, and that legendary Talon went on to hold numerous accolades, became the first all wheel drive car to run seven second quarter mile times and instilled fear into the competition in ways unimaginable. The truth is, the whole DSM community shed a tear the day John Shepherd announced he would be retiring the legend. This was a car that truly captivated an audience, when John pulled into the pits, everybody dropped everything and immediately paid attention. If your significant other called to announce she just went into active labor, it can wait seven seconds. His car truly was a rock star and always will be.
To be perfectly honest, this Talon is the car that started it all for me. Back in 2002, performance from four cylinder imports was still largely in its’ infancy, and to see a legitimate street car running nine second quarter mile times seemed almost impossible. With that being said, this was just the start for the reign of terror that DSMs would become known for. Whether you love these cars or you’re new to them, this article should hopefully bring a since of pride and cohesion, much like the community has for so many years.
So, What Is A DSM?
Since you asked, I’ll go ahead and cover that now. For the purpose of this article, we will mostly stick to the first generation model. With that out of the way, DSM stands for Diamond Star Motors, which was a joint venture between Chrysler and Mitsubishi. The naming came from the Chrysler star logo and the Mitsubishi diamonds, pretty self explanatory now that you know. Formed in 1985, this joint venture brought us three amazing cars, the Talon, Eclipse and Laser.
The Talon was the model produced by Eagle, the Eclipse was produced under the Mitsubishi Motors title, and the Laser was produced under the Plymouth name. All three cars were basically the same, with minor aesthetic differences. However, here’s the bigger differences:
The Laser didn’t offer all wheel drive as an available option until 1992
Laser was only produced from 1990-1994
Talon was produced until 1998
Eclipse produced for much longer than it should have been, second generation production ending in 1999 noting the end of 4G63 and all wheel drive availability
Back to some of those differences. The trio was sold in the USA starting in the 1990 model year, with turbocharged engines available in front wheel drive and all wheel drive trims. The 1.8 motor was known as the 4G37 and output was low, around 110-115 horsepower. These motors were found in base cars such as the Talon DL, Eclipse GS and Laser base. Many of those base cars didn’t feature the iconic hood bump, but some base models did indeed have it.
The 4G63 non turbocharged engine was rated for roughly 130 horsepower, and was found in the higher line Talon ESi, Eclipse GS 16v, and Laser RS. The turbocharged engine came in two flavors, 180 horsepower for the automatic transmission models, and 195 horsepower for the manual equipped models. These were designated Talon TSi, Eclipse GST (front wheel drive) or GSX (all wheel drive) as well as RS Turbo for the Laser. The difference in outputs between transmission choices is attributed to a few things. The automatic models had a smaller 13G turbocharger and smaller 390 cc fuel injectors. The manual models had a larger 14B turbocharger and larger 450 cc fuel injectors.
Acceleration for the day was rather impressive, with all wheel drive models going 0-60 in seven seconds flat. Top speed is something that isn’t really known per se, but I can verify a stock first generation model going well above 130 miles per hour. These cars are tremendously easy to make horsepower with, and even in stock form they are very fun to drive.
What Makes The DSM Special?
The 4G63 engine is the heart of a good DSM, and quite simply, it’s a masterpiece. The most feared four cylinder in the world, and engine with a list of accolades a mile long, if you’re a car enthusiast you’ve no doubt heard about this notorious engine. The 4G63 has been starting pissing matches with V8’s for years, and winning the fights with great regularity.
Featuring a cast iron block, forged crankshaft, forged connecting rods, and a cylinder head that outflows Niagara Falls, the 4G63 was an instant recipe for rally and drag strip domination. There were two distinct flavors of the 4G63, the six bolt and the seven bolt. The six bolt was available from 1990 until roughly a third of 1992. Around April 1992, the cars went to a new seven bolt motor. Here are some of the differences:
Six bolt featured the beefiest connecting rods
Six bolt and seven bolt head ports varied in size, this is a controversial subject for another day
Seven bolt featured lighter weight connecting rods
Seven bolt features a main cap girdle
These are just basic differences. All Evolution models featured seven bolt engines. Despite some mass hysteria over “crank walk” the issue was largely blown out of proportion and only affected a fraction of all cars produced. Crank walk refers to an issue in which the crank shaft thrust bearing becomes very worn and allows the crankshaft to quite literally walk inside the block. Again, this is a largely misunderstood topic for another day.
The three models also underwent other changes in 1992, and here are some of those changes:
Elimination of pop up headlights in favor of fixed headlights
Tail lights and other face lift changes such as bumpers, grille and the obvious headlights
All wheel drive models went from the three bolt rear differential to a far stronger and more desirable four bolt design.
