THE GREAT SATAN sat in my driveway. It was hell-red with a black top that made it appear to have no top at all. It had a menacing face, with blacked-out headlights that seemed oxymoronic in design, yet irresistibly attractive. And on top of its hood were two reptilian brows that conveyed both invitation and warning: "Driiive meee, driiive meee. I'll take your breath. Hee, hee, hee."
And take my breath it did, this demon car, the 300-horsepower, 1991 Dodge Stealth R/T Turbo. But the theft was gradual, seductive. The Stealth WAS sneaky. It slinked through urban streets, emitting low growls, barely flexing the muscles of its sinuous body. But once it was out of sight of all that was good, holy and legal -- once it hit those abandoned back roads and sniffed the presence of an adjacent, ahm, test track -- it went wild!
Background: The Stealth R/T Turbo is the product of another Chrysler/Mitsubishi collaboration. Chrysler designed the car's body and had much to do with its interior. Mitsubishi did the engineering and put the thing together at its factory in Okazaki, Japan.
Mitsubishi's version of the Stealth R/T Turbo is the 3000GT VR-4. Both cars have twin turbochargers that force-feed air into three-liter, 24-valve, V-6 engines. Both are equipped with four-wheel-drive and four-wheel-steering. The steering system permits the rear wheels to turn slightly in the same direction as the front wheels at speeds exceeding 30 miles per hour, thus improving the car's handling around curves and corners.
The Stealth and 3000GT are unambivalent tight-jeans-and-leather cars, meant to appeal to hot-rod souls. There are four Stealths -- base Stealth, Stealth ES, Stealth R/T, and the top-line Stealth R/T Turbo.
Complaints: The Stealth is politically incorrect in the current global environment. As such, it draws hostility from every politician, insurer and freelance activist engaged in societal exorcism. The car doubtless will be blamed for everything from global warming to the Persian Gulf War, even though it burns fuel more cleanly than many economy models.
Mechanically, the Stealth R/T Turbo has a few flaws, too. Chief among them are its tremendous weight, 3,793 pounds, and its less-than-smooth five-speed manual gearbox.
Praise: Great Satan, it may be; but the Stealth R/T Turbo is loaded with saving graces in the engineering department. Despite its weight, the car is wonderfully well-balanced on the road -- wet or dry. It has active and passive compensation for driver incompetence, including driver's-side air bag and four-wheel anti-lock brakes. Body construction is super-tight. More than anything, though, the darned car provides some of the best fun you can have this side of eternity.
Head-turning quotient: Totally hot. Got enthusiastic nods everywhere it went. Even a few peace marchers gave it thumbs up.
Ride, acceleration and handling: Enough said, except for braking, which was tops.
Sound system: Six-speaker, AM/FM stereo radio, cassette and compact disc, Ultimate Sound by Mitsubishi. Maximum boogie.
Mileage: Definitely sinful. About 18 miles per gallon (19.8-gallon tank, estimated 350-mile range on usable volume of recommended premium unleaded).
Price: Base price on the tested Stealth R/T Turbo is $29,267. Dealer's invoice price is $24,867. Price as tested is $30,019, including $424 for the compact disc and a $328 destination charge.
Purse-strings note: This is pure lust, and dealer's know it. According to Automotive News, an industry trade publication, some dealers have been collecting $10,000 OVER sticker price for their Stealths. Don't let the Devil make you do something that silly. Compare with the Toyota Supra, Nissan 300ZX, Pontiac Firebird Trans Am/GTA, Mazda RX-7.
Warren Brown covers the automotive industry for The Washington Post.