From the Bottom Up: A Mitsubishi Galant Story


Story and photos by Alan Cesar

Grassroots” can mean many things to our magazine’s hardcore fans, but at its origin, the word implies a community of people standing for a cause. Car clubs and Internet message boards help fans of a particular car come together, collect information, and collaborate on projects.

As a group, enthusiasts who back an uncommon or unloved machine are empowered to do what’s normally a job for “somebody else”–someone with longer days, better energy drinks or a fatter wallet. Ambitious owners can engineer fast cars from the bottom of the consumer chain rather than wait for technology to be handed down from manufacturers or tuning shops.

The nigh-forgotten Mitsubishi Galant VR-4 faces this battle, though perhaps undeservedly so. It originated as Mitsubishi’s proof of concept when the company decided to enter the World Rally Championship, and a limited number were sold at dealerships. After some success, the effort evolved, and the brand’s motorsport platform became the rally name we all know behind those three red diamonds: Evolution.

Tim Harper and Steve Burke built this Galant VR-4 to run in the Tire Rack One Lap of America. Their passion for the car and incredible gratitude for the community supporting them is as seemingly endless as those late-night transit drives between track sessions in the weeklong One Lap.

This Galant has completed the event three times since 2009, and it’s still driven to work every day. Tim has wrestled with longevity ever since he started making regular visits to Watkins Glen–at first with his Eclipse, and then with the VR-4–but over time, he developed it into something that could survive for the long term.

We first saw Tim and Steve in 2012, when the Galant was on hiatus. They were trying out Steve’s Evo X for a second time, and it blew the engine on its way to what would’ve been a class win. After enough Evo explosions, they decided to return with the Galant in 2013. We saw them looking sharp and feeling high from a run on the banks at Daytona. After the event, we dug in for an interview.

Grassroots Motorsports: You had a pretty big breakdown with the Galant in 2009. What happened?

Tim Harper: I remember that first year, when we were so full of rookie excitement and our expectations were through the roof–only to have it all come crashing down on us south of Cincinnati. We broke a rear upper control arm on the transit drive. We made a call to a GalantVR4.org board member who posted online that we needed help, and the whole world moved into action.

We were able to limp the car to the next event in Tennessee, and we were met there by a board member who heard our call for help. He had pulled the control arms off his car, tossed them in the truck, and drove for 2 hours to hand-deliver them. He crawled under the car with us as we swapped the parts in a gas station parking lot.

I remember it was raining, and all the One Lap cars were waiting there kind of like in the “Cannonball Run” movie, where they all wait for the train to pass. All the other drivers stood in awe as we fixed the car and were able to continue on. That board member was Curtis.

GRM: There’s a sticker with his name on your car. Who is he?

TH: Curtis is a moderator on GalantVR4.org. We met online as we rolled out our marketing campaign in 2009. He is a classic Tennessee man: long, lean, smart as a whip, and [has] a heart of gold. He is kind of the MacGyver of the Galant VR-4 world, and he is always whipping up a neat side project out of his garage workshop.

He started out as a helicopter mechanic before back problems sidelined him. He was instrumental in building the buzz around our project, and he often contributed parts and fabrication services–all free of charge. When we were approached by a small startup company called “the WoRKs” about running one of their carbon fiber wings, we put Curtis to the task of building the uprights. He channeled his experience with Apaches when building them. He also made the gauge plates, subframe connectors, an older set of rear trailing arms, and a mustache brace.

GRM: What do you carry in the trailer?

TH: It’s crazy to take your track car on a cross-country trip. Hell, most guys tow their cars to the local track. So when we decided to take a 20-year-old car with more than 200,000 miles on the clock, we had to bring everything with us. And by everything, I mean everything. In 2009 we brought a spare transmission. But we learned along the way. As we got more One Lap miles under our belts, we slowly pulled things from the trailer. Today we can fit it all in the car, but we still take the trailer because it’s convenient. Roll into the track, unhitch and race. When we’re done, we just hook it up and get back on the road.

GRM: What made you decide to run the Tire Rack One Lap of America?

TH: I was big into autocrossing when I was younger, and there was a guy in the local Porsche/BMW club, Stu Stacks, who did the One Lap of America. He would bring his stickered-up car to the local events to get some seat time, and it just looked cool. After talking to him about the race and what it was all about, I made a mental note and added it to my bucket list.

My track car at the time, a 1992 Mitsubishi Eclipse, was too small for [my teammate], Steve [Burke]. So when I found out he was going to part out his 1992 Galant VR-4, I had an idea. I called a small meeting at the local bar, waited until he had a few, and threw out the idea: “Hey, let’s do One Lap.”

