By on August 13, 2013

Mitsubishi_Delica_Spacegear_L400_top

There are several vans that will not be among the finalists to replace the Kreutzer family’s ailing Ford Freestar and among them are the size and utility queens of the Japanese Domestic Market, the Toyota HI-Ace and the Mitsubishi Delica. Of course you already know that neither of these vans are sold here in the Land of the Free, so my attempt at including them in an article about my current search may seem a bit facetious but, the truth is, I know these vans well and they come up enough in the comments that I thought they might be worth discussing in more detail. Since I have become the resident “van guy” for the time being, let’s avail ourselves of the opportunity, shall we?

Believe it or not, there is a huge difference between Kansai and Kansas. The roads in Japan are usually narrow and impossibly crowded. In most neighborhoods there are no sidewalks and buildings come right out to the edge of the street. Rows of bicycles and scooters are lined up in front of most stores, their back wheels often protruding out into the roadway, and their presence blocks pedestrians who must then compete for space with the cars in the street. Some streets are one way but have exceptions for anything on two or three wheels, so you may even find yourself avoiding oncoming scooters who are themselves maneuvering to avoid all the aforementioned obstacles as well. At night, add in flashing lights and the scene becomes a sort of twisted, impossible game where the possibility of an accident increases a million fold.

kyoto-streets-of-gion-1

Like all manner of creatures, the form of Japanese vans has evolved – or for those of you who live in the deep South, has been created by God – to perform well in the world in which they exist. They tend to be tall and narrow, generally have good all around visibility and usually have any number of mirrors or back-up cameras to help them settle into the small spaces in which they must park. Fuel efficiency is a must and some are diesels, but with increasing regulations forbidding oil burners in many major urban areas most vehicles these days tend to have smallish gasoline engines. Since speeds are usually low, large engines are generally not needed anyhow.

starwagon

Wikipedia tells me that the Mitsubishi Delica hit the market way back in 1968 as a light cab-over pickup truck. It evolved into a van that stayed in production with only minor changes until 1979 when it got a its first redesign. Another redesign came in 1986 with the introduction of the “Starwagon” and yet another came in 1994 when Mitusbishi introduced the larger “Space Gear.” In 2007, Mitsubishi introduced the 5th Generation Delica, the D-5. Although the current D-5 is a good looking van with its square, upright lines, the real high points in Delcia history ar the “Starwagon” and the “Space Gear” both of which look like lunar rovers when outfitted with the available four wheel drive and all the various nerf bars and ladders available. They are unique, funky and flamboyant. They are, however, the Rolling Stones of minivans; if you are in the right mood they rock the house but are otherwise overshadowed by the sheer excellence of their contemporaries.

Mitsubishi_Space_Gear_GLX_front

I drove a late ‘90s fourth generation “Space Gear” to and from work for two years when I lived in Osaka in ‘04 and ‘05. Because most of the people I worked with lived some distance from our job, my employer graciously provided us with a shuttle to and from work that we paid for ourselves through ticket purchases. Naturally, yours truly quickly became the designated driver and I got a lot of seat time behind the wheel. Our usual route involved a combination of major thoroughfares, small side streets, alleyways and even a dozen miles of high speed elevated expressway that soared high above the clogged city streets below so I had the opportunity to see it at its best, and worst, in every environment.

There is a lot of variety in the Delica line and I should note here that our van was not one of the heavily optioned four wheel drive models that naturally come to mind when someone outside of Japan thinks of the Delica. It was instead a simple, basic passenger van, the kind of van that plies its trade without fanfare all across the world everyday. It was cheap, rubbery and had a cloth interior that featured a second row bench with a collapsible jump seat on the end to allow access to the rather cramped third row at the back.

delic interior

Even without the four wheel drive option, our Delica was a tall, ponderous beast. On the plus side, the driver’s seat sat me up high and lots of windows ensured I had good all around visibility. It was most at home at low speeds on surface streets and least at home on the expressway where, quite frankly, it struggled. At higher speeds, the van could be downright frightening and even the slightest cross wind caused it to heave around like a ship on the ocean. Fully loaded with 8 adults in the cabin and beating into a headwind the sound of the wind tearing by the windows made you feel like the vehicle was going to fly apart at any moment and I often noted the concerned looks on the faces of my colleagues.

