52 TH Magna 3.5

Australian Muscle Car - - Contents -

Our Wolves in Sheep’s Cloth­ing choices are limited to Aussie-built cars that go faster than their looks sug­gest. Which makes this Ade­laide-built swift six a per­fect choice as our 1990s ex­am­ple. Open-minded read­ers only. Theme song: any­thing from the Wolf Creek sound­track.

The 1999 TH se­ries Mit­subishi Magna range, imag­i­na­tively tagged ‘The Next Gen­er­a­tion’, pro­vided Aus­tralian driv­ers with noth­ing short of sparkling per­for­mance.

With the 2.4-litre four-cylin­der en­gine dropped from the line-up, it was V6 mo­ti­va­tion across the board for this third it­er­a­tion of the third gen­er­a­tion Magna. In a clever mar­ket­ing ploy, the larger and more pow­er­ful 3.5-litre en­gine as pre­vi­ously avail­able in the pre­mium Verada range was now in­cluded in all vari­ants of the Magna. All but the en­try-level Ex­ec­u­tive model came stan­dard with the 3.5 litre V6, while it was avail­able as an op­tional ex­tra on the base car which was al­lot­ted the 3.0-litre ver­sion.

In ad­di­tion, this was the first oc­ca­sion where a man­ual trans­mis­sion was of­fered with the larger en­gine in the pas­sen­ger car lines. Al­most by

chance, Mit­subishi had cre­ated an un­ex­pected flier across the whole Magna range when fit­ted with the 3.5-litre V6 and 5-speed man­ual trans­mis­sion. As far as the Ex­ec­u­tive and next-level Ad­vance were con­cerned, this was a car truly wor­thy of the ‘wolf in sheep’s cloth­ing’ moniker.

The hero car in the line-up was the Magna Sports. As Mo­tor dis­cov­ered in its April 1999 is­sue, this was a real sur­prise packet.

“At 15.76 [sec­onds], the Sports equals the new HSV XU-8’s 400-me­tre sprint time,” the mag­a­zine noted. “In the real world the new en­gine feels even more su­pe­rior to the old 3.0. You can leave the car in fifth for vir­tu­ally any high­way ma­noeu­vre: it is as tractable as many V8s.”

In the ac­cel­er­a­tion stakes, the two cars were neck and neck right up to and be­yond 150km/h!

When put up against the su­per­charged HSV XU-6 and the Fal­con XR6 VCT it was a case of show­ing both cars a clean pair of heels. This in a bloody Magna!

The 3.5-litre’s per­for­mance came as a com­plete shock to many – es­pe­cially those blown off in the traf­fic light der­bies. The Magna Sports also looked the part with big 16” 5-spoke al­loy wheels, driv­ing lights in the front air dam and a rear bootlid­mounted spoiler.

If that’s hard for HSV XU-6 own­ers to swal­low, imag­ine the ef­fect of all the per­for­mance from the Sports model in a car that was the en­try level in the Magna range. A car with con­ser­va­tively-styled plas­tic wheel cov­ers on reg­u­lar 15” steel rims and no real ‘look at me’ fea­tures. A car that was also lighter than the Sports…

No­body would even think to check for the small 3.5 badge on the fen­der. When so equipped,

a man­ual Ex­ec­u­tive was a real weapon in plain-Jane wrap­ping. In terms of home­grown per­for­mance, this was pretty se­ri­ous stuff.

There wasn’t even a clue to this ‘sleeper’ in any sales lit­er­a­ture or pro­mo­tional ma­te­rial. The spec­i­fi­ca­tions blurb didn’t re­veal the blis­ter­ing per­for­mance avail­able from the 3.5-litre V6 en­gine due to a very cun­ning method of ad­ver­tis­ing the en­gine out­put. The of­fi­cial line was that the 3.5-litre V6 24-valve MPI (mul­ti­point in­jec­tion) en­gine pro­duced 147kW @5000 rpm and 300Nm@4000 rpm. The savvy driver would how­ever no­tice that the red line on this Magna’s tachome­ter was on the high side of 6000rpm. In­ter­est­ing!

There were two meth­ods of rat­ing and ad­ver­tis­ing power out­puts in force at the time. Mit­subishi chose to use the lower of these for var­i­ous rea­sons. On paper, the 3.5-litre was only 7kW more than the base 3.0-litre V6. Huh?

There was method in their mad­ness how­ever. Mit­subishi was se­ri­ous about po­si­tion­ing the Magna as a big, fair dinkum, six-cylin­der Aussie sedan. The South Aus­tralian-based man­u­fac­turer set its sights on poach­ing Holden Com­modore buy­ers to lift sales by a wish­ful 30 per­cent, to, coin­ci­dently, around 3500 per month.

In or­der to achieve this, the 3.5-litre en­gine and its spec­i­fi­ca­tions were a big part in get­ting the mes­sage across that the TH Magna was a se­ri­ous al­ter­na­tive.

The Com­modore (Aus­tralia’s big­gest seller) had a 3.8-litre V6 rated at 147kW, but was big­ger and heav­ier. Mit­subishi was al­ways the con­ser­va­tive car com­pany sit­ting in third po­si­tion on the lo­cal ‘big three’ totem-pole, be­hind Ford Aus­tralia. The Mit­subishi en­gine was the most ad­vanced of the lo­cal man­u­fac­tur­ers and also the most re­fined. The Com­modore got by with a pushrod V6 fea­tur­ing two valves per cylin­der. The Magna en­gine was high-tech by com­par­i­son, fea­tur­ing over­head cams and four valves per cylin­der. But for most buy­ers, all that re­ally mat­tered at the end of the day was that on paper the power rat­ings were the same – 147kW.

