Counterclockwise: The Time-Warp Lancer

Pop quiz: How easy is it to find a perfect 1936 Delahaye 135M Figoni et Falaschi Competition Coupe? Very. All one has to do is board a plane to Tennessee and head for the Frist Center for the Visual Arts. Rare cars like the 135M can easily be found in perfect condition; for such cars, no restoration will ever cost more than their value. But what if you went looking for a showroom-fresh Box Type Lancer today? Well, you’d probably be looking for a long time, much longer than you would spend on the Delahaye. Probably, but not today.

time warp 41

Welcome, ladies and gentlemen, to the most perfectly factory-fresh Box Type Lancer in current existence.

MIAS 187

We first saw this car at MIAS 2014, standing out from all the modified vintage iron for its amazing factory appearance. As it turned out, the car is owned by one of Rust Production’s founders and is his – and his father’s – pride and joy. While in the hands of Jerome’s dad, the car was driven daily for ten years, so it wasn’t exactly perfect when it was handed down to Jerome.

time warp 6

Then again, “perfect” depends on how you define it. Above are pictures of how the Lancer looked before the restoration, with its banana wheels, extra foglamps and even sporting fender-mounted mirrors in the upper right picture. There was no need to restore the car, but Jerome did anyway, for no real reason other than because he wanted to.

time warp 9

So clean.

Jerome tells us that it all started with small parts like fresh plastic reservoirs that he found and bought with what he saved from his allowance. They jump out at you when you look at the engine bay because of how white they are. Years were spent tracing down new-old-stock items from hoarders and warehouses in places as disparate as Cavite and Banawe. “New-old-stock” items are parts that were kept in inventory, never unwrapped, never sold and left gathering dust for years, just waiting for the right person to unearth them and finally place them where they should be.

time warp 10

I would eat off that air cleaner willingly, but doing that would probably ruin it.

time warp 13

Even the little stickers and labels in the engine bay look to be complete, and with not a single stain to be found on any of them. All the rubber bits are smooth and supple, and there is not a single trace of corrosion to be found on any of the metal bits. You just have to add some hipsterrific filters and you can claim that this is a photograph from when the car was first bought.

time warp 12

Japanese manufacturers love their model codes, as it makes distinguishing cars very easy. For the Box Type, “A170” is the basic code, but depending on specification you could get a different last digit. The 1.4-litre SLs were given the code “A172A”, the 1.6-litre GSRs carry the designation “A174A” and the 1800GSRs – that we never got here – and 2.0-litre turbos were designated “A175A”. The codes and how they change differ depending on the manufacturer and model, but once you familiarise yourself with the logic you’ll wonder why this isn’t a standard way of tracing model generations.

time warp 21

This is a 1983 Lancer GSR, with the 1.6-litre 4G63 4-cylinder. 1983 was the first year that the top-tier GSR trim level appeared in Philippine dealerships. The 1800GSR with the 1.8-litre was apparently never sold through dealer networks, leaving only the 1.4 and 1.6 for the Philippine market. The SL was the base trim with the 1.4, the GT came with the 1.6 and a body kit, while the GSR came with all of the features, the 1.6 and the same body as the SL.

time warp 1

When the A70-series (“L-Type”) Lancer was replaced with the rectilinear A170 series in 1979, it was a radical change. Gone were all the pseudo-American styling cues and compact proportions of the L-Type, overtaken by the smooth, straight lines that were pure 1980’s Japan. Putting them beside each other just goes to show how huge the stylistic leap was. The L-Type is clearly the product of an older era, with its almost-pontoon fenders capped with chrome headlight surrounds, bulged hood and matte black hood vents, thin chrome bumpers and those little crosshairs on both ends of the split grille.

time warp 42

Meanwhile, the Box Type is flat, upright and smooth. The rectilinear styling and lends itself to customisation quite easily. That being said, even as it left the factory it’s a very handsome design, tastefully creased and surprisingly timeless in its lack of adornment.

