Bangkok, Thailand - Once a car that was stylish and brimming with advanced technology, these days Mitsubishi’s GTO firmly falls into the category of a forgotten sportscar that no longer has much visibility on Thailand’s car culture radar. There are a few here, including one that stretches its legs on the racetrack, but in truth they barely cause a blip.
That tried and tested line of thinking held firm until this week. However, that’s now gone out of the window thanks to the unveiling of a striking new widebody project from Garage Unique that’s reversed the coupé’s faded image overnight.
When it comes to extravagant one-off widebody designs, Garage Unique are Masters of their Universe. So, throw them a bone like this, it’s certainly wasn’t a straightforward project, and they will rise to the bait. Invariably, these boys are always up for a tough challenge.
They’ve taken what was a pretty and clean shape and hit it hard with the aggression hammer. That’s really their way of doing things, they’re good at it. Their customers come to them to create something that will stand out from the crowd – no easy feat here where automotive individuality pumps through the blood stream.
Anyway, they kept hitting away at it with the aggression hammer. And then they hit it some more. The result is a startling ‘Time Attack’ body kit that turns a slumbering old lady into a big, bad, roaring wolf – all achieved without losing sight of the car’s DNA. Then all that aggression hunches low to the ground thanks to air suspension.
In fact, the kit carefully builds on the styling traits of the GTO, reimagining and reworking core details such as the ribs down the doors that empty into twin air intakes in front of the rear wheels. Thrusting out of that adherence to history there’s plenty of mind-blowing aggression – such as the jutting front splitter, clusters of dive plates on the front corners and a truly insane rear wing – that ensure this won’t be a car that’s overlooked. There are some deft detailing touches too, such as the twin cooling fans at the front.
The project has been nearly a year in the making. It’s a one-off design, the product of the Garage Unique brain trust – there is no other GTO like it anywhere in the world. And that’s the beauty of taking your car to Garage Unique, you are never going to roll up to a ‘drive through’ or car meet and bump into your automotive reflection. No one else can stroll through the gates of their Ram Intra body shop and order a copy. This car is utterly unique.
It’s both moody, angry and aggressive while at the same time – thanks to this coupé’s underlying flowing lines coupled to some neat design thinking from Garage Unique – it’s sleek, svelte and stylish.
This project puts this forgotten classic sportscar right back in the game. It’s utterly modern and purposeful – this doesn’t look to be a thirty-year-old design. This is the GTO the world has been waiting for.
Now to dig in and rewind back those three decades. The GTO (which was known as the 3000GT in markets outside Japan because both Ferrari and Pontiac had already laid strong claim to the ‘GTO’ moniker) was first introduced in 1990 and phased out exactly ten years later in 2000. It was built in decent numbers through three generations and was pretty well received at the time.
Here it’s an unusual sight, there are very few on the roads, and it’s never gained the love felt towards the endless generations of Supras, Silvias, Celicas, RX-7s and Skylines that have all earned individual places deep in the hearts of all Thais that respond to car culture.
But the GTO was also a car regarded as ahead of its time. The 90s was a decade when the Japanese carmakers picked up the technology ball and ran away with the game, introducing dozens of advances to mass production cars that left the traditional European innovation leaders well behind the curve – and that means Japanese cars from that decade are cherished, they have something a bit special in their DNA from a period when blues skies thinking was all the rage in Tokyo.
The GTO didn’t miss out on this technology fest, it was bristling with potency, and as well as a handy 3.0-litre twin turbo V6 that was good for 276 hp it had four wheel steering, adaptable suspension, active aerodynamics and full-time four wheel drive.
Built through three versions, this particular GTO is from the second generation that ran from 1994-1997 that in the main part was differentiated from the cars that came before due to the pop-up lights being replaced with new projector beam lights in Perspex blisters and a revised front bumper treatment.
The owner, Songklod Upala, acquired the car a year ago. So where did his inspiration for this less than run of the mill car choice come from? “I’m very impressed with the movie ‘Thunderbolt’,” he says. “I think the Mitsubishi GTO has been designed quite perfectly.”
‘Thunderbolt’ was a 1995 Hong Kong action movie starring Jackie Chan – and as is usual when this actor is involved, the film revolves around car racing. The film tears its way through plenty of capers before reaching the climax – a showdown race where Chan is gifted two race-prepared GTOs by the daughter of a Mitsubishi executive. A dramatic race ensues where (naturally) he emerges the winner. It’s a movie that gave the GTO – which featured special racing liveries for its appearance on the big screen – plenty of street cred.
Now armed with a GTO, Songklod wanted to go one step further and give it his own individual stamp, turning it into a car that would stand out from the crowd.
So, there was only one styling direction in his mind and one place to turn. “The reason why I made it with a wide body is because I want it to be unique as I have a lot of passion for this car. Therefore, I decided to send my car to Garage Unique to design and build [the wide body kit]. Thank you and credit to their team’s work on this project.”
The finished project is exhilarating. And it doesn’t stop with its ‘Time Attack’ looks. There’s a meaty quad exit exhaust system that mimics the original, branching out with twin exits on either side, while in the minimal cockpit, aside from a half rollcage, there are blue racing seats and a Vertex racing steering wheel while the upholstery has been trimmed with soft materials and there are carbon details.
There are many dramatic new builds in Thailand each year, but only a handful really stand out and get local car enthusiasts revved up. For sure, this GTO is destined to be one of those.