By on September 8, 2010

[In addition to the the Mitsubishi, here’s another vanup for all you fans of the genre, and a domestic brand at that]

The auto market prides itself on niche marketing. New body styles that we never imagined that there was a need for spring forth from the ever-fertile minds of the industry marketing boffins, and appear out of nowhere, like the “Sports Activity Vehicle” (BMW X6). But there’s one that’s been long overlooked: the van-up. Combining the best of two highly popular segments, the van-up offers unparalleled space utilization and utility. Well, if the manufacturers aren’t going to build one, a person just needs to roll up his sleeves and set to it. It’s the American way:

Finding this vehicle on the street provided a bigger than average hit to my CC-finding addiction. It may not be equally thrilling for you; to each their own. I would have been pretty excited even if it were an original Mitsubishi Van, given how scarce they’ve become. But this home-built concoction is awesome; as an inveterate (house) re-modeler (“honey, look at the wall/roof I took down today”), I love when folks take the SawZall or cutting torch to a car, and give their creativity scope. Even more so, when the result is highly practical. Art cars are fun, but this is right up my alley. Oh, and he has the only remaining un-altered Mitsu van in town too.

Yes, this guy has the Mitsubishi van market cornered in Eugene. He’s been driving them for years (decades?), and loves them. So when he came across a rear-end damaged one, he saved it from its inevitable fate, and turned it into his dream vehicle, with a pick-up bed and storage compartments underneath. It’s a well thought out affair, even allowing him to slide long pieces of lumber into their own nook. The advantages of building you own vehicle: everything goes just where you want it to. And I’ve had the pleasure of watching it progress, from its crude beginnings.

This vehicle is a rolling protest to the excesses of today’s giant pickups. It probably has more interior space and almost as much cargo space as the giant jacked-up Mega-Cabbed beasts prowling our streets with their un-muffled over-boosted  giant turbo-diesels; sort of the Prius of pickups. Very Eugene indeed.

The Mitsubishi van jumped into the mini-van orgy of the mid eighties, along with the much more popular Toyota van and Nissan’s. Eugene is absolutely chock-full of the Toyotas, as they all seem to come here for their retirement years, and are apparently immortal. They’ll get their own CC soon. And the Nissan version makes for an interesting story too: the polar opposite of the ubiquitous and rugged Toyota, as Nissan recalled them all and offered to buy them back from their owners. Try finding one of them. I have.

These Japanese vans were essentially 8/10 scale versions of the original Econoline-type van first built in the US in 1960, with their engine between the front seats and RWD. They’re highly pragmatic, simple and very rugged, and they and their numerous off-shoots are still being built by the millions in developing countries (China, among others). It makes for a very compact vehicle, albeit a front-heavy one. But unlike the American vans, they did have independent front suspension and available four wheel drive, resulting in some pretty remarkable off-road capable variants.

Realistically, these old Japanese vans are the true successors to the VW bus and van: a simple box, easy and cheap to keep running. And since VW made a double cab pickup, it’s only natural that someone would make their own successor to that highly desirable but now rare piece of machinery. What will take its place twenty years from now?

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30 Comments on “Curbside Classic: 1987 Mitsubishi Van-Up...”

  • avatar

    We see many , many of these with RHD  in vancouver BC, many are Turbo diesel, 2 things i dont like 1) the driver is sitting right up front i dont wanna to say it but kind of too close for comfort.
    2 ) RHD it can be awkward if to make a left hand turn, in Van traffic can be hectic even if u sat on the left side, so a few ft over the right it can be hard on your nerves at times.
    Now as I know our Ins co why is province owned ( ICBC aka Icky Bicky ) have identified cars with RHD so some day the ins rate could go different way, they could monitor them easily if they should have a higher rate.
    Other than that it truly does fill the void of not having diesels here. We basically dont  have this configuration of vehicle. None the less Dsl do offer more smile per gallon, less finnicky than gas especially coming to Emission tests, we have which can be very annoying when u dont pass.

  • avatar

    Couldn’t agree more with your comment about today’s monster-truck PUs. Used to have a ’77 Datsun King Cab–the first year for that model–which I enjoyed a lot, except for its hard-bottom ride. Looked the other day to see what small Japanese pickups are like, thinking it would be fun to have one again, and learned that they’ve all swollen into giants. Yuck.

  • avatar

    Plus, Japanese FREE CANDY is much cooler than American. Squid-flavored jelly beans? Yes, please.

  • avatar
    Educator(of teachers)Dan

    Invention, meet your mother, Necessity.