As per Jerome’s research into the Box Type, the car was stripped down when it came to the Philippines, lacking even side mirrors. The usual dealer add-ons were one of two forms: the large plastic side mirrors that slid into the leading edge of the front windows, and the smaller ones that required drilling of the doors. Unfortunately, Jerome had already had the doors drilled for the smaller mirrors, so he decided to keep them. Plus, mirrors are kind of useful when you’re driving.

time warp 15

The grille with inset driving lights was also apparently a PHDM (Philippine Domestic Market) item, with other markets omitting the inset lights. I personally prefer the PHDM grille and the distinct character it imparts to the Lancer.

sunrise 38

sunrise 37

This one is wearing the GT bumper.

The light-less grilles look a little incomplete in my eyes, and are far more common than the inset driving lights. The one up top in particular, with the thick silver bar in the middle, gives the car a much sportier look.

time warp 19

In this one picture alone you can see how much time Jerome spent on getting the details right. Aside from the increasingly-rare driving light lenses (clean plastics from the 80’s are reportedly a pain to find), that front bumper is another NOS (new-old-stock) piece and was the source of some headache. To prepare the car for MIAS 2014, Jerome had originally bought a Taiwan-manufactured reproduction bumper, instead of the NOS bumper he’d found in Banawe. Upon fitment, a horrid gap existed between the end of the bumper and the moulding on the fender. With less than a week to go, Jerome had no choice, and now the NOS bumper is on the car with a perfect fit. It didn’t come cheap, but when you’re aiming for this quality, nothing else will do.

time warp 45

Now for something to impress the truly obsessive-compulsive, and those who can appreciate fine details. For any number of reasons, the bottom of the Lancer’s grille didn’t quite meet up with the chrome trim at the bottom of the combination position light and blinker, leaving an unsightly gap about half an inch wide on both ends of the grille. This isn’t an issue with this specific car, that’s just the way it came from the factory. To solve the problem, Mitsubishi manufactured these little clips that serve no other purpose than to bridge the gap. This is a wonderfully practical solution, if a little haphazard. These clips have become so hard to find today that these are actually stolen off of cars that have them. For this reason, these clips stay inside the car most of the time.

time warp 38

My dad also had a Box Type, a 1987 SL with the GT bodykit, and I’ve always liked running my hand over these one-piece rear lamps. You won’t find any holes for screws on the outside of these lamps, and there is nothing but a small ridge between the red and amber section. Aside from the aesthetic benefit, having the screws inside the boot also makes these lamps impossible to misappropriate, unless you’re willing to completely ruin them by trying to pry them off.

time warp 4

Chances are you can look into the boots of a few hundred Box Types and not find these plastic shrouds.

time warp 3

It’s all here, and the plastics even come up to hide the hinge spring assembly from view. See, the problem with cars like this is that they are not rich men’s cherished toys forever serviced by expensive specialists. When regular trips to the dealer become impractical, the local mechanics take over repairs, and when the local mechanic is a little lacking of sympathy, small screws and clips go missing, and plastics bits can get deformed when they are forced on and off the car. Eventually, they become too damaged and the owner decides that they aren’t crucial to the car’s operation and just junk them.

time warp 5

Still, there is no discounting how good it looks when everything is there. Aside from the plastic shrouds and the black mat, the spare tire sitting in the trunk is the same one that the car has had since 1983. Here is where you know this car has always been loved: the Firestone spare has been here since 1983, but it doesn’t look like a dried-up, cracked ring of rubber pretending to be a spare tire. The air inside is probably still grooving to REO Speedwagon.

time warp 39

Even the stickers under the boot lid are here. Details, people.

time warp 2

Just look at how clean that wheel well is. Karlo Fernando of Karlab did the paint and bodywork on the car, and pictures cannot do the paint justice. The red that the car wears now has been mixed specially for it, with a bright shade of red as the base and a little something special added to the paint to make the red even more, well, red. There is no way you’ll lose this car in a parking lot.