Despite its performance flaws, I can’t really pan the Space Gear. When looking back on an older vehicle a good reviewer needs to consider a number of things, the state of the art at the time and the actual purpose for which a vehicle was intended. The Space Gear is, I think, a product of its time and place and in that light it was probably an OK ride. In fact, I briefly toyed with the idea of finding a four wheel drive version when it looked like I might be assigned to Central Asia. Ultimately, however, I ended up with a Stateside assignment and my flirtation with the Space Gear ended there but I still wonder what my experience would have been like with the fully optioned four wheel drive Delica in a land with no expressways. I suspect that it may have been good. In a “right tool for the job” sort of way, I think I would have really enjoyed it.

If it were sold today in the United States I think the Space Gear’s good looking design and four wheel drive system would still attract a lot of interest. However, without an improved powerplant and chassis I think the Space Gear would be a dismal failure. Knowing what I know, I’d probably even pass on a used one unless someone could convince me that its shortcomings could be sorted out with a few aftermarket additions. If that were the case, the possibilities are titillating…

Toyota_Hiace_H200_501

The Toyota HI-Ace is another child of the sixties. Introduced in 1967 it has evolved steadily over the years into any number of job specific forms and includes cargo vans, ordinary and stretched passenger vans for tour and airport shuttles use, and even fairly luxurious family offerings like the Granvia which was sold in both Asia and Europe. The current boxy looking Hi-Ace is the 5th generation and I think it looks especially good for a vehicle that places sheer utility ahead of style and comfort.

The van I regularly drove was a general utility vehicle used on my job to run errands and to carry cargo, mail or supplies as needed. Like the Delica, the Hi-Ace was good around town and gives a clear, 360 degree view from the driver’s seat and enough mirrors to let you know your exact position on the road at any given moment. As is normal for my employer, ours was the least optioned model available and it was filled with hard plastics and rubberized mats. Given the vehicle’s primary role, however, these things are really a given and I can’t find fault in it just because it was built to a specific purpose.

200Hiaceinterior

Opening the driver’s door and slipping into the seat atop the right front wheel was always odd experience for me. I drove a cab over Isuzu delivery truck for several months when I was in college and the Hi-Ace took be right back to those days except this time I was more or less seated at the same height as most other traffic instead of above it. With the controls so far forward, the current Hi-Ace is long and because you are ahead of the front wheels you need to watch yourself on turns, going a little further into the intersection before swinging the wheel sharply towards your new direction. That, in combination with the bouncing that naturally comes from being out at the end of the vehicle, always gave me that same odd sense of both joy and fear that I always get from a ride on the carnival.

On the highway the Hi-Ace was generally well mannered and while not a power machine by any stretch of the imagination did not seem to struggle to keep up with traffic. Like the Delica, the Hi-Ace’s high profile made it sensitive to gusts and it would move around on you, but it never felt as tippy the Mitsubishi. One peculiar trait I noticed was the tendency for the van to buck over freeway joints and expansion joints and at certain speeds the van would just settle back onto is suspension before hitting the next joint would send it skyward again. I suspect this is part and parcel with sitting out ahead of the wheels and it was more of an odd characteristic than it was a real annoyance.

Toyota_Hiace_H200_506

Between the two vans, I think the Hi-Ace would be more at home on American streets but not as a family van or intercity transport. They would do well, I think, as cargo vans where their competition would be either much larger cargo vans that use more fuel or the much smaller Transit Connect. Although the roads in Kansas and Kansai are indeed half a world apart, the economy and utility that JDM market vans offer in an urban environment is so finely attuned that they could be a great success here and I am sure that many people would appreciate their addition to the market. I may not buy one, but I am sure there are those people who would jump at the chance.

Thomas M Kreutzer currently lives in Buffalo, New York with his wife and three children but has spent most of his adult life overseas. He has lived in Japan for 9 years, Jamaica for 2 and spent almost 5 years as a US Merchant Mariner serving primarily in the Pacific. A long time auto and motorcycle enthusiast he has pursued his hobbies whenever possible. He also enjoys writing and public speaking where, according to his wife, his favorite subject is himself.

