By on May 15, 2020

Rare Rides has featured a couple of JDM import vans previously, namely the Mazda Bongo and Toyota Town Ace. Today’s van is of similar JDM fashion, except this Mitsubishi is one of the few examples actually sold in North America during the model’s very short domestic run.

Let’s learn a bit more about the only large van Mitsubishi ever sold in America. Once again, it’s Van Time.

Known by various names all over the world, Mitsubishi’s van offering was always called Delica at home. It entered production late in 1968 for the ’69 model year, and consisted of a cargo van body applied to a tiny cab-over pickup. Simple as it was, the Delica established itself as an almost immediate market success around the world. Especially successful in Indonesia, the tiny van was marketed as the Colt. Colt branding was so powerful the word was adopted into local lexicon to mean small van.

1979 brought with it a second-generation Delica that was much larger, carrying an appearance more consistent with a modern cab-over Japanese van. Another long-lived generation, the second Delica was in production for most markets through 1986. It lived through 2018 in Indonesia, and its Seventies design continues production in the Philippines today.

In 1986, the third-generation Delica expanded the lineup with regard to branding, engine, and transmission offerings. Wearing 13 different badges depending on market, the Delica was initially produced in five different countries. It was popular enough that Mitsubishi extended its run through 2013, and the van is still made in Taiwan today. Available engines included various inline-fours burning gasoline and diesel, and ranging in displacement from 1.4 liters to 2.6 liters. Transmissions were of four, five, or six speeds, and included manual and automatic varieties. Four-wheel drive was available in some configurations.

Japanese manufacturers were caught by surprise with the instant success of the Chrysler minivan in the mid-Eighties. Prior to 1987, Mitsubishi offered no van in the North American market; the closest product was the Expo MPV. Hopeful they could shift an all-new product in America, Mitsubishi brought over their Van and Wagon for the 1987 model year. Van was chosen as the label for cargo carrying Mitsubishis with no side windows, while Wagon was used for passenger version. The only available engine for North American market vans was the largest 2.4-liter gasoline unit (which would later power the Eclipse).

However, North Americans never warmed too well to cab-over vans, no matter who tried to shift them. The poor crash protection, awkward entry and exit, and less-than-ideal handling put customers straight into domestic showrooms (and forced creation of product like the Honda Odyssey and Toyota Sienna). Available only until 1990, the Mitsubishi Van and Wagon were quickly forgotten. Enthusiast interest continues for the international four-wheel-drive Delica models, which are regularly imported to the US by an enterprising specialist dealer.

Today’s Rare Ride was for sale in San Francisco, with a pristine brown velour interior. With its rarity and superb condition, it lasted online just two days before being sold. The ask was $3,400.

[Images: seller]

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18 Comments on “Rare Rides: The 1988 Mitsubishi Wagon, Forgotten Long Ago...”

  • avatar

    I see some of these used JDM vehicles coming off Ro-Ro ships. All 25 years old plus 1 day. All very clean, low mileages ( no more than 35,000 miles) like they were kept in time capsules. Lots of cab over vans, mostly Toyota and Nissan though, all with diesel engines ( simple, indestructible), right hand drive and auto transmissions. Also I’ve seen lots of early 90s Land Cruisers also extremely clean. There must be a decent size market for these JDMs since I see them quite often

    • 0 avatar

      Living in Seattle we have a number of local importers/dealers that specialize in those 25+1 vehicles, though they also have some stuff that is only for sale to Canada that I guess they couldn’t pass up. Delicias go quick often listed as pending sale before they reach port at the dealer who’s website I check fairly regularly.

      Here is my current favorite would make a great little beach cruiser.

  • avatar

    I’d bet the only time most Americans have seen one in the past few years has been in DriveTime’s commercials. I saw a Van variant just a few months back in amazingly good shape.
    I still spot the Toyota ones in wrecking yards pretty regularly, but the one you’ll never see here are the Nissans which, IIRC were all recalled/bought back due to a fire hazard.

