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Second-Hand: Eagle Talon

The Talon and its twin, the Plymouth Laser, were born out of a mutual need for a contemporary sporty coupe by the two corporations.

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“I am a bad man in my car. I will soon be behind bars.” “Currently I have 315 hp at the front wheels – long live DSM and the 4G63 powerplant.” “If I ever get too old or frail to climb into the car, just shoot me.” There aren’t many vehicles that inspire this kind of passion from drivers, despite the fact the Eagle Talon – “the bastard child of Mitsubishi-Chrysler,” to quote one owner – never became a household name during the eight years it was sold in Canada.

The Talon and its twin, the Plymouth Laser, were born out of a mutual need for a contemporary sporty coupe by the two corporations. Additionally, Mitsubishi wanted an assembly plant stateside, anxious to circumvent the voluntary U.S. import-quota system.

Formed in 1985, Diamond-Star Motors (DSM) was the perfect solution: the partnership spawned a factory in Normal, Ill., and gave Chrysler access to a sophisticated Japanese platform to underpin its new models.

CONFIGURATION In 1989, the Laser and U.S.-only Mitsubishi Eclipse were launched as front-wheel-drive hatchbacks initially. They were based on Mitsu’s all-new Galant sedan platform (sold in Canada as the Dodge 2000 GTX), but with a shortened wheelbase.

The economy powerplant was a 90-hp SOHC 1.8 L four cylinder; mid-range models received the Galant’s DOHC 2.0 L four, good for 135 hp. The high-performance models got the intercooled turbo version of the same motor, good for 190 hp and 203 lb-ft of thrust.

Soon afterward, Chrysler’s brand-new Eagle dealerships, designated to sell its Jeeps and “internationally flavoured” vehicles, received the newest iteration: the Talon.

What made the Talon distinctive was the available all-wheel-drive version, propelled by the turbo engine (the U.S.

Eclipse GSX was similarly endowed).

The AWD car was significantly different, employing a rubber-isolated subframe to ground its multilink rear suspension. It also got reworked gearing and improved exhaust plumbing (raising output to 195 hp) to compensate for the added mass.

The all-drive version was coveted for its ability to put down power without wasteful wheelspin so evident in the front-drive turbo models.

The first-generation models were sold virtually unchanged through 1994 (one cosmetic tweak was the switch to aero-smooth headlamps in 1992).

The 1995 second-generation cars arrived with a radically restyled body and improved suspension.

The storied turbo engine generated another 15 hp (210 in total) to offset some weight gain. Sadly, the base model was no longer home to the Galant’s balance-shaft-equipped 2.0 L smoothie, but a thrashy DOHC version of the Neon motor.

The inside story was vastly improved. Where the old car’s cockpit was snug and claustrophobic, the new one offered more glass and taller seating. The rear seat remained useless, a passenger torture chamber. Ideal for small children.

Canadian buyers were limited to the Talon, since Plymouth dropped the Laser at the end of 1994. It was a portent of things to come. In 1998, the Talon was terminated, along with the entire Eagle brand.

ON THE ROAD The first-generation models could be ordered with powertrains tailored for every driving style from frugal commuting to Monday-night street racing.

The base 1.8 L car with an automatic transmission could scarcely reach highway speeds in 11 seconds (0-96 km/h). At the other end of the scale, the turbo cars could do it in 6.5 seconds. The naturally aspired 2.0 L Mitsu motor was good for about 8.5 seconds.

Chassis dynamics were admirable: composed when pushed, yet compliant enough to be civil. The all-wheel-drive version provided an awesome degree of stability at speed, not to mention all-weather capability.

One wonders why Chrysler even bothered marketing the front-drive turbo when the AWD model was so much better. It could generate 0.85 g of lateral grip, while the front-drive car could muster only 0.79 g. Braking was also exemplary at 52 metres to a standstill from 112 km/h.

WHAT OWNERS SAID “Extremely fun car to drive. If you don’t have the time or stomach for reliability issues, then pick another car,” one owner posted on the Web.

The Talon breaks the way it drives: with breathtaking flourish.

A good number of owners reported the timing belt snapping, sending the valves crashing into the pistons, making a St.

Valentine’s Day massacre of the 2.0 L head.

Some heeded prevailing advice and changed their belt early (every 60,000 to 80,000 km), only to have neglected the belt tensioner, which chewed up the new belt prematurely.

Add to this transmission and AWD transfer-case failures, seized turbos, oil leaks, clogged throttle bodies, peeling paint, malfunctioning windows and faulty air conditioning, and it has the makings of a tumultuous, but seductive, relationship.

“They are not reliable in the sense that Toyotas or Hondas are reliable, but they certainly don’t get driven the same way as Toyotas or Hondas get driven,” commented one owner.

The AWD version is not for the faint of heart or wallet.

But those who wish to live in the fast lane can seek solace and advice from like-minded owners at www.dsm.org – a support group for speed merchants.

We would like to know about your ownership experience with the following models. Please note the deadlines: Range Rover, by Feb. 6; Ford Ranger, by Feb. 20. Send your comments to Mark Toljagic, 2060 Queen St. E., P.O. Box 51541, Toronto, ON M4E 1C0. E-mail: toljagic @ passport.ca

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