Usually, I'm a one-car type of man. Even with the knowledge that my S14 240SX is dated and limited, I appreciate it for what it is. But something happened last week that had me seriously contemplating selling all my automotive assets, just to get my hands on a new love.
While shooting this month's Evo X cover story, I drove something so extraordinary I'm still at a loss for words to properly describe just how good it really is. The week I spent tooling around Southern California's tarmac traffic stage in a Mitsubishi Evolution VI, partially converted to Tommi Makinen Edition status, tops my list of driving encounters. And I've driven a lot of amazing cars. These range from pimping a Ferrari Enzo to tracking a Porsche Carerra GT to our old LeMons beater. But none of them ever brought me to the conclusion: "I must have this car."
The Tommi is a totally different machine from the Lancer Evolution VIIIs and IXs I'm used to. Clearly it's of the same engineering lineage. All the pedal motions and engine sounds are the same, just far more raw and visceral. It feels like an Evo should, some bolted-together beast built out of the original turdy econo-box Lancer, not the high-tech track superiority fighter of today. The Lancer roots are obvious through the chassis flex. Perception of speed isn't masked by any modern-day quelling of noise, vibration and harshness.
Steering is similarly old-school. While still precise and immediate, the slower ratio makes you feel the inputs, unlike the surgical precision of the newer cars. And while I like modern shifters, the Tommi's shifter is pure video game in lightness and throw, though simultaneously precise and rewarding.
And yet, this Tommi is still so much more. For starters, it's left-hand drive, a tell-tale sign to the unknowing that I'm just some ricer twit with a garish made-in-China body kit taped to my hand-me-down Mirage. The only thing distinguishing it as a Tommi Makinen Edition is the stitching on the seats and the almost worn-out badging on the trunk.
What people don't see are the real goods: the quick-spooling TME turbo that feels as good as a MIVEC-equipped car, the super-light flywheel and, my favorite, the revalved and stiffer suspension that simply wows anyone who gets behind the wheel.
Unlike Bilstein-equipped Lancer Evolution IX MRs (or any aftermarket Evo suspension, for that matter), the Tommi's dampers have the perfect balance between comfort and feel. It's able to sort out all unpleasantness, such as highway undulations that threaten to porpoise a normal car, and yet still provide instant response and feedback. Cornering is flat with tires as sticky as the Yokohama Advan Neovas and any sense of understeer is seamlessly wiped out by the AYC system.
I have no delusions about an Evolution IX being slower than the Tommi in any contest of speed, but I'm all for the old underdog with more heart and soul. It's the flaws of the aged chassis and cheap interior that give the VI its loveable character. It makes the IX feel like a high-dollar Euro, full of gimmicks to hide a driver's lack of talent. If it came to a choice between a brand-new Lancer Evolution IX MR and this Tommi, I wouldn't hesitate for a second.
Once back in the office, I promptly fired off an e-mail to the owners, begging and pleading for a chance of purchasing the car, since it had spent the past year in a warehouse, rusting away. Their response: the car wasn't for sale. And if it were, I'd be on a waiting list behind six other desperate souls.
I even momentarily contemplated piecing together my own Tommi, but it would never be the same. The reality of my lost love finally hit when I handed over the keys and settled into a new Civic Si, which, relatively speaking, felt as slow and numb as a cruise liner.