I convinced him to let me strip his VR-4 and install all the drivetrain and suspension from my Eclipse into it. See how interchangeable the two platforms are? Only the driveshaft is different.

We spent the first two months of 2009 freezing our asses off in my garage assembling the VR-4. We blogged about it and spread the word around, and as we built the car, our following built along with us. The rest is history.

GRM: You had another breakdown in 2013. How did the event go for you overall?

TH: In hindsight, fate and karma are not always the bitches they seem to be. Yes, we broke down before our first run at Carolina Motorsports Park. I went out on my first warmup lap to find the car wouldn’t make any boost pressure. It turns out the oil pump had starved under high gs on the banking at Daytona. That took out the turbo, and later in the year, the main bearings and oil pump. Now the compressor wheel was touching the housing and oil was being sucked out of the center cartridge into the intake tract.

Not having much luck finding a GT30R turbo in South Carolina, we did what we had to do and drove the car to the next event. We struggled to get up to highway speed and left one hell of a smoke screen all the way there. It is lucky for us that we have great sponsors. With one phone call to Forced Performance, they had a replacement turbo on its way overnight to will-call at VIR. I changed the turbo in the parking lot, and Steve was able to join the very last run group of the day and get some laps on that iconic track.

I am happy to say that he got to swing the old girl around the Oak tree, and it is without a doubt the last Galant VR-4 to get that privilege. So fate can seem cruel at times. But looking back, that turbo held out long enough for us to drive Daytona, and we were lucky enough to get her fixed in time to take laps at VIR.

GRM: How did you first meet Steve?

TH: The old national DSM message boards used to be a mass email that you subscribed to. Steve, being a computer guy, organized a local Yahoo group called RochesterDSM, and from there, a Web forum was built.

My first Mitsubishi was a 1992 Eclipse GSX, and the moment I bought it, I started looking to modify and race it. That led me to the RochesterDSM club. I joined the Yahoo group and went to my first gathering, which is where I met Steve. We’ve been friends ever since.

GRM: What message boards do you most often visit?

TH: Our home is our forum, RochesterDSM.org, but the community that has really embraced us is the national VR-4 club, GalantVR4.org. They were there with us from the get-go and really cheered us on throughout the whole process of building the car, testing it, and then racing it. The GalantVR4.org club has even taken up pledges from its members to sponsor us.

We like to say that the GalantVR4.org sticker is the only one that doesn’t come off the car. They’ve donated countless parts, advice and support. We could not have done it without them.

GRM: How does it feel to have Galant VR-4 and DSM fans so excited about your running One Lap?

TH: At every track we have fans, both VR-4 and DSM, who come out to see us. It’s pretty amazing to be able to meet these guys, hang out for the day, and cheer with them as we live out our dreams. The same goes for our sponsors. I understand the marketing aspect of it and what we bring to the table, but it still feels really special to have strangers support your dreams.

It isn’t uncommon for me to get random emails from people who just want to help. They offer a bed along the way and a cell phone number if we need help. I have no doubt that if we get stuck, I can find help and parts anywhere in the country. We have a very strong community, and it’s an honor to represent them in some way.

GRM: What have you given back to the Galant VR-4 and DSM community?

TH: I think my biggest contribution to the community has to be my involvement in road racing. I used to write race reports about my trips to tracks like Watkins Glen.

Before that, most of the community didn’t think the cars were good for anything besides drag racing. Even the autocrossers didn’t think the VR-4/DSM was a good platform for racing. I guess they hadn’t heard of the Archer Racing guys! But I did, and I wrote about epic battles with GT3s and Corvettes and how I had held my own.

I wrote about how hard it was to keep the car together and the constant breaking, overheating, head gasket failures, turbo [and] brake issues. Slowly but surely, I learned how to build a car that would survive time on a road course, and I shared that knowledge.

Soon others found their way to the track, and before you know it, I started to see other VR-4s and DSMs at Watkins Glen. That’s when I knew I was making a difference.

But that was yesterday and yesterday.. All of those guys bought Evos, and I married a wonderful girl and started a family. So I stuck with what I got and continued to evolve the car. Today, she’s still not perfect, but I have a blast driving her around. Nobody can call her unreliable because she’s finished three One Laps.

Join Free Join our community to easily find more Mitsubishi articles.
Comments
View comments on the GRM forums
yupididit
yupididit Dork
10/28/17 11:08 a.m.

I've been following this car since 2009, when I first bought a Galant VR4.

I miss my gvr4 everyday. I remember having Curtis modify my evo9 suspension to put on my galant. Dude was a genius and very giving. They are a small community on the gvr4 board but much like this one, they're tight and take care of you.

Our Preferred Partners
mrj8RxRsMlq3IXvZVukizhBiNIGvVU7p