After years of combing through Facebook Marketplace and Craigslist, I finally fulfilled my dream of owning a Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution. Bought from the original owner last year, my 2003 Evo VIII might be the last totally factory Lancer Evolution on the planet. But it’s far from perfect. 

Being free of power-adding mods, you’d think this Evo was babied for most of its life. But the previous owner didn’t lock it away in a garage. Instead, they used it as a daily driver for more than two decades and 150,000 miles, parking it on the streets of New York City year-round. In addition to many scratches, marks, dings, and dents, the original owner also neglected to address numerous worn-out parts.

Despite the issues, I’m deeply excited to own and drive a car as legendary as this Evo. Here’s what my first few months of ownership have been like. 

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Is It Really Stock?

Yep, down to the airbox, wheels, and even the radio. The only thing under the hood that isn’t factory is the radiator, which was switched out to a newer unit from Mishimoto because the original failed. Knowledgeable readers will also notice the base Lancer seats. All Evo VIIIs came from the factory with Recaro buckets as standard equipment. According to the previous owner, someone shattered the rear driver-side window and stole them while the car was parked on the street overnight. Instead of replacing them, they decided to install cheaper, less-desirable base Lancer seats to avoid a repeat crime. Such are the perils of street parking.

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Photos by Jonathan Harper / @jbh1126

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There’s also the tires. The car’s wheels came wrapped in very old, dry-rotted Ventus V12 summer tires—a far cry from the original ultra-sticky Yokohama Advan A046s. I got this car in October, so I figured swapping on a set of winters was the only logical thing to do. 

Bridgestone sent over a set of new Blizzak WS90 winter tires in the original 235/45R17 size. Blizzaks have been my go-to winters for years now; their blocky, pliable construction makes them truly unstoppable in the snow, and supremely predictable on true ice. Sure, they’re a bit louder and softer on dry pavement than your average winter tire, but those compromises are always worth the tradeoff for the Blizzak’s snow performance.

So What's Wrong With It?

When I bought this car it was in rough shape. On my test drive I immediately noticed the blown suspension (another consequence of city living) and an extremely sloppy, worn-out shifter. The bushings and linkage mechanisms were so fried, I initially thought the synchros were ruined, which nearly made me decide to walk away from the car entirely.

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This is the most dirt the Evo has seen under my ownership ... so far. Photos by Jonathan Harper / @jbh1126

Every time I shifted, I heard a knock coming from the rear, suggesting the rear differential bushings were shot. A full brake job was many years past due, and there were small hints of rust dotting the underbody. While the engine seemed to work fine, lots of caked-on oil in the engine bay and on the valve cover pointed to a bad valve cover gasket. Also, it has a check engine light that won’t go away and the paint is shot. 

It’s definitely a project. 

What Have You Fixed So Far?

Mostly everything, actually. I’m on a budget, so instead of new coil-overs I snagged some lightly used Bilstein shocks and springs. The set came off of an Evo IX MR, which were direct bolt-ons. I also refreshed the brakes with new pads, rotors, and fluid. After popping in new engine oil, and a set of new wipers (three in total, including the very cool rear wiper), I finally felt comfortable enough to put some miles on the clock. 

The car drove well enough after the brake refresh, but the constant knocking from the rear and terrible shift feel made me start to hate it. Working out of my parent’s driveway meant I couldn’t really tackle a rear subframe drop, so I took it to an Evo speciality shop instead. They replaced the diff bushings, rebuilt the shifter linkage, and flushed the transmission, transfer case, and differential fluids. They also replaced a set of rusty oil lines I hadn’t spotted. The bill was painful, but the peace of mind made the credit card charge worth it. 

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2003 Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution VIII Project Red -21
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Photos by Jonathan Harper / @jbh1126

Unsurprisingly, the car drives worlds better now. The shifter isn’t the most satisfying thing in the world, but it’s leagues improved from before. And the knocking from the rear is totally gone. 

So What’s Next?

With winter over I’d like to chuck the Blizzaks into storage and throw some more appropriate rubber on the wheels. Again, I’m on a budget, so I’m thinking maybe a cheap set of summers from TireRack or buying a set of OE Lancer Evo VIII or IX wheels off of Facebook Marketplace with tires already mounted.

Other than that, I’d just like to drive this Evo more. I’ve only put about 1000 miles on the clock, and with pretty much everything sorted, I can finally do some real trips. With New York’s winter so mild, I wasn’t able to get this car on a loose, snowy surface. So I suspect a gravel road and some opposite lock is in the Evo’s near future. 

Stay tuned.

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