Rare Rides: The 1988 Mitsubishi Wagon, Forgotten Long Ago
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.
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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.
I didn't know they imported a standard transmission into the US. I'll check my service manual and see if it makes reference to it.