You know those slow summer Thursday afternoons, the ones that just drag on. It’s too hot, your mind is somewhere else and you’re looking for something, anything, to spice the day up. And then, like a gift from the God’s, it comes. A phone call from friend David. “I’ve just bought an Evo 6.5 Tommi Makinen Edition in Melbourne”, he says. “Wanna fly over and drive it back with me?” ‘Sure! When, next week?” “No, how about tomorrow?”.
After calling in a few favors at work to enable an early escape, we’re suddenly making a very bumpy and turbulent early afternoon descent into Melbourne. Right in the middle of the biggest and baddest heatwave we’ve had for a long time, the rising heat is making mincemeat of our plane, and has me seriously hoping that the air conditioning works in this Evo. David’s bought the car sight unseen, and has no idea.
We have very limited time for our trip; we’re hoping to be over and back within 12 hours, so we scramble through the airport and into the first taxi we find. Sensing our rush, the driver proceeds to speed at rapid pace down the highway, displaying some fine performance driving techniques in the process. I grab the camera out to get a few shots of his hand placement on the wheel, and he deduces that because I’m taking photos of the highway we must be tourists. He then proceeds to give us a guided tour of our route, pointing out highlights such as various residential blocks, a closed hospital and a soccer field.
Fear not, for it was a simple problem. In the 41deg+ heat the LPG regulator was struggling to deliver enough gas, and a quick drowning with water saw us back speeding/spluttering down the road once more.
We soon arrived at Bespoke Motors, the import/compliance agency that had sold David the Evo. Their showroom was the ultimate mancave filled with sports cars, a games/lounge area, kitchen, hoist, gym and a full DJ mixing table with drumkit. Other than the oppressive heat, you cold have lived in this place!
This converted right hand drive Delorean lurked up the back of the warehouse, undergoing a stalled recommissioning program. It was a little rough around the edges, but it was hard not to marvel at that stainless steel bodywork.
This example was exactly what David was looking for – a clean, unmodified, unmolested example that he can slowly make perfect and enjoy on weekends. These late 90’s Japanese performance cars are a special breed, with just enough technical wizardry to make them properly quick, but still old enough to provide basic driving thrills.
The Evolution 6 Tommi Makinen Edition was launched in 1999 to celebrate Tommi Makinen’s four WRC drivers championship victories for Mitsubishi. It’s changed enough over the stock Evo 6 that it is known as the Evo 6.5, and is in theory the closest factory road car you can get to a WRC rally car (with the exception of the limited run Impreza 22B, perhaps). Other than the paint scheme mimicking the rally car and the special Recaro seats, the TME has a redesigned front bumper, white 17″ Enkei wheels, a front upper strut brace, lowered ride height to tarmac specs, a quicker steering rack and a titanium turbo that spools up much faster.
Good original cars like these, especially examples of limited editions like the Tommi Makinen, are surefire future classics. Most of them have either been raced, rallied, crashed or modified beyond recognition, so the few original examples left will be real rarities. Other than adding the factory option sticker and stripe kit, David plans to keep his TME exactly as it is.
There was sadly no time to spend sampling Melbourne’s delights, and before we knew it we were heading over the Bolte Bridge, leaving the city skyline framed in that big bi-plane spoiler in the mirror. David couldn’t quite believe that he was actually behind the wheel of his very own TME.
As we left the city the sky was becoming increasingly smokey, but that wasn’t our primary concern. We’d heard rumors of how these older Evo’s have quite an appetite for 98 Octane, and the rate of consumption was somewhat alarming.
On the outskirts of suburbia we stopped to fill the tank, and encountered a fresh problem we hadn’t expected. Because the TME is newly complied and hasn’t yet been registered, it has no license plates and we were driving on a transport permit. Our story didn’t fly with the service station attendant who was convinced that we’d removed the plates in an attempt to steal a tankful and was considering reporting us. After much pleading he authorised the pump, but didn’t take his eyes off us once.
Not far down the road toward Ballarat, we started to notice the smoke in the air. We of course knew about the Victorian bushfires, but for some reason the penny never dropped until it was too late. The Grampians were ablaze, and the main highway was due to take us right through the middle of it.
After contacting a few people back home and a friend living in Ararat, we determined that Western Highway was in fact closed between Ballarat and Horsham meaning we suddenly had to find another route for about half of the journey.
We chose a route that took us north of the fire, through Avoca and then turning down toward Horsham at St Arnaud. The new route would add around 200km to the trip and at this point we had no phone coverage, meaning we didn’t actually know if the roads we were planning on taking were open or not.
We stopped at the Pyrenees Pub to ask about road closures and found most of the occupants swelling outside, marveling at the smokey, fiery sunset that was happening. I wish I had my proper camera gear with me and the time to make use of it, because it was downright spectacular. But we had to keep moving.
The scariest part of the Grampians bushfire is that the heat was creating its own weather system, producing lightning strikes and devastating wind that was fanning the fire. It was hard to capture in a photograph, but for over an hour we were driving through some truly apocalyptic conditions. The trees were blowing a gale, the car was constantly being pelted with leaves and twigs and the trucks in front were swaying all over the road. It got to the point where we were fully expecting a branch to blow into the car, however we were also aware that the fire was traveling towards us so it was best for us to just keep going.
It was almost dark when we turned toward Horsham at St Arnaud, and we were getting so close to the fire that visibility was minimal and we could see a deep orange glow just off to our left. By this stage family back home were checking updates for us and I got the following message: ‘Don’t take the St Arnaud to Horsham Road, CFA says it’s closed. Keep going on the Sunraysia Highway’. Too late, we were already smack bang in the middle of the supposedly closed road when the message came in, and I believe we were one of the last cars through.
We made it to Horsham at 1130pm, over five hours after leaving Melbourne, and stopped for a late Maccas dinner. It seems almost every car in Horsham on a Friday night is a Commodore or Falcon, lowered over 19″ chrome wheels with personalised rego plates and being driven by young guys in hoodies and baseball caps. The Evo was practically invisible to them.
We pushed on into the night, and it was here that the TME was proving itself as a comfortable long distance cruiser. Much more will be written about the TME in more detail in a future story, but we found it to have ample power (of course), comfortable Recaro seats, a ride that is not too harsh or jarring, good air conditioning and none of the annoying droning from a loud exhaust. We were expecting a bumpy, uncomfortable ride home but it was far from that.
Our journey into South Australia was just as eventful. We witnessed the bright orange glow of more bushfires near Bordertown and Keith, the spectacular (and frankly terrifying, given the conditions) lightning show blanketing the state that night, and a pelting rain storm.
By the time we arrived home and stopped to say hello to some friends, it was past 330am. But what a trip! What was mooted as a quick duck over to collect a car turned into a proper adventure. And as we all know, adventures involving interesting cars are the best kind.
Words and photos by Andrew Coles.
– Another TME that had just landed off the boat from Japan, with the optional sticker kit. David’s car will soon be retrofitted with this option and the extra fog lights on the boot lid will be added.Evo 6.5 TME #Evolution 6.5 #Grampians #Lancer #Melbourne #Mitsubishi #TME #Tommi Makinen #Tommi Makinen Edition