    My father, the John Deere salesman, has a customer who owns a lawn care/landscaping business. He bought an unfinished Ford Ambulance chassis (E350) just to slap a flat bed on it and turn it into the perfect vehicle for his lawn business. He didn’t feel a need to sit 6 ft off the ground and have insane ground clearance just to go mow someone’s lawn or plant a tree. And if I remember correctly the whole conversion was pretty stinking cheap compared to a new pickup.

    • 0 avatar

      Sounds like a smart guy. What you usually see is lawn-care equipment (mower) on a low trailer being pulled behind a pickup. An E350 cab-chassis with a flatbed sounds like a better solution, at least in terms of ease-of-use.

      OTOH, I have no doubt that a low trailer behind a ratty old pickup is still cheaper than a new, custom E350.

  • avatar

    I have to agree about the huge, unmuffled, diesel pickups. They’re everywhere in MN. Most people here buy them because they HAVE to have a 4×4 to cope with snow. I say this because I’ve maybe seen 4 newish trucks in 4 months that were actually loaded with gear and looked as if they had been somewhere other than a garage or a car wash.

    The other day I saw somebody in a Dodge Ram (not sure if it was new enough to be a Ram whatever they call them) that purportedly had a Hemi and didn’t sound like it had a muffler. Long story short, I don’t know if these trucks come with manuels or shiftable automatics or what, but this one sounded like it was holding onto gears way too long. I’m guessing the guy thought it sounded cool or something, but I thought it sounded like crap. He was also driving like an a$$hole and that is was got me to notice because the trucks are everywhere (cockroaches meet your automotive equivalent).

  • avatar

    Having driven one for deliveries for a while, and being the owner of a full-size PU right now, I’ll take the PU any day.
    It’s one thing to look at these vans through rose colored glasses, it’s quite another to drive these penalty boxes.  Built for Japanese physiques, they would leave me hunchbacked at the end of the day.  My kidneys, knees and spine thanked me when I said goodbye to the delivery job, and the van.
    TTAC, Jalopnik, autoblog, etc. all seem to have the same group of sanctimonious commenters.  Sports cars with dismal gas mileage that have no function other than propelling 1 (or maybe 2) people down the road, very fast, are applauded and lusted after.
    But god forbid someone likes to drive a pickup; then suddenly it’s all about waste, necessity, and other adjectives that have no place on a site like TTAC.
    IMO of course.

    • 0 avatar

      I couldn’t care less what people want to drive. To each their own. What bothers me is when people think that what they drive gives them license to drive like a fool. I see it equally among people who drive trucks and expensive cars. If you’re not a jerk to me I will leave you alone and let you drive what you want, but I get tired of being tailgated on the freeway even after I’m driving well above the speed limit by somebody who thinks they own the road. I see this far more with big trucks and expensive cars than I do with vanilla sedans.

    • 0 avatar
      Paul Niedermeyer

      I happen to own and drive a full sized American pickup:
      I do advocate for more alternatives, as I don’t think big pickups are always the best choice. To each their own.

    • 0 avatar

      Its not straight up pickups that draw the commentary, its the sort of laughably lifted oversize behemoths that seem to populate the road these days. For example, the woman that owns the espresso shack at the end of my street drives a late model, lifted, Ford F-350 Crew cab with enough rubber underneath for a swamp buggy. It also has maybe 500lbs of chrome, stylish not functional custom wheels, and a finish that is so flawless that you wonder if the truck has ever seen rain, much less been used for any carrying or off road purpose. That is the sort of truck that gives all pickup owners a bad name. With that much lift and rubber it can’t even be good to drive, horrible straight line stability, laughable handling etc.

  • avatar
    Sammy B

    If the front-end crash rating could be acceptable, it would be GREAT if an asian manufacturer could bring these back to the US.  Scion or Kia would be a good fit I think.  As you mentioned, these are popular many, many other places in the world and I think they’d find a small but dedicated market in the US.
    I love my 84 Toyota Van (5 speed!) and would be thrilled to find a similar new vehicle (other than the Mazda5….which is fine, but not the same of course).

  • avatar

    I find it remarkable that the market for that kind of vehicle doesn’t exist stateside, because in Europe, it’s highly visible. The van-derived double cab pickup essentially fills the need that the full-size crew cab pickups do in the US. Especially Volkswagen is keen on the matter, here an example from the older LT-series, which in form reminds me a lot of that home made Mitsubishi concoction:

  • avatar

    Man up… in your van-up.

  • avatar

    As promised: facepalm!

  • avatar

    No photo of the right-hand (curb/passenger) side?  How does the sliding door work?

    • 0 avatar
      Paul Niedermeyer

      I know; I forgot to shoot it. I’m pretty sure he worked the rail into the bed, which may partially explain how high it is. If I see it again, I’ll shoot it. My bad.