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72 Comments on “Japanese Size Queens: Mitsubishi Delica Space Gear & Toyota Hi-Ace Vans...”


  • avatar
    Kenmore

    “or for those of you who live in the deep South, has been created by God”

    Jes don’t be callin nothin “Messiah” an we git along jes faahn.

  • avatar
    Kenmore

    I would marry a Hi-Ace.

    Excellent rare treat of an article. Thanks much.

    • 0 avatar
      RobertRyan

      The Hyundai ILOAD van outsells them here and it is used as a personal people mover as well.The HiAce and ILOAD do a fine job as inner city work vans.
      http://www.themotorreport.com.au/content/image/3/7/37564_2009_hyundai_imax_02-4b77aa7ea6e1d.jpg

      http://t0.gstatic.com/images?q=tbn:ANd9GcTvBD24hhyk1fin19524m-ziU8uNRko8tpyHXd_WFbjJk7QepB7LA

      • 0 avatar
        Kenmore

        Thanks for the links, RR.

        I’d be at the dealer for a test drive first day they arrived if we ever again get true minivans like that here. I know from use of my kid’s Grand Caravan that it’s about 20% larger than what I really desire.

        Cutting the GC’s dimensions by that much, as these vans appear to do, would result in a vehicle easily powered by a 4 cyl. Feeding the V-6 in my last pickup was so egregiously insulting to someone who began driving with 27-cent/gal. gas that I’ll never venture out of 4-cyl. land again.

      • 0 avatar
        Kenmore

        Thanks for the links, RR.

        I’d be at the dealer for a test drive first day they arrived if we ever again get true minivans like that here. I know from use of my kid’s Grand Caravan that it’s about 20% larger than what I really desire.

        Cutting the GC’s dimensions by that much, as these vans appear to do, would result in a vehicle easily powered by a 4 cyl. Feeding the V-6 in my last pickup was so egregiously insulting to someone who began driving with 27-cent/gal. gas that I’ll never venture out of 4-cyl. land again.

        • 0 avatar
          Kenmore

          Ain’t that cute?

          The cuss word filter tagged my 03:22 post and will probably get this one too.

          Or is there also a cheapskate filter?

          • 0 avatar

            Once in a while the filter acts up for some reason, I’m not sure why. When that happens I get a little note and approve it assoon as I see it if it is a real comment and not some kind of robospam.

          • 0 avatar
            Kenmore

            Thanks, Mr. K.

            Appears you’re an early riser.

            Or do “early” and “late” still have any meaning for someone who’s done your time-zone hopping?

          • 0 avatar

            Some Kreutzers are violinists but my branch of the family runs more towards the typical square headed potato farmer. Early to bed, early to rise yadda yadda yadda.

    • 0 avatar

      I love the name, Space Gear. And I love all those vans. Reminds me of French vans (mostly Citroen) from my year in France ’65-’66. I just wish Toyota had stuck with the original xB. And yes, very fun article.

  • avatar
    Lie2me

    Mitsubishi could sell this all day long, especially in the south…

    http://forum.difflock.com/userpix/12621_L400_1.jpg

  • avatar
    -Nate

    + 10 ! .

    I rode in quite a few seriously battered Hi-Ace vans in the West indies and in spite of near zero maintenance and extremely cavalier drivers they stood up very well as Jitney Busses , freight haulers and all around beaters .

    I know a few were sold in the U.S.A. as a friend of mine rece ntly found a DOT compliant , Ca. spec. 4 WD version languishing in the back lot of a Ford dealer and bought it on the spot as he knows a good ‘un when he sees it .

    Your first photo above , the street scene , looks very nice to me , a far cry from the third world shyteholes I’ve visited .

    -Nate

  • avatar
    TonyJZX

    those HiAces arent great for crash resistance

    these are popular here:

    http://carsfolia.com/hyundai-starex.html

    4,400lb, 2.5 litre turbodiesel, 6 spd auto but rwd only

    cops use them, so does utilities, councils etc.

