The Japanese car known as the FTO1 first appeared in 1971. Originally it was a model variant of Mitsubishi's popular Galant Coupe, but in 1994 Mitsubishi released an entirely new car onto its domestic market that would use the FTO name. It followed the classic format of many modern cars, with a transversely mounted engine driving the front wheels. The difference was that it was a beautifully-styled coupe with a swooping bodywork that hasn't really dated since its release. Originally designed to go up against the Toyota Celic,a it can often be compared to other front-wheel-drive coupes of the mid-1990s such as Alfa Romeo GTV or the Fiat Coupe.
The car was originally in production from October 1994 until 1997; then in 1997 the front bumper received a 'facelift' (along with a few other internal modifications) and the car continued in production until mid-2000. In all, only 16,438 cars weere made, all of them at the Mizushima car factory2. The FTO came in a number of different models, each with the same body shell but with different engines and options across the range.
The GS was the base model, using a 16v 1800cc straight 4 SOHC3 engine, generating 125BHP at 6000rpm. It had the most basic standard trim level with air-conditioning and steel wheels, although many buyers upgraded the wheels to alloys. The GR used Mitsubishi's stunning DE3A engine but had a lower trim level with air-conditioning instead of climate control and steel wheels as standard, for example. This smooth 24v 2000cc V6 DOHC4 engine generated 170 bhp @ 7000 rpm up until 1997 - after 1997, the 'facelifted' versions were uprated to 180bhp @ 6000rpm.
The GR Sports Package had the same engine as a normal GR but the trim as standard was upgraded with 16-inch alloy wheels and climate control. The GP was effectively a basic GR with steel wheels and air conditioning instead of climate control; however, the engine was different to the GR's. The GP instead had a DE3A engine with the addition of the MIVEC5 cylinder head and power was pushed up to 200bhp at a glorious 7500rpm. The MIVEC unit was Mitsubishi's answer to the VTEC unit used in some Hondas. It basically changes the profile of the valve cams at 5500rpm to allow more fuel and therefore more power into the combustion chamber. The GPX was the top of the range model and also the most commonly sold. It featured alloy wheels and climate control as standard along with the MIVEC-controlled engine.
Other than the facelift changes the GS and the GR were available in the same format as before the facelift. A new model, the GX Sports Package, was released after the facelift although this was effectively just a rebranded GR Sports package. The GX Sports Package Aero Series was the same as the other GX model but with the addition of a large 'Aero' rear spoiler. Other than the changes incorporated in the facelift, the GPX remained in the same format as the pre facelift and remained the top seller. The other new model, the GP Version R, was Mitsubishi's answer to cars such as Honda's Integra Type R. It was effectively the same as the GPX; it still used the DE3A engine with MIVEC control but it went through a slimming regime. This caused it to lose the climate control, instead it came with normal air-conditioning whilst it gained a limited slip differential6. They were also only available in three colours: red, white and black. The GP Version R Aero Series was in the same format as the normal GP version R but it came with the large 'Aero' spoiler like on the GX Sports Package Aero series.
Within the first year of production the FTO had won the prestigious Japanese Car of the Year award - the first time a sports car had done this since Toyota's MR2 ten years earlier in 1984. This prompted Mitsubishi to release five hundred cars in a special limited edition - a dandelion yellow colour. This car differed from a normal GPX in that it had a limited slip differential as standard, along with a subtle small badge on the rear pillar.
The other special edition was the rare Nakaya-Tune FTO - only 300 of these were made by Akihiko Nakaya driver of the Taevion Trampio FTO race car in the Japanese GT300 series. This car was a pre-facelift GPX but with a Nakaya-Tune Sports Muffler, Nakaya-Tune AP Brake Pads, a Nakaya-Tune Carbon Fibre Lip Spoiler, Nakaya-Tune Suspension and Nakaya-Tune Ohlins Shock Absorber.
A large proportion of the cars came with Mitsubishi's INVECS II7 Tiptronic gearbox which was licensed from Porsche. This gearbox has two settings; a normal full automatic mode and a manual Tiptronic mode, achieved by flicking the gearstick sideways in its gate. When in Tiptronic mode, the driver needs only to push the gearstick backwards or forwards and this will change up or down through the gears with only a small delay. This gearbox received huge amounts of praise when it was released; when driven in 'tip' mode the car actually starts to 'learn'. The INVECS gearbox contains a Neural Network which works in a similar way to a human brain; information on the driver's shift points and driving style is fed into a learning control circuit. This then enables the car to select the optimum gear for the driver when he is using it in fully automatic mode.
On the Screen
The car has appeared in several movies. Jackie Chan is a big fan of Mitsubishi cars and has used FTOs in two of his films8, while the car also made an appearance in the Ali G movie, Ali G Indahouse. It has also appeared in a number of computer games9 though the thrill on the screen doesn't do justice to the real drive.
The Japanese Car tuning scene is too big a subject to go into here but the FTO is a part of it. Unfortunately for those people wanting to make wildly powerful FTOs the engine is fairly restricted with a limited amount of 'cheap' modifications that can be carried out on it. After fitting a performance air filter and an upgraded exhaust, the options start to become thin. Some owners have fitted Nitrous Oxide and there are a few turbocharged FTOs, but these are rare. However, there are a number of after-market styling kits available.
All FTOs, particularly the GPX and GP Version R models, are a joy to drive. They handle amazingly well with just a little understeer and have often been compared to the Honda Integra Type R as the best-handling front-wheel-drive car in the world. The DE3A engine has a redline of 8000rpm, so when driven hard produces a screaming exhaust sound just as a much more expensive sports car would. Yet they are economical too - with an average mpg of around 27mpg they return good fuel economy for a sports car.
How to get one in the UK
The car was never really officially imported into Europe. However, after a few individuals started importing them privately from Japan, this trickle soon turned into a flood. Mitsubishi UK decided they wanted to cash in on some of this business and they started to import brand new cars from Mitsubishi Japan, selling them through Mitsubishi's Sports department Ralliart. Today, FTOs can be found in plenty of places from private ads to second-hand dealer forecourts and it is still possible to import pre-'97 cars10. A good, low-mileage FTO GPX can be bought for around £4,500, and with parts readily available from specialists there's never been a better time to buy one. Outside of the UK, FTOs are still found in Japan but they can also be seen in other countries that drive on the left such as Ireland, Australia and New Zealand11.
This Researcher must express his thanks to the members of the FTO Owners Club who helped with the information in this Entry.http://www.bbc.co.uk/topgear