"Sweet Fiat-what's under the hood?""A peripheral port 13B turbo-it's the fastest Bambina in the universe, even quicker than the Millennium Falcon."
"That's a hardcore rotary-how did you fit it in?""The thing with Bambinas is they're Italian, so most of the parts just fall off when you get close to them, making extra room. Didn't you know that Fiat actually stands for Fix It Again, Tony?
"In these days of tough laws that govern what you can and can't do to your car, there are still those who can get away with just about anything. New Zealanders are keeping the dark art of engine transplants alive and very well-even for road-going cars, thanks to relaxed vehicle importation and tuning rules. As crazy as the above example sounds, it's the sort of conversation that goes on every day between New Zealanders-there's even one Kiwi who has shoehorned a 308ci V-8 into a tiny Fiat Bambina. In a fit of weak will I was convinced to go for a ride in it and learned that V-8s in European toy cars are quite fun and extremely dangerous. I also discovered that adrenaline is actually brown.
That type of conversion is strictly for the insane-pushing the boundaries of backyard engineering has been known to end in disaster. That's why many countries have banned this high level of modification. But a successful (read:mechanically sound) engine transplant is as satisfying as hearing Brooke Burke say something nice, like "Yes".
Chris Thompson hasn't heard the latter, but he knows all about the sweet satisfaction of beating the engineering fairies and getting it all to work. That's because the 19-year-old did it properly-and he's got a Lancer Evolution-powered Mitsubishi Mirage RS to prove it. The amazing hatch doesn't go much like its shopping basket siblings. They don't even talk to this '97 Mirage anymore-but are surely jealous.
This isn't the first time that an enthusiastic car nut has taken a Mirage and given it the benefits of Mitsubishi's gravel-gargling heritage. But there's more to this type of transplant than the old stick-a-big-block-in-the-hatchback approach that we've all seen and sometimes been guilty of. One of the more arduous tasks that Chris and his long-suffering mechanic mates had to tackle was rebuilding the rear end.
"A lot of work went into the body kit," the Christchurch local told us, "but even more so the chromoly tube rear end. It was a huge challenge to make it all work, but it was really rewarding the first time we dropped the car from the axle stands onto the ground," he said.
The key to this was Alec from MSV Race Developments. He's a freakin' Jedi when it comes to creative, testosterone-driven engineering. A full jig was taken off the rear end of an Evo V, and by relocating the mounting points Alec was able to bolt the new frame in place. It sounds simple, but so does the term "chick", and look what complicated pieces of work they can be.
The suspension is a reasonably straightfor-ward affair, though-Evo V shocks with JRS springs giving about 50 mm of drop. Some judicious wielding of engineering's greatest tool-the gas axe-was required to chop out the rear wheel well to fit an Evo limited slip diff into the mix. Borrowed from an Evo VII RS model, it fits into the parts bin drivetrain perfectly, along with an Evo VII gearbox, Evo VIII flywheel, shortened Evo V drive shafts and Evo VII axles. The tasty Brembo Evo V brake setup comes minus ABS, but with the lighter weight of the smaller Mirage, a big stomp on the middle pedal and you're picking broken teeth off the dashboard. Much to our good fortune we were able to pop the mighty mite Mirage onto a truck scale during the shoot and it weighed in at a feathery 1,180kg (2,600lbs). Compare that to a stock Evo V at 1,360kg (3,000lbs).
Under the bonnet is a Mitsubishi Mecca, thanks to the two-liter turbocharged Evolution V engine. The factory hairdryer is gone, and in its place is a Turbonetics T3/4 hybrid. The induction charge is chilled with a custom intercooler, and while the factory intake manifold remains, there's a K&N air filter inside an MSV cold air box to keep the flow velocity constant and cold.
Fuel from a Walbro 255lph pump feeds the factory injectors, and occasionally heads to the TiAL external gate, spitting fire from the screamer pipe when excess boost needs somewhere to go. Braided clutch lines, turbo oil feeds and shiny MSV overflow bottles complete the under-hood bling.
If paying by the hour, it's not recommended to get a custom body kit like Chris's weapon custom-made for your toy. A wallet-wasting 250 hours were poured into getting the knock-up kit looking the business. More keen than stupid, Chris did the work himself-modifying and re-fitting the modified Evo 6.5 front bumper, widened guards, skirts and rear bumper
So what's Chris planning on doing with all this killer kit? The plan involves an interior tart-up, some stroppy HKS cams and a swap of the factory ECU in favor of the excellent A'PEXi Power FC. The stylish white Mirage took six months of hard work, big invoices and late nights, and the results speak for themselves. But you can't help wonder about something-couldn't he just stick a 350 in it?
OWNER Chris Thompson
HOMETOWN Christchurch, New Zealand
DAILY GRIND Alarm/CCTV installer
UNDER THE HOOD Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution V 4G63 engine; Evo VII radiator; K&N air filter with MSV Cold airbox and alloy intake; Turbonetics T3/T4 turbo; MSV manifold and catch cans; custom intercooler; Turbosmart Megasonicblow-off valve; TiAL external wastegate; Walbro 255lph fuel pump; Dytech Racing muffler
DRIVETRAIN Mitsubishi Lancer Evo VI; Evo VII gearbox and RS LSD; Evo VIII flywheel; shortened Evo V drive shafts and Evo VII axles; Exedy racing clutch
BRAINS Gizzmo boost control and launch control
STIFF STUFF Evo V dampers; JRS springs;MSV custom rear end and suspension arms
ROLLERS 18-inch Enkei Tarmac Evo wheels; 225/40R18 Toyo Proxes T1S tires
STOPPERS Evo V Brembos
OUTSIDE Custom body kit including Evo 6.5 front end, widened guards, side skirts and rear end;stock hood with Evo IV vent
INSIDE Evo driver and passenger seats; Sportline steering wheel
ICE Sony head unit with 6-inch components front and rear