  • avatar
    Crabspirits

    Costa Rica is an excellent car-spotting locale. When I was there a few years back, the HiAce and Hyundai Starex were our chariots. The roads there are quite hilly. Almost everything is diesel and manual transmission. I talked to our driver about cars in America, and how everyone drives automatics. “Oh, you can’t have that here, you will die.”

    Those vans lugged 10 of us with luggage up steep grades with no drama whatsoever. They are quite loud though with windows rattling and no sound insulation. Because of their long body on short wheelbase, they tend to rock fore and aft on bumps. Reminded me of being in an old school bus. I would rather have one as a work vehicle like you described than a sprinter or connect. I think complainy Americans and safety issues would kill it first though.

  • avatar
    Piston Slap Yo Mama

    The Delica that Beat Takeshi totes his dying wife around in Hanabi is almost a character in that movie and I’ve wanted one ever since. My other crush has been the Japanese market Estima (nee Previa) that continued production there well after they’d pulled the plug on it here. I saw them everywhere I went, often with dropped suspensions and ground effects. One kitted out like that here in the land of the lumbering SUV would be mind boggling. http://www.pond.co.jp/gazou/car/estima2.jpg

    • 0 avatar

      The Previa was cool like a Microbus. And I’d love to drive something called a Space Gear no matter how underpowered. Heck, maybe I’ll call my ’08 Civic with the stick ***the*** Space Gear. The would work well because my smoking dashboard snake’s name is Hazmats

  • avatar
    IHateCars

    I would think that, the High Ace especially, would be a great alternative for a utility/contractor van to compete with the Benz Sprinter/Ram and Nissan NV vans….not to mention the Safari and E series from the domestics. I suspect it would need a bit more power though…

    • 0 avatar

      Nissan thought that too (needed more power) when they imported their weird cab-over van in the 80′s.

      They all caught fire! Learn your lesson!

      (just kidding. Surely someone could engineer one of these with a 2.5L gas motor.)

      • 0 avatar
        Styles79

        The 4th generation Delica had a 2.4 gasoline engiine and a 3.0 V6 gasonlie engine available. I haven’t seen many though, mostly diesels.

        Also with the Hiace in one of the older models there was an option of the 4.0 “Lexus” V8, which was installed in ambulance-spec examples.

  • avatar
    Nostrathomas

    I had the chance to be driven around in a HiAce on a recent trip to Panama. The one thing I noticed right away is how much frickin’ space there was inside for such a small package. It’s huge in there….there were 4 rows of seats. Who knew that a boxy design instead of trendy curves and swoops would yield more space?

    I thought overall it was pretty fantastic.. definitely not fancy, but it reminded me of the Toyota of old that was about quality practicality. Get rid of the back seats, and I think think it could be the “small truck” that everyone seems to be looking for around these parts.

    • 0 avatar
      Kenmore

      ‘it could be the “small truck” that everyone seems to be looking for around these parts.’

      Bingo! I would be infatuated with it. Closest thing now for Americans is the Grand Caravan but it’s a tad overlarge and you have to take the V-6.

      • 0 avatar
        Nostrathomas

        Funny you mention the Caravan, as that is exactly what my father got to replace his rusting Tacoma. It’s the most versatile van on the market…great for shuttling people around one day, and great for hauling everything else the next. Nice and boxy, and the cheapest thing on the market. Plus the interior is actually really great for the price, and the Pentastar seems like a really solid engine.

        I think if given the option though, we’d both take the HiAce.

        • 0 avatar
          Kenmore

          Yep, Caravan is great till something like the Hi-Ace comes along.

          I use my son’s GC every chance I get and the *only* thing I’d seriously criticize is the gas consumption.

          If I could get one with a 4-cyl. I’d already own one. With the seats stowed and the RVM flipped 180⁰ I have a level of visibility unavailable for 30 years.

          And except for an upright fridge there’s nothing I hauled in my pickups that won’t fit in the GC, plus it’s wind/weather proof.

      • 0 avatar
        Luke42

        I agree that the minivan is the new compact pickup.

        There was no small truck that was an upgrade for my Ranger, and no real station wagon that I could afford.