  • avatar
    Lord Bodak

    My dad had one of the Nissans, an ’87.  It was a great van, tons of space.  He did all the recalls but refused the buyback.  Around 190k miles part of the cooling system failed and it was one of the parts that was specific to the van, so they couldn’t source it.  He sold it in 2002 to someone who managed to fabricate a replacement part.  Last time I saw it on the road was around 2005, but it might still be running.

  • avatar

    The Toyota vans seem to have survived in decent numbers just about everywhere. The Mitsubishis are quite rare now, and thanks to the recall and buy-back, the Nissans are almost non-existent.

    There is one of these Mitsu vans parked at an auto repair shop in a nearby town. It has been there for some time and I wonder if it runs?[email protected]/3705647124/

    Here is an older photo of a U.S. market Nissan van.

    One of the rarest minivans in the U.S. is the 1990 Nissan Axxess. These were sold in Canada from 1990-95, but were only sold for one year (1990) in the U.S.[email protected]/4034504115/

  • avatar

    Conceptually, it reminds me of the Centurion E-350 conversions.  I believe for those, they took an E-350 cab and chassis, put a custom rear cab onto the back, then tacked basically a pickup bed behind that.  Like this:

  • avatar

    Mitsu L300 came from the factory in van-up variety. A company for which I contracted in 1991 in Moscow had one of each normal van and van-up. Unfortunately I do not remember how the sliding door was implemented on the demi-truck.

  • avatar

    Great article, I think I still see one of these on occasion and this one off variant in a way, reminds me of the old type 2 van/pickups that VW made as had been mentioned in the comments
    I still see the Toyota pickups around here on occasion as well as the old Nissan Maxima tall wagons from the mid to late 80’s, however I can’t recall if I’ve seen the Nissan vans though in a long while.

    I’m in agreement on the jacket up pickups and humvee’s that ply the roads and one time I was driving from Seattle to Tacoma to visit my Mom for the weekend a couple of years ago and got along side a HUGE Humvee, jacked up with huge wheels etc and it made my stock ’92 Ford Ranger truck look small, it literally DWARFED it in height, and the Ranger is no itty bitty truck in its own right, has the rather powerful and large 4.0L V-6 in it as well.

    Like your old ’66 F100, these beasts can take a lickin’ and keep on tickin’, and do so for many, many miles. I currently have 229+K miles on it and it still gets me from point A to B.

  • avatar
    Larry P2

    That guy has a sheer libido for ugly. That looks like something you would get with a drunk farmer and a chainsaw. That is uglier than a windrow of a$$holes.

  • avatar

    I remember when those were launched here in 1992. Even the commercials. Those were the first products Mitsubishi offered here, and they sold well, both in Passeger and Cargo versions.
    Later the passenger one was facelifted. IIRC they had swiveling 2 row seats, A/C everywhere. I think the people movers lasted until 1997.
    The Cargo continued until today, the engined changed to a 2.0 and the gearbox from auto to manual (column shifted in some models). Mitsubishi is the only one providing that product here, and you can name it: Fedex, DHL, UPS, postal/courier whatever, BAT and many other companies uses them. It’s ubiquitous.
    Sadly the local site doesn’t show specs or pics, but they have price. Very nice on them., click listado de precios
    Almost forgot, even loaded, the stupid thing can achieve 100 mph in the highway.

  • avatar

    Gee, I sure don’t feel bad for not getting that clue right.  I don’t think I’ve seen but one or two in my life, if.

  • avatar

    My aunt and uncle in Tennessee had one of these. It was actually a conversion van. I think the plaque on the dash said said it was by Roman Wheels, or something like that. They acquired it from a man that fixed wrecked cars. It had been in a rollover (imagine that). It was about two or three years old when they got it, and they drove it for a long time, making lots of trips to Florida and back with it. I always called it the Mitsubishi Box. It was so ugly that it was cute. They were sad when they finally had to junk it.

  • avatar

    Wow, I was way off. Do you have a Stanza CC in the making?(Please be the 1990-1992)

    These vans are just so cool. Canada never got the L300/Van, as Mitsubishi didn’t come here until 2003. I can’t imagine there are very many remaining, seeing as they didn’t sell too well in the first place. Looking forward to the Nissan van write-up!

    On a side note, this Van could represent Mitsubishi’s NA efforts in a nutshell. A solid product, but no takers. I wonder why the market never warmed to them.

  • avatar

    excellent post. i always think these look like they belong on a sci-fi movie set. last mitsuvan i saw (about a week ago) was lifted up on offroad truck knobbies, but otherwise looked bone stock. this is something altogether better and more interesting.
    so does this eugenite have an exceptional sense of humor?

  • avatar

    It looks a lot like that Toyota Hi-ace that was my school bus in elementary. I remember thinking it looked much better and was more spacious then the Toyota van LE.

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