Part 1: 89-94 Eclipse/Talon/Laser
This is the car that started it all: Years on top of Car & Driver's "Best Bang for the Buck" contest, a massive cult following, and ten-second quarter mile timeslips when nobody had ever uttered the words "Import drag racing."
These cars were built from 1989 through 1993, and tons of them were the top-dog turbo all-wheel-drive models. The cars are easy to find on the used market, and prices are very low.
All three cars -- Mitsubishi Eclipse, Eagle Talon, and Chrysler Laser -- were assembed at the Diamond Star Motors (DSM) factory in Normal, Illinois. Trim differences on the cars are the only difference between the different badging. The internals are all the same.
If you're buying a 1G (for 1st Generation) Eclipse/Talon/Laser, focus on getting one that is cosmetically and structurally sound. Spare trim parts will become harder to get as the cars age, so look for one with a good interior, and intact body trim.
Mechanically, the name of the game is RECORDS. Ask the seller if he has documentation of regular service. Oil changes are critical: 5,000 miles is the maximum the car should go between changes, and 3,000 miles is better. Frequent oil changes will also mean less chance the car ever ran low on oil.
Ask for documentation of timing belt replacement. It should have happened at or before 60,000 miles, and again at or before 120,000 miles. Make sure it's a complete job, showing timing belt tensioner, balance belt, and timing belt all replaced. If the car will need a belt change, deduct $500 from the price.
If you can find an all-wheel-drive model, you probably want to get it. You give up one or two mpg, but gain in traction, adding to both peformance driving and wet-weather driving enjoyment.
If it's an AWD, look for a limited-slip rear differential, denoted by a "LSD" sticker on the differential and on the driver's door sill. Other desirable features: anti-lock brakes, pop-up sunroof, leather seats, and factory CD player.