        So I ended up with a Sienna. The thing is just as useful as my (t)rusty old Ranger, and it actually is an upgrade in most ways. Its also a much better family vehicle when I’m not moving heavy objects.

        The hi-ace looks badass in a practical way, though. I like it! I would like to see some US style frontal crash test results before buying one, though. But, still, it looks so practical that it exudes badassneas!

  • avatar
    jconli1

    I’ve seen one RHD 4WD Delica stomping around Seattle (we like our quirky utility boxes – Vanagon Synchros are a daily find, and the Element was a bestseller out here while the rest of the country seemed to avoid it altogether), but a recent trip to Vancouver Island revealed hundreds of top-spec diesel Delicas all on daily duty in the city, at the beach, in the mountains, even holding their own on the freeways. BC’s lax attitude towards vintage Japanese imports makes me very jealous.

    • 0 avatar
      Sigivald

      Canada, not just BC, as I understand it.

      Delicas are not incredibly uncommon in the Lower Mainland in general, though I don’t know about their spec levels.

      I’ve seen a fair smattering of the 4WD ones in my trips there.

  • avatar
    Richard Chen

    Thomas K,

    Just curious – do you know where your next posting is? and are you concerned about having to get parts for vehicle sold in a few markets?

    • 0 avatar

      Not yet. I’ll know in the next couple of months. I can always have parts shipped in if need be, which is one of the reasons a US model van would work well for me. A lot of our cargo comes in straight from the states and it can be transshipped in fairly cost effectively.

      Getting someone to work on it may be trickier but some of the basic stuff I can do on my own without much trouble. Also, I learned a lesson with our VW – if I have to let it sit and get something on the domestic market wherever we are, I will just to keep it nice and then put it back into service once I get home. That has to be more cost effective than dumping it at a loss and buying something new when I get home.

      • 0 avatar
        Richard Chen

        Ah, that makes sense. Too bad there aren’t many choices – the previously written up Quest, Sienna, Odyssey, Kia Sedona, and the Chrysler trio of GC/T&C/VW Routan. The outgoing Ford Transit Connect wagon seats 5 but doesn’t have a 3rd row and the US Mazda5 lacks the center 2nd row seat.

  • avatar
    azmtbkr81

    Gotta love Toyota’s JDM vehicle names; can’t think of a single other vehicle that conjures up images of the Red Baron winging his way over the trenches with a fat joint hanging from his lips.

  • avatar
    Bunter1

    Just to note as a “northern creationist” I am not offended by the use of the word “evolution”. It has it’s uses, just not is biology. Chuckle. ;^D

    Bunter

  • avatar
    KrohmDohm

    While stationed at Misawa,AB Japan the base soccer team decided to travel south to Yokota AB for a soccer tournament. We check out two vans from the MWR facility, one a Delica (or something that looked like it) with a conventional 5 speed. The other a much larger, wider van also with a 5 speed. On the column. As only a few of us knew how to drive a manual the schlepping duties fell to us. I can’t tell you the joy of driving a large van with a 5 speed on the tree through Tokyo traffic. More than a few times in order to pass by opposing cars and trucks without incident we had to fold in the mirrors. Even then we could have shaken hands with the driver of the neighboring vehicle without leaning out of the window. I would imagine the sight of 10 gaijin packed into our beige crapwagon brought great amusement to everyone that saw us. The return trip was even more interesting since I had to somehow shift the tranny with a separated shoulder. Woohoo!

  • avatar
    CoreyDL

    There are some Delica’s in Canada which I see pop up on Ebay sometimes.

    The nearest thing we got here was the Mazda MPV All-Sport, really.

    • 0 avatar
      gtemnykh

      I’m excited that someone actually remembers these fantastic vans! My ’98 Allsport 4wd ES is still plugging along, hard to find and $$$ parts and my acquisition of a mint ’96 4runner have relegated it to home-depot and boat hauling duty back at my parents’ place in NY.

      The combination of van-roominess with SUV capability, with a compact mini-van footprint have yet to be matched here in the US! My new 4runner blows the MPV out of the water in terms of capability, but the interior room is a fraction of that in the Mazda, and it rides much more ‘truckish.’ Due to the lack of MacPherson struts up front no doubt.

