Back in 1995, the average price of a new car was a modest $15,500. That same year, a Japanese exotic car bowed in the form of a retractable hardtop convertible known as the Mitsubishi 3000GT VR4, whose price started in the mid-$60Ks. The convertible version of a pricey sports car took things up more than just one notch. It pioneered a future of retractable hardtop convertibles that would follow in the 3000GT VR4 Spyder's footsteps. Who cares if it was absolute lunacy at the time. The thought was revolutionary, and it worked to cement the car in history, if not in terms of actual sales.

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The base car, the regular 3000GT hardtop coupe was intended to replace the angular Starion and sister car, the Chrysler Conquest. The 3000GT was also meant to compete with the Japanese contingent of sports cars: the Nissan 300ZX, Mazda RX-7, and Toyota Supra. Then, in 1995, Mitsubishi added new trims to the 3000GT SL and VR4 versions by adding a powered retractable hardtop convertible instead of a more conventional, more affordable soft-top. The move was nutty, but people surely noticed.

Mitsubishi partnered with American Sunroof Corporation (ASC) to develop the mechanism for the new convertibles. Initially, ASC had built a Nissan 300ZX hardtop for display at the 1991 Geneva Auto Show, but the car never made it to production. Mitsubishi's version gave the 3000GT a more exotic ethos since there was no other car on the market in the States with such a mechanism. Sure, the whole setup was heavy and slow (35 seconds to open or close), but it created a whole new dimension to the sports car, and customers lined up, at least initially, despite the very high price tag for a Japanese sports car. 

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20 years old and still looking pretty fine (photo: RLII Photography)

The cars essentially looked the same as their hardtop brethren with the exception of new, upgraded rims, an active aerodynamic system (with the requisite "Active Aero" lettering, of course), and that exotic hardtop that actually gave the car a better front-to-rear weight ratio. The result, however, was a bit too much overall weight and a lack of structural rigidity due to the convertible setup. 

The expensive convertible never really took off despite initial enthusiasm and energetic levels of orders from dealerships. But the profit margin was thin, and when Mitsubishi decided to penalize dealers financially for not ordering them, the writing was on the wall. Mitsubishi began to offer dealers incentives for 1995 models ($10,000) and $5,000-$7,500 for 1996 models. The cars were difficult to sell, and in August of 1997, Mitsubishi killed off the Spyders. 

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The VR4 in its most popular color, Caracas Red. (photo:

Today, it's not uncommon to see these cars for sale on ebay, and they command thousands of dollars, some going as high as $16K. They're by no means hot performers, nor are they particularly coveted by serious collectors. But the 3000GT VR4 Spyder stands out because it was a unique car for its time. Long, lean and mechanically unique, they're still respected for their symbolism. Mercedes-Benz and other carmakers followed suit with retractable hardtops, and they're prevalent in the auto industry today, thanks to a daring move by Mitsubishi. A carmaker that, ironically, has ceased to take risky moves to further its image globally and in the States. We're hoping all that changes soon.