Some rare 1992 models were available with the six bolt 4G63 and the four bolt rear differential. These are considered to be one of the most desirable models out there.
1G model designation changed from 1GA to 1GB to notate these changes
That brings us to a few discussions. For the most part, the six bolt engine is the most desirable due to the ability to push the stock engine rotating assembly to stratospheric numbers. With that being said, don’t discount the seven bolt engine either. The factory main cap girdle is very desirable and huge power numbers are very achievable from either motor. In 2011, OSTAR Motorsports was able to run 9.83 at 149 miles per hour on a completely OEM rotating assembly. After being met with skepticism, they were quick to post a live disassembly video, which proved the point that their engine was completely unchanged from new. There have been multiple ten second passes on completely stock engines, featuring turbocharger upgrades, fuel system upgrades, and the obvious bolt on upgrades. This simply goes to show just how capable the 4G63 truly is.
Before the R35 Nissan GTR went on sale, DSMs were completely unrivaled in the all wheel drive arena. In terms of four cylinder all wheel drive models, they still hold every record possible.
Quickest and fastest H pattern manual transmission in the world – Red Demon 2G Eclipse, 7.49 at 199.9 miles per hour. Still all wheel drive.
World’s quickest DSM, quickest and fastest all wheel drive four cylinder car – Jeff Bush 1G Talon, 7.38 at 187.94 miles per hour
First all wheel drive seven second pass, previous world’s quickest and fastest – John Shepherd 1G Talon. 7.70 at 191 miles per hour
Brent Rau – 2G tube car that ran 6.83 at 193 miles per hour making it the first four cylinder in the sixes until recently.
A Nasty Reputation
Word spread very quickly of the capabilities of these cars, and people were quick to scoop them up and start modifying the crap out of them. The problem was, nobody was really maintaining them. As with any aging turbocharged car, special attention is required, and unfortunately it’s rarely given. Instead, people bought their DSMs, cranked the boost through the roof without supplying proper supporting modifications (fuel system, tuning etc) and problems were quickly arising. As this became a trend, these cars were labeled unreliable.
The truth is, DSMs are always as reliable as their owners, and give equal respect. I’ve personally owned multiple Talon and Laser models with nothing bad to report. The day I picked up my beloved 1990 TSi all wheel drive I had driven 250 miles to pick it up and drove it home the same day. The difference was simple, this Talon had been well maintained and I wasn’t an idiot. What I’m trying to say here is that DSMs are as reliable as any other car, they just require a little more love. Don’t knock a car because you lack restraint and common automotive knowledge. The DSMs I’ve owned have offered me excellent service as daily drivers and weekend toys alike.
No matter how hard I try and convey my thoughts on this subject, I can never give these cars the proper justice they deserve. Like a good friend, Talons, Eclipses and Lasers have always been a huge part of my life. I’ll make this very clear ahead of time, you don’t simply buy a DSM and stop there. Just like a desperate stray, you feed it once and it becomes a part of your everyday life. There isn’t a way out, and you’ll find yourself comparing other cars to your DSM. The ability to offer insane levels of performance for such small monetary investment attracts many people, and it holds so many of us enthusiasts hostage. Take me for example, I have well over five thousand dollars invested into my Audi 5000 Turbo Quattro, and if I had invested that amount of money into a 1G Talon I would easily be over 500 horsepower.
Add the nostalgic and always iconic appearance of the first generation cars, and you have a recipe for a life long disease. Sure the interior is very cheap in appearance, but it’s truly something you grow to love and embrace. These cars have so much character, and a certain level of panache that is virtually unrivaled from cars of this vintage. For roughly five thousand dollars you can find a very clean first generation all wheel drive Talon, Eclipse or Laser. You’ll be buying into a lifestyle, for better or for worse. With it, you will make friendships, enemies, and memories you won’t ever want to give up. The friendships I cherish today, the friends I’ve had for over a decade, they all spawned from DSM talk and ownership.
We all share the same paralyze, the same sickness, and we typically stick together through thick and thin. As these cars become extinct and rare due to part outs, we hoard parts and buy up all the models we can in hopes of saving them. Someday, I look for my daughter to be sliding the key in her first Talon, and she too will understand the meaning of automotive pride. Nothing makes you quite as proud as a clean DSM, and the fear and respect they demand on the street or at the track. Everybody knows just how fast they can be, and when they see it pull up they tend to assume the worst. Don’t expect to hustle street race money, DSMs won’t fly under anybodies radar, and they certainly aren’t sleepers. Instead, they’re misunderstood, respected, loved, loathed and feared universally.
I hope this helps convince you that buying a DSM is indeed worth it, or maybe helps settle some of the myths. Again, my best advice is simple, buy one knowing that there is no going back, and be prepared to win races that your friends couldn’t.