There is a hint of déjà vu here. Be­fore Mit­subishi Mo­tors took over Chrysler Aus­tralia in 1980, the iconic Valiant range com­prised some real wolves in sheep’s cloth­ing. Those sleep­ers from the late 1960s and the early 1970s were not V8-pow­ered, but the ven­er­a­ble slant-six and later the phenom­e­nal Hemi 6-cylin­der en­gines. The Valiant was a force to be reck­oned with and al­ways ahead of the op­po­si­tion at the fam­ily car level – even putting the 289/302ci V8 Fal­cons and 253ci V8 Hold­ens to shame. Fast for­ward to 1999 and it was a case of here we go again with the TH Magna…

The Magna was by far the smoothest and qui­etest of the lo­cals. It was also sig­nif­i­cantly dif­fer­ent in that it was front-wheel-drive. Power losses through the driv­e­line were there­fore less. Of course, a nasty FWD trait known as torques­teer made its pres­ence felt if the right foot ap­plied too much pres­sure, too quickly, on the loud pedal. Nonethe­less, the end re­sult was a sur­pris­ingly rapid car.

The 3.5-litre Magna was much quicker than a Com­modore and Fal­con with stan­dard en­gines; quicker too than a su­per­charged Com­modore or a Fal­con with the VCT en­gine. In fact, it took the Holden V8 in HSV tune to match the man­ual 3.5 Magna. From the Blue Oval, a Tick­ford-tick­led XR8 was needed to pip the Magna! Any­thing be­low this was sim­ply not good enough.

The as­ton­ish­ing thing is the fact that all this

went largely un­no­ticed. Even to­day most people would look at you strangely if you men­tion Magna and HSV or Tick­ford in the same sen­tence when talk­ing per­for­mance fig­ures. The 3.5-litre man­ual Mag­nas from late last century are clas­sic cases of cars that slipped un­der the radar.

Does all this make the Magna a can­di­date for ‘clas­sic car’ sta­tus some­time in the fu­ture? That’s doubt­ful, as sur­pris­ing pace alone does not a clas­sic make. We’ll set­tle for quiet re­spect from open-minded AMC read­ers.

What brings a smile to our di­als is that plenty of non-mo­tor­ing en­thu­si­asts bought and drove a car that was a gen­uine wolf in wool. Many of these folk prob­a­bly never re­ally knew what they had un­der the right foot...

Now imag­ine some­one tak­ing off from the traf­fic lights in the Mit­subishi and glanc­ing side­ways at a HSV XU-8 un­able to pull away. Two very dif­fer­ent cars with iden­ti­cal real-world per­for­mance.

Be­cause it never re­ally re­ceived the ac­co­lades from the per­for­mance fra­ter­nity it has be­come the ul­ti­mate recluse to­day. AMC knows this as we had a hell of a time try­ing to find one to pho­to­graph.

Our usual ‘go to’ guys in club land couldn’t help us on this oc­ca­sion, so we posted re­quests via so­cial me­dia and on the Aus­tralian Magna Club web­site’s fo­rum.

No own­ers of suit­able un­en­hanced sedans came for­ward, al­though help­ful mem­ber ‘380Mitsu’ spotted a dealer advertisement for the car you see on these pages. So thanks to him and to Harry Kara­gi­o­lis from Kar­alie Cars in the Ade­laide sub­urb of Reynella, who kindly al­lowed us to pho­to­graph the 1999 Magna Ad­vance be­fore it was de­liv­ered to its new owner. Be­fore you ask, we can re­port that Harry ad­ver­tised the car for $2999, ex­clud­ing on road costs. A bar­gain surely.

Whether the afore­men­tioned Magna ver­sus XU-8 traf­fic lights sce­nario ever played out is, of course, un­known. How­ever, al­low us to re­lay an ex­pe­ri­ence that did take place.

This writer was for­tu­nate to have a 3.5-litre Magna from new in early 2000. In ba­sic white, my TH Ex­ec­u­tive was a ‘knee-jerk’ se­lec­tion as I was bored with au­to­matic Magna Al­tera LSs and couldn’t get the Sports. It was ev­ery bit the rocket the Mo­tor testers had dis­cov­ered. I even took it to Wil­low­bank drag strip out of cu­rios­ity, where a first-up run off the street re­sulted in a 15.2 sec­onds @ 151km/h pass. A guy in a Porsche who couldn’t drive to save his life was in the other lane and got hosed.

Okay, so the Magna would have been no match for the Porsche in Jim Richards’ hands at Targa Tas­ma­nia, but that’s not the point.

The poor bas­tard at Wil­low­bank was done by a bloody stock-stan­dard Magna in a straight line – how com­pletely hu­mil­i­at­ing! Left: Per­for­mance iden­ti­cal to a HSV XU-8? Yep, who would have thunk it? Be­low: TH Mag­nas, with a driver line-up in­clud­ing Mit­subishi de­vel­op­ment en­gi­neers, raced in the GT Pro­duc­tion cat­e­gory. This at Oran Park, 2000.

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