As Mitsubishi winds down in the UK, it leaves a legacy of interesting cars. Some were successful models, including the Shogun and this, the FTO. For a long time, the UK distributor refused to import the FTO until, faced with a deluge of unofficial examples, it relented, albeit in the car’s final year of production.
That reluctance is hard to fathom. After all, the FTO looked right; it was light, at just 1200kg; decently quick, at least with the most powerful engine, the 197bhp 2.0-litre V6 MIVEC; and was available with a Tiptronic-style automatic gearbox. This smart transmission learns your driving style in manual mode and applies it when in auto. Around 70% of surviving FTOs are fitted with it.
The compact, front-wheel-drive, 2+2 FTO was launched in 1994 and immediately won Japanese Car of the Year. Three engines were offered: a 123bhp 1.8-litre four-pot (enthusiasts call it the ‘go-slow FTO’), a more muscular 168bhp 2.0 V6 and that 197bhp 2.0-litre V6 MIVEC (it stands for Mitsubishi Innovative Valve Timing and lift Electronic Control system). All came with a five-speed manual gearbox or that clever fourspeed auto ’box, called INVECS-II. From launch until the 1997 facelift, the 1.8-litre models were badged GS, the 2.0 V6s GR and the more powerful 2.0 V6 MIVECs GPX or plain GP. Both GPX and GP models were offered with an optional, viscous limited-slip diff.
FTO stands for Fresh Touring Origination, but titter ye not because enthusiasts in right-hand-drive markets, including the UK, thought it was far from stale and began self-importing the car in droves. Around 90% of the FTOs exported to the UK were V6s. A prized rarity from this period is the GPX Limited, produced to celebrate the FTO’s 1994 Japan COTY success.
With the 1997 facelift came a larger, one-piece grille, while the previously paired fog and indicator lights became four single units. A new, slightly more powerful 177bhp 2.0 V6 model, badged GX, was launched and ran alongside the regular 168bhp GR, while the 2.0 V6 MIVEC GPX was joined by the harder-edged GP Version R, with stiffened anti-roll bars, a mechanical limited-slip diff and a unique rear spoiler. The optional automatic transmission available with the more powerful 2.0 V6 and 2.0 MIVEC engines also gained a fifth speed.
By the time Mitsubishi had started importing the FTO towards the end of its life, around 20,000 grey import versions were already on UK roads, and it’s these cars you’re likely to see advertised today. Check that the one you’re interested in has been SVA tested and had its speedo converted to mph, its headlights adjusted and a rear foglight fitted. Be sure you know precisely what version it is because, for example, many 168bhp V6 cars are passed off as MIVEC models. Finally, get it on a ramp and poke around, since rust is the FTO’s number one killer.