      Sienna AWD is sort of getting there, but has no ground clearance to clear so much as a curb with its bumper. Fullsize SUVs may match the mazda for interior room and 4wd, but they are MUCH larger in size.

      I will be first in line to buy a Delica when they get to be 25+ years old. Speaking of, here’s an 1987 that can be imported!

      http://ccautos.ca/mitsubishi-delica-us-eligible.html

      • 0 avatar
        CoreyDL

        I was sorta looking for an MPV until you posted a whole bunch about how much money you were pouring into the thing! I did go and look at one, but the guy wanted $3200 IIRC, and he had been kinda lax on maintenance, and it was at ~130K miles. Needed a T-belt change. And a thorough detailing.

        I’ve now relegated my cheap-SUV search to the 96-01 Jimmy/Envoy/Trailblazer/Bravada with the 4.3 Vortec.

        • 0 avatar
          gtemnykh

          Well the vans will still run when totally neglected, they will just have a saggy rear end and some oil leaks. Timing belts are a breeze to change on these, the rear air shocks ended up being $50 for a pair. It’s more so stuff like e-brake cables for $75, a 3 foot section of the rear a/c line for $215, speedometer cables for $90 that start to take their toll. lack of choice in parts is also a bummer. Suspensions are remarkably durable, electrics rock solid, and the interiors hold up great. If you find a rust free one, I would say it’s worth considering (mine is starting to go after all these years in the epicenter of the rust belt)

          Have you considered a 3r gen 4Runner? I’m quite enamored with mine. Parts are everywhere and as cheap as domestics, build quality is unmatched. The online DIY community is the most thorough in terms of write-ups and tutorials that I have EVER seen.

          • 0 avatar
            CoreyDL

            Well, I’m in SW Ohio, so any MPV’s here have rust issues – very rare to see one that doesn’t. The 4R is the same deal, rust around the wheel wells. The ones with NO rust are those garage babies that they’ll be asking $6K for.

            A same vintage GM small SUV does not rust in Ohio. I also feel it’s easier to find loaded GM versions of that era, where the 4R Limited is hard to come by (and usually in that ugly hunter green color in that gen).

          • 0 avatar
            gtemnykh

            Haha You’ve described my 96 to a T!! It’s a garage baby hunter green over anthracite with 100k miles that I bought for $6350 a few months ago. Never seen a winter since 2002, the body is in fantastic shape. It’s at my brother’s right now being refurbished mechanically (new t-belt, plugs/wires, all fluids, new shocks/struts/springs, new brakes, new fan clutch and accessory belts, rebuilt diff lock actuator, new muffler). The cost of all this work? Close to $1750, but I’ll have a basically new 4runner limited when all is said and done. The capability of a $30k FJ cruiser/newer 4runner/Xterra for $8k sounds reasonable. Plus I get the “golden age Toyota” interior fit/finish and build quality.

            Blazers of that gen are definitely not immune to rust, the non-garage queen ones in CNY are pretty scary looking. But my neighbors did have an 00ish Blazer from North Dakota that looked brand new, not a spec of rust! They traded it in on an 02 Explorer for some unknown reason.

          • 0 avatar
            CoreyDL

            Ha, it’s like I know you!

            Definitely I’ve seen some Blazers with rust, but only if they’re REALLY not maintained here in Ohio. If they’ve been washed a little, garaged some – they’re fine.

            VS

            Lots of rust on either of the Japanese options, unless totally cosseted for entire lifespan.

          • 0 avatar
            gtemnykh

            I don’t think the 4runners rust any worse than the domestics, The only bad spots on them that I’ve seen (on the 96-2002 gen) are the steel bumpers get holes in the corners. The 2nd gen 4runners are MUCH worse, they rust on tailgates, all 4 quarterpanels, you name it.

            The Mazdas get rot in the lower front fenders due to inadequate drainage, the rear quarter panel ‘dog legs,’ as well as directly over the rear wheels. Rocker panels start to go too after 10 years. Underneath, the jacking points rot out pretty bad as well, mine’s getting scary :/ My brother’s ’89 with 230k no longer HAS metal there at all!

