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Mike Stevens | Apr 17, 2008

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With Mitsubishi Motors Australia closing its factory in Adelaide—home of the Magna and more recently the 380—this vehicle comes as something of a pleasant surprise ending to what has been an endearing story of automotive manufacturing in Australia.

Dubbed the TMR supercharged 380, this car will no doubt leave an impression on the car buffs that never turned to Holden or Ford for a car to display proudly in the driveway.

From first look, it’s the TMR brilliant red duco and full TMR body kit that grab you, with its clean lines that look more considered than afterthought. More than anything though, it’s the wheels that really standout. You can’t help but stare a little longer than you'd expect at the large 19” chrome wheels. Sure, they won’t be to everyone's taste, but they do serve an evil purpose: there simply aren’t too many wheels available that can fit over the truly massive 370mm brakes on the TMR 380.

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The brakes themselves are something that wouldn’t be out of place in competitive motorsport, having shot up in size from the standard 294x28mm twin piston brakes, to the dinner-plate-sized 370x32mm hat-mounted two piece construction rotors, with their grooved ‘fish hook’ design and massive 6 piston calipers that could clamp down and stop time itself. Even the rear brakes—consisting of a 4 piston 340x28mm two piece brake—would leave many performance brands lacking in the underpants department when it comes to washing off speed.

This 380 doesn’t just stop: it goes around corners too—mainly thanks to the TMR-tuned front and rear Koni suspension with up rated and lowered front and rear springs. While they still maintain the same design of independent front Macpherson struts with coil springs and rear independent low mount mulit-link upper and lower control arms, the Koni suspension does a much better job of keeping the car firmly planted on the road—and with minimal body roll. The upside is that although the suspension is firm, it’s not unduly firm and the lateral grip limit is quite high. You can feel that time has been spent on making this car handle properly.

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The engine has also been massaged to suit the large anchors and upgraded suspension. In keeping with the same engine as the VRX 380 donor car it started life as, it's got a 3.8 litre 24 valve V6 engine—but with a difference. A Sprintex supercharger is visible—and audible—with the familiar whine that superchargers are so ominous for. The Sprintex supercharger takes the standard 175kW and 343Nm of torque and huffs & puffs it up to 230kW and a whopping 442Nm of torque. The exhaust has also been modified with a ‘straight through’ design that diverts into dual exhaust outlets giving the TMR 380 a nice but gruff note.

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Torque is the enemy of most if not all front wheel drive vehicles, and to some extent the TMR suffers just like the rest of them, but it’s not bad. Bad in comparison to a powerful front wheel drive car is a Saab Aero V6 turbo or Mazda’s MPS 3. At no time did I have my arms wrenched from my body with all that torque, but rather a light tickling from the tiller. Added to that, anyone who drives a high power front wheel drive car daily will tell you that you adjust your driving style to suit. While it may be easy to provoke the wheel to tug in your hands, it’s equally as easy to drive in a style that doesn’t make the experience unpleasant. And actual Torque steer? No. Even if you mash the loud pedal into the floor the TMR 380 won’t change lanes without your leave, or spit you off the road.

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The handling is pretty good for a car of this size. While you can feel the weight of the car moving around you, the more time you spend behind the wheel, the smaller the car feels to drive. As you start to test the limits of adhesion you realise that if you do come into a corner a touch hot, you simply ‘lift off’ the accelerator and the front wheels dig in and grip, slinging you around the next corner. There is even a hint of lift-off oversteer, and you can provoke the rear to slide out if you're game.

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The engine itself is like many supercharged V6s in that it feels lazy, but when prodded the whine of the supercharger starts to fill the cabin and the TMR 380 picks up its skirts and gets a wriggle on. The supercharger whine is a fantastic soundtrack, but I couldn’t help but think that it could get to be like listening to your three year olds Wiggles CD on any sort of long distance drive. For quick trips around town though, it’s a welcome sound.

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Now I wouldn’t say its super quick as my derriere dyno wasn’t telling me I need to replace my Bonds comfy undies, but this car does work right. While the acceleration from standstill isn’t breathtaking, I don’t think that’s what was in the mind of the guys that put this car together. From an 80km/h indicated speed to overtake a slower vehicle, this is where the thing makes sense. A lot of sense. Using the 5 speed sports mode sequential gear shift, tap down two gears and the TMR 380 blasts off. It's at highway speeds that this car comes into its own: on tap is 442Nm of torque, making overtaking trucks or caravans a simple task. It truly is a Grand Tourer that would be suited to long interstate trips— something the 380 has always been good at, only the TMR 380 does it much, much better.

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At $56,990 it’s not cheap, but after thinking about this it may just be a bargain. You see, these are the last of the 380s that have been built, and more than likely the last Mitsubishi we will ever see manufactured in Australia. And with only 20 units available Australia-wide, it may very well become a collector’s item due to its rarity and story told.

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As any decent human knows, Australians are a proud lot when it comes to our cars. We’ve all heard the stories of diehard fans paying what can only be described as moon money for old GT Falcons, Toranas, and Monaros. Even lemons like the John Goss Special are worth good coin these days. While it may not be a Falcon or Commodore—nor has it ever tried to be—the Magna and 380 does hold a place in our hearts. And this being the last and greatest 380 ever built, that might just mean something in 30 years time.

Time will only tell if the TMR 380 becomes a collectors piece. You might call me silly, you might call me romantic, but this just might be the rare GT from the stables of Mitsubishi Australia.

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The Brakes (oh those sweet sweet brakes)

The suspension

The Supercharger Whine

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The Supercharger Whine

Lack of Leather Seats

No satellite navigation

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