When Opportunity Knocks: Brenden McWilliams’ 1999 Mitsubishi Eclipse GSX

Photography by Brandon Cody

It’s not always easy to realize an opportunity until it’s gone. Conversely, great moments in history have occurred because someone was in the right place at the right time, opportunity knocked, he or she answered, and our world was changed.

More frequently, I think we as humans tend to think of what might have been. In the automotive world, we reminisce about the missed opportunities that have brought us to our present situation. These moments of regret are born out of hesitation, whether it was not buying a car when it was much cheaper and easier to obtain, or missing out on that perfect-condition rare part or project car as soon as it was listed for sale. It takes a tremendous amount of courage—and capital—to take advantage of opportunities as they occur. A leap of faith to answer the knock of opportunity can be nearly impossible, especially when you’re down and out. The demons of doubt circulate our minds and prevent that history from being made, unless, of course, you have a healthy support system and the courage to jump at an opportunity even at the most inopportune time. Such is the case for Brenden McWilliams and this spotless 1999 Mitsubishi Eclipse GSX.

Let’s take it back about 18 years to when Brenden and his brother were first getting into automobiles. His dad, an “old-school stereotypical gearhead,” immersed the two in Chevys and everything from drag racing to karting. As Brenden grew into his teens, he continued into the lifestyle his dad had carved out for him, and motorsports became a big part of his family.

He first settled into the world of turbochargers at 17 years of age. Up until that point, the York, PA native had spent his time around domestic big-block engines. Together with his brother and dad, he started building a Mitsubishi Eclipse GSX, and everything changed.

“We spent the next few years doing normal mods and slowly built a really fun driver that I loved. One weekend, we went to meet a few friends to cruise, on the way home an older fellow (87 years old) came across two lanes and hit me head-on, unfortunately totaling that GSX,” says McWilliams.

Shaken up but not injured, Brenden’s initial thoughts were pretty grim. He sunk into a low state of mind, having lost what he—and his family—committed so much time, effort, heart, and soul into, as his project car was unsalvageable, so he began to concentrate on what to do next. Unsurprisingly, as it might be for any automotive enthusiast, those thoughts were about seizing the opportunity of what he could build.

“I think everyone could tell I was—for lack of other terms—pretty depressed after the accident, so they all kind of rallied to help me out of that. My fiancé knows I am always stringent about saving money, so she gave me the green light to ‘spend what I needed.’ She didn’t know exactly what that number would be (ha!), and my brother searched and searched for potential projects.”

“The next few days as the dust settled, we started talking about what the next project car would be. We talked about 240s, RX7s, and, my favorite, a few different Datsuns like a 280 or 510,” he says.

“But that weekend, my brother Joey sent me a listing for a 0-mile rotisserie GSX chassis in NY, and it all seemed to kind of click. Although a DSM is not the prettiest or most exciting platform, we felt like it would be a fun challenge to build one from the ground up, something we had obviously never done. We went and picked up the car the next day and started the task of putting together a plan of attack and budget. That got blown away rather quick.”

The plan of attack escalated quicker than Brenden could anticipate. After the clean shell was acquired, its first stop was to the body shop for a fresh coating of elegant Nardo Grey paint.

Once it was back home, the new build’s entire final form down to every nut and bolt was planned out in full before the work could begin. Brenden was not keen on jumping into a project of this magnitude without proper planning. Luckily, his brother and dad joined forces and, in record time, helped him figure out exactly what the project could be.

“A GSX that kept all the good things about an underrated platform, but added some style and modern tech to a ’90s car. I had every list and schematic I could find, and then I found myself sitting in the garage just staring at a blank chassis and not even knowing where to start. That is where my dad really gave us a kick-start,” says Brenden.

“He is a dive-right-in kind of guy, so night one we started running the harness through the car. I had never wired a whole car, so this part already had me terrified, but my dad, brother, and I spent probably eight hours running and re-running wires until we had everything where we thought it needed to be.”

Once the painful process of rewiring the car was complete, it was a matter of figuring out which parts from the old build were salvageable, and which parts would need to be purchased new for this build. In all, this GSX combines a well-engineered mix of new and used parts to become the car that Brenden envisioned.

One of the essential parts carried over from the old build was the motor setup, which was built, installed, and running before the accident. The car’s 4G63 engine was completely dismantled and then assembled in a friend’s clean build room using all brand-new or aftermarket parts, including Brian Crower rods, Wiseco pistons, FP2 camshafts, and ACL bearings. The finishing touches on the engine are an FP 71HTA turbocharger, HKS cam gears, and a JM Fabrications manifold. The power made by those parts is sent through a built transmission with a Lancer Evolution first gear and Vicious Garage LSD in the rear. The complete engine, along with its wiring harness, was plucked from the totaled chassis and routed to tie in with the new shell.

He transferred the Corbeau seats and harnesses over from the old car, along with the dashboard—complete with a hole from his knee that occurred during the accident. He upgraded the remainder of the interior with new goods, including an Autopower roll cage, Renown x Speedhunters steering wheel, Carbonetics airbag delete, AEM Performance Electronics gauges, and a Billetworkz Formative shift knob.

A Baer big brake kit from the old project received new stainless steel braided brake lines before its placement into the new chassis. Volk Metal Craft bushings, Megan Racing control arms, and a Bulfab tubular crossmember add rigidity to the suspension.

The Nardo Grey-laden exterior utilizes nearly the entire Carbonetics catalog, including its AB hood, CSL hatch, lip kit, splitter, headlight vent, wiper cowl, front bumper, and fender flares. The chassis uses Fortune Auto 500 series coilovers with Swift springs to keep the car planted and rest the widened fenders over a brilliant set of Work Meister L1 wheels measuring 19×11-inch at every corner.

“Start to finish the build took us just over two years. We spent every Saturday in the garage, and any other days we could spare. And I mean every Saturday, I missed two different Valentine’s Days, and my fiancé didn’t complain once—she is the real MVP,” says Brenden.

“The first time we got to have the car move on its own power was a wild feeling I can’t explain. I think it hit everyone that we managed to build a driving and working car, and that is a cool feeling.”

In the end, the group not only transformed a terrible situation into a bonding experience that will last a lifetime but also produced a unique build that can be enjoyed by so many.

“We really wanted to take on as much of the project ourselves as we could. The main group consisted of my brother—Joey, dad—Mike, best friend—Josh, and my fiancé—Taylor. The five of us spent an annoying amount of time in the garage together, but honestly, we had a lot of fun, and it is cool that they all have a certain ownership of the final product as well. We had friends sprinkle in when they could, including Tom and Brandon Cody, Thomas Hitchcock, and the Seegers,” he says.

Although it’s not technically finished, Brenden is undoubtedly in a better place in life than he was after the accident years prior. With the help of a sound support system, his accident transformed his life for the better and unlocked a new set of memories that will be cherished for years to come.

“Building a car with your dad and brother is an experience you can’t really replace,” he sums up.

Don’t take the relationships you’ve gained through project cars for granted, as they are life-altering for everyone involved, whether those supporters be friends or family members. The lesson we can all take from this build is not to hesitate when you’re down. Take the risk, go for the unknown, and answer when opportunity knocks. Your life could take the positive turn you’ve been after.

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