No remote fuel door release here.

No remote fuel door release here.

These are the same wheels that the car left the showroom with in 1983. They were kept in storage, given a good shine for the restoration. Here is the one area where Jerome had to settle for reproduction parts: two of the four centre caps are not original parts, because originals proved far too difficult to find. Here’s the catch: you can’t tell which ones are the reproductions, and Jerome didn’t tell us, so your guess is as good as mine. To make sure he doesn’t have to have four reproductions on his car, all the centre caps have been permanently attached to their respective wheel.

time warp 14

The Lancer’s exterior is finished off by the glass. Again, these are new pieces, acquired from someone in Cavite who was also planning on a Box Type restoration, but had to redirect funds. Thus Jerome ended up with the glass that person had acquired, along with a bunch of other parts. Coincidentally, both Jerome and this other person approached the same supplier for parts, so when Jerome was beaten to the punch, the supplier pointed Jerome towards the other person.

time warp 27

Now we move to the interior, where all the details are. Here is where nostalgia hit me head-on: Sunrise Run 2014 was a hot day, so the interior bits were getting a good bit of heat. Upon opening the door, the smell was instantly recognisable as the same as the one from my dad’s Box Type when it was parked in the sun. Not surprising, since the same plastics and adhesives were probably used in both cars even if they were built years apart. Most of the items are the same as well, but our Box Type had a wooden shift knob to go with the wooden steering wheel.

time warp 31

The dash is just as square as the exterior is, and I like how there’s a little “Lancer” emblem by the passenger side vent. Modern safety regulations have rendered the flat dashboard top obsolete; airbags would launch any object on top right off the dash and straight into your head. Under the dash you can also see the tray, useful for stowing small bags away from sight and direct sunlight. What you won’t find here is a radio, its space taken up by a block plate. Apparently the radio was an option, and since Jerome couldn’t find the correct OEM unit, he just put in the block plate the cars came with if no radio was optioned. With the proliferation of compact portable players and speakers available today, this is a much better solution than having a red-lit aftermarket Pioneer head unit completely ruining everything.

time warp 28

Just look at those seats. Normally I find seats that are still wrapped in plastic a little silly if you plan on driving your car, but here they’re fine.

time warp 32

With the sunlight streaming in through all that glass, you can appreciate how bright the interior is. Cars today are too concerned with having serious, somber interiors coated in fifty shades of black. If you want an interior with actual colour, you either have to customise or go up the price range. What happened to interiors with colour, like above? The beige and brown shades of the interior make it feel as if you’re stepping into another room of your house, not some designer-demo unit for a high-end condominium with stark decoration devoid of any shade outside the white-black spectrum.

time warp 26

For a compact family sedan, the door cards are pretty good. Padding evidently wasn’t considered a luxury back then, so the whole panel is padded. Thinly, it must be said, but padded all the same. The brown plastic door pocket is shallow, perfect for the folded maps of the past and a little loose for the mobile devices of today. A padded surface exists for your elbows, which gracefully curves and morphs into the door handle. Metal trim is applied sparingly, and you can find those window winders in later L300s, only without the metal trim.

time warp 24

That little brown box next to the door latch release is a small ashtray, one on each rear door. For a family sedan, these are curious additions to the door cards. Was smoking that pervasive in the 80s?

time warp 25

Now we dive into the obscure details that few ever notice, like this sill plate by the driver’s seat. The fuel door has no remote release, requiring the key to open, so there is only one release lever here, for the boot lid. Its companion is an extension of the plastic sill plate that grows out and floats above the floor. I imagine this is here to keep your fingers from making contact with the carpet, and it is a slightly surprising detail, one that you wouldn’t expect to find in this strata of everyday cars.

time warp 34

It’s the little bits that are hardest to find, like these caps for the door handle/armrest screws. There are just two of these for each car, and just like the metal clips that bridge the gap between the grille and the position light trim, these caps are ridiculously hard to find. Accordingly, they are kept in a small box most of the time, fitted only for pictures under Jerome’s supervision.