    • 0 avatar

      The last Nissan Van that I recall seeing was around 1991, sitting in the breakdown lane of I-40 in SE Raleigh, NC, fully engulfed in flames. Fire crew had not even reached it yet.

  • avatar

    We had this wagon in light blue with grey interior. Quite a rare sight indeed.

    Definitely drove like a truck but was quite roomy and practical. The sliding and rotating second row captains seat was a neat touch and very useful during road trips (though being a Mitsubishi, a lot of things broke after few years).

  • avatar

    Mouse hair overload! Lol, that angled, plasticy dash always reminds me of the weird smell Japanese cars had back then

    • 0 avatar

      I thought it was kind of a melted crayons in the sun kind of smell – some VWs still have that plastic aroma.

      When I was younger and we needed a people hauler, my parents looked at both the Mitsubishi and Nissan vans like this one. 4-cyl, no power whatsoever when loaded with kids and cargo. That, and I don’t think they felt safe with the tipping feeling and having their legs as the crumple zone (remember the Volvo ads showing the 740 wagon vs this van in a front crash test?)

      I don’t recall the Nissan van having the carpeted ledge between the front and middle seats – was that just a Mitsubishi thing or have my memories deceived me? Huge ledge where legs and feet should go – not the most comfortable way to spend your time as the miles pass by.

  • avatar
    Arthur Dailey

    Were these sold in Canada? For that model year, I cross shopped the Nissan Multi/Axxess, Eagle Summit/Dodge Colt wagon, Toyota ‘tall boy’ wagon and the Honda Civic AWD ‘wagovan’, selecting the Honda.

    Don’t even remember seeing any of these on any of the lots that I visited.

    • 0 avatar

      I don’t think they sold them new, at least in the preferred brown diesel variation, based on the number of RHD versions I see with British Columbia License plates running around in western WA, that have been imported under Canada’s 15 year rule.

  • avatar

    Looking at the link it looks like I should be in the business of driving those JDM imports across the US. Those asking prices are an easy $5k more than what they ask at the dealers around here. With the fact that many have seats that fold into beds I’d camp along the way.

  • avatar

    Show this article to your F-150, so it understands the origin of its mirror/door dip (2004MY forward).

  • avatar

    Bus drivers have been pointing out the safety ramifications of the cab forward driving position they are forced to adopt for decades. Meeting a concrete mixer truck, in a hurry on downtown streets to dump its load before it starts to set, was always a one-time experience.

    Still, I like the styling of this van. Something just right about it. And the mousehair colored interior? Let me at it. I need to sink me down into some proper plastic plush.

    • 0 avatar

      I’ve sat inside a Toyota JDM when I saw it at our port and yes, getting out I felt like a commercial driver since you’re sitting on a shelf on the wheel, or so it feels like. The view out is beautiful but yeah…cement trucks can be hazardous to ones health.

  • avatar

    A JDM vehicle with left-hand steering? I didn’t know there was such a thing.

  • avatar

    *its downfall, not it’s

  • avatar

    Back in the 1990s I knew a few guys that had the Van version, no side windows. They used them to transport motorcycles. You could get two dirt bikes or one road race bike inside. With the doors closed no one would know it was there. Much more secure than a pickup and easier loading due to lower floor. Usually had a plywood divider installed behind the seats.

  • avatar

    I have one in almost mint condition. I bought the 1988 Mitsubishi Van Wagon new in 1988, I’m the original owner and it’s never been in an accident. It’s white like the one above. Always garaged. It has over 200k miles on it and ran perfectly when I parked it last about 8 years ago. Clean title and California Non-OP current. I’m sur it would take some work to get it running due to sitting so long, gas would have to be purged and such. I was fortunate to buy an additional 1989 blue one for spare parts which I still have and would be included if someone was interested in purchasing them. I love that van it was so reliable and comfortable to drive, travel in, and had lots of power despite what some have said. I parked it because I’m older now and had no need for it but never sold it. It’s a treasure! I thought it would be a perfect EV conversion for someone! I would like to sell it to someone who would love it as I have.

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