            I have only observed the blazers from afar, but it seems the bottoms of doors start to rot, as well as rear tailgates. Rocker panels too perhaps? This is speaking of the earlier trucks, like 95-97 maybe? I can’t seem to remember seeing the ones with the facelift suffering too much rot. It does seem that they have a myriad of niggling electrical/trim/mechanical issues, squeaks rattles galore. The fuel injection spider on the 4.3 seems notorious.

  • avatar
    April

    Um, do you know where the term “size queen” originally came from?

  • avatar
    DevilsRotary86

    Mr. Kreutzer,

    I would like to thank you for your articles on Japanese cars and the Japanese automarket. A little bit about me, I am actually a huge fan of Japanese cars. When I say that, I don’t necessarily mean Hondas, Toyotas, etc., but I mean cars actually made in Japan complete with a “J” in the VIN. Of the various new and used cars I and my wife have owned in my life, 7 out of 8 have been Japanese manufactured.

    No, I can’t explain my admittedly irrational preference for Japanese cars. The best I can come up with is that there is a certain kitsch and uniqueness to Japanese cars that I like. Certain details about my car don’t make much sense, and I think they are charming for their quirks. And I admit there might be a little bit of the “grass is always greener on the other side effect”.

    So again, thank you for your insights into this unique market and keep up the writing.

    PS, My current stable:
    ’06 Acura RSX Type-S (Possibly Acura’s last good sports car)
    ’07 Honda Fit (wife’s)
    ’86 Mazda RX-7 GXL (RX-7 turbo without the turbo, neverending project)

    • 0 avatar

      Thank you for that. I have owned just a few Japanese cars over the years and they include an 86 JDM 2.0 liter Supra Turbo, an 86 200SX (US model) and an 02 JDM Mazda MPV van. Mostly I prefer American iron these days but that’s because I think most American cars offer good quality at a good price.

      I am a real fan of older Japanese cars, especially the ones I remember seeing as a kid in the 70s and driving myself from time to time in the 80s and 90s. Those are pretty rare in Japan these days unless you know a collector or live close to a specialty shop. Unfortunately for me, most of those cars are long gone here where I now live in the US Northeast. The Japanese produced a lot of fun relaible little cars back in the day and for the most part they had their own sense of style. In the 90s they pretty much abandoned a lot of that quirkiness and a lot of the fun went away.

      Anyhow, check back tomorrow, I’m working on the companion piece to this article now. It’s mostly done but I have to go back in and add the requisit snarkiness so it fits on TTAC.

      • 0 avatar
        DevilsRotary86

        They lost that quirkiness because like no other car company in the world, they really learned to listen to their US consumers. The Accord is currently a boring midsize automatic sedan because that is exactly what the US market wanted. So often US companies complain about being shut out of the Japanese market and to some degree it is true. However, even if hypothetically the Japanese signed a free trade agreement tomorrow would Ford or GM be successful in Japan? Would they bend over backwards to satisfy local tastes like the Japanese companies did here? Would they build new platforms or modify existing ones to conform to Japanese vehicle tax brackets? I am not so sure, or at the very least it would take them a very long time to figure out the ropes.

        I personally, simply don’t like American cars in general. I don’t like their styling, I don’t like how they layout their interiors, and I don’t like how they tune their engines (too much torque at low RPM, and they have a habit of not breathing as well as I would like at high RPM). I know American cars can offer a good quality car at a good price, but I am willing to pay a little extra for something special and unique. While the Japanese companies are offering quirkiness in everything anymore, there is still some hint of their old selves lurking in the showrooms. The Scion tC reminds me a lot of Toyotas old character for example. There is of course the Scion FR-S/Subaru BRZ. Mazda has not lost as much of its charm like its bigger brothers, especially in the Miata and the new 3/6. Honda’s CRZ is an admittedly disappointing attempt but that character is still somewhere in there. Or consider my wife’s Honda Fit which I understand to be one of the most popular cars in Japan right now. From what I read they just flipped the wheel to the other side of the car, slapped in a few extra cup holders, gave it a slightly bigger L-series engine than in the Japanese market, and called it a day. And finally, let’s not forget the Infiniti G37 coupe nee Nissan Skyline GT370 Coupe or the Nissan Z. I can still find good Japanese steel in the US, I just have to pay extra for it. I don’t mind doing so either. The only thing that is outright missing are Japanese utility vehicles (like these vans).