time warp 36

Just like the caps, these rubber finishers took a lot of scouring to find. The small gap where the front doors end at the base of the A-Pillar is where these little finishers go. Again, there are only two of these for each car, and it’s practically impossible to notice when they go missing, so spares are thin on the ground. Like the grille clips and door caps, they only go on the car when Jerome wants them to.

time warp 35

Ever wonder what tire pressures were recommended for the Box Type? Wonder no more, as this little sticker tells you everything you need to know, even prescribing a higher pressure for highway driving. If it seems peculiar, consider this: tires inflated to a lower pressure have more give in them, resulting in a more comfortable ride, great for puttering around town. Inflated to a higher pressure, tires are firmer, reducing the amount of flex and the amount of energy – and fuel – required to keep the car rolling, better for covering long distances on smooth highways.

time warp 40

Everything that opens does so with precise motion. The exterior door handles resist motion meatily, and unlatch with an extremely satisfying mechanical click. The doors open as if they were new, not sliding freely on loosened hinges, and close with a substantial thunk instead of an aged thwak. The springs on the boot lid hinges move the lid smoothly and the lid closes with the same satisfying feel as the doors.

time warp 30

That’s the original owner’s handbook, sitting on the shelf behind the rear seats. Compared to the handbooks cars come with today, this is a pamphlet. Heck, I’ve seen instruction manuals for electric fans thicker than that. If you’ll notice, the rear shelf lacks speakers. This is a deliberate choice, as with no radio up front there is no point in having speakers there.

time warp 23

Jerome has put a lot of effort into his family’s Lancer, not to mention all the time he’s spent and places he’s been just looking for the little things that will complete the car. The figure he’s spent on the car might shock you, but as he says it’s money well-spent to have a car like nothing else on the road. Judging by the plaques he had on the back seat from a recent car show, people see that too, and know how much work has been put into it.

time warp 44

One proud owner.

For now the car is kept in storage most of the time, both him and his father wanting to savour the condition it’s in now before putting it back to regular duty. When that time comes, the spares Jerome has accumulated over the restoration will come in handy, but I’m sure the clips, caps and finishers will stay in a box lest they fall off unnoticed or be stolen.

Jerome has all the right in the world to be proud of his Lancer, and he has all the right in the world to be selfish with it, but he’s not. Whatever spare parts he can spare, he sells to his friends at steep discounts; to him it’s much better that those parts go on to keep another Box Type rolling, instead of just gathering dust in a box.

time warp 17

People who see the car insist that it hasn’t been restored, but instead just kept hidden away. I think that’s a testament to how good the quality of the restoration is, that it can make people think that it hasn’t actually been restored at all. I noticed this even back at MIAS 2014, that the car wasn’t an obsessive, cost-no-object restoration that resulted in a car that was finished better than new. What this is instead is a proper time-warp of a machine, carrying all the pieces it left the factory with down to the smallest long-forgotten detail, while still being built to a believable quality.

Like I’ve said before, it’s easy to throw ludicrous amounts of money at an old car and make it perfect, but it’s far more difficult to know where to stop and make the car new again. After all, even just off the line, no car is ever perfect, just new.

And what of the donor car, since Jerome was determined to fit new parts instead of cannibalised ones? Well, that Box Type is now wearing a fresh coat of primer, and has been given the banana wheels originally on this Box Type. Now that Jerome has a new 1983 Lancer in the garage, he’s going to take that donor car, stuff a turbo 4G63 in it, and go drifting.

– Words by Kristoff Franco, pictures by Paolo Zalameda and Eugene Calimag

Have you a car older than 1987 and are looking for an easy-going, friendly club to join? Head on over to Rust Production’s Facebook page and contact their President, Eric Salvador or Vice President, Jerome Karikitan. They’ll hook you up.

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