        OK, rant over. I think I made my point somewhere in there. Not sure where. No I am not a professional writer.

  • avatar
    Big Al from Oz

    These Mitsubishi vans are a very popular grey import into Australia, especially as 4×4 diesels.

    There is an Australian company called Wicked Campers. These guys really know how to market to the backpacker consumer.

    They make it in the news every now and then with some of the graffiti like comments on their vans. I see a lot of them up here in the Top End of Australia.

    This campervan company would have to be one of the most politically incorrect companies in the world. The US and I might think the Europeans aren’t as ‘liberal’ as us.

    Interesting article in this link from a feminist blog site.

    http://www.dailylife.com.au/news-and-views/dl-opinion/why-women-should-boycott-wicked-campervans-20130207-2dztn.html

    Here is a link to Britz a hire company we have here in Australia. Have a look at the Hiace hi-top vans. Hiaces have grown in size here, both physically and power wise. We one at work and it moves along quite well. But the van can be uncomfortable.

    http://www.britz.com.au/campervan-hire-australia

    Again, another article to highlight how the US market with its technical barriers and tariffs prevent the citizens of the US from recieving some great vehicles.

  • avatar
    windsormarxist

    Here in the UK, we have many of these Delicas- both the ‘cabover’ early model and the later bulbous style. Mostly, they are seen on illegal caravan sites and used for building work of various sorts. However, you do see some of the high-spec Delicas that are a joy to behold. These are the Japanese version of 4×4 luxury that are as typically Japanese as Range Rover walnut veneer, leather and dodgy electrics are typically British. A high spec 4×4 Delica has everything you could want, even if you’re an 80 year old maiden aunt- broughamtastic button velour upholstery- check. Deep pile carpet- check. 4×4 and low range- check. wraparound skylights? check. Then the spec starts to get silly- twee little curtains with cloth bow ties? yep. And last but by no means least, white lace doilies for all seats. After all, you wouldn’t want to go mud plugging without your headrest doilies, would you?

  • avatar
    Beerboy12

    I am quite familiar with the Hi-Ace. I agree, it would do well here in the US because, it is very durable, even in the wrong hands…

  • avatar

    I think my fat fingers and the small buttons on the tablet I use in the evenings caused me to delete someone’s comment by mistake a few minutes ago as I was trying to reply to it. In answer to the question about the other, JDM vans, the Freed, the Noah, the Alphard, Stepwagn, etc, I have another piece like this one on the schedule for later today.

    Unless there is a real desire for me to go on with a series about JDM vans I will go back to writing about my stateside search. It has been so long since I have driven some of these that I am trying to stick with ones I spent a lot of time in and the ones that left a lasting impression on me.

    I’m sorry that I deleted your comment, it was a good question that deserved an answer. Let me know if I missed any of your points.

  • avatar
    -Nate

    ” Some Kreutzers are violinists but my branch of the family runs more towards Early to bed, early to rise yadda yadda yadda.”

    This is not a bad thing ~ the roads are usually open in the wee hours and the sun rises you get to see can be awesome .

    Plus it’s cooler in the pre dawn darkness , this makes the Vintage Tin run better .

    -Nate

  • avatar
    sching

    Thomas, the comment you deleted was likely mine, but I see your new post today does talk about a couple of the MPVs I mentioned.

    My only other comment is that some of these models (e.g. the non-mini-van 7-seat Honda Odyssey) are available in markets outside of Japan – Australia in the case of the Odyssey – so parts availability might be less problematic.

    • 0 avatar

      I apologize for that. I was only recently given the ability to approve/disapprove posts in the comments on articles I write. I’m still not sure how I managed to delete your post or where I sent it, but it deserved an answer.

      I could buy parts for pretty much anything sold in the states on a us website like Rockauto and have them shipped to me wherever I am, so you are right I don’t need to stick with an American made van, I just want to.


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