Rare Rides: The 1988 Mitsubishi Wagon, Forgotten Long Ago

Corey Lewis
by Corey Lewis

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]

Corey Lewis
Corey Lewis

Interested in lots of cars and their various historical contexts. Started writing articles for TTAC in late 2016, when my first posts were QOTDs. From there I started a few new series like Rare Rides, Buy/Drive/Burn, Abandoned History, and most recently Rare Rides Icons. Operating from a home base in Cincinnati, Ohio, a relative auto journalist dead zone. Many of my articles are prompted by something I'll see on social media that sparks my interest and causes me to research. Finding articles and information from the early days of the internet and beyond that covers the little details lost to time: trim packages, color and wheel choices, interior fabrics. Beyond those, I'm fascinated by automotive industry experiments, both failures and successes. Lately I've taken an interest in AI, and generating "what if" type images for car models long dead. Reincarnating a modern Toyota Paseo, Lincoln Mark IX, or Isuzu Trooper through a text prompt is fun. Fun to post them on Twitter too, and watch people overreact. To that end, the social media I use most is Twitter, @CoreyLewis86. I also contribute pieces for Forbes Wheels and Forbes Home.

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2 of 21 comments
  • RandyW RandyW on Feb 13, 2023

    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.

  • Charles Charles on Jun 04, 2023

    I had one and loved it . Seated 7 people . Easy to park , great van

  • Kwik_Shift_Pro4X '19 Nissan Frontier @78000 miles has been oil changes ( eng/ diffs/ tranny/ transfer). Still on original brakes and second set of tires.
  • ChristianWimmer I have a 2018 Mercedes A250 with almost 80,000 km on the clock and a vintage ‘89 Mercedes 500SL R129 with almost 300,000 km.The A250 has had zero issues but the yearly servicing costs are typically expensive from this brand - as expected. Basic yearly service costs around 400 Euros whereas a more comprehensive servicing with new brake pads, spark plugs plus TÜV etc. is in the 1000+ Euro region.The 500SL servicing costs were expensive when it was serviced at a Benz dealer, but they won’t touch this classic anymore. I have it serviced by a mechanic from another Benz dealership who also owns an R129 300SL-24 and he’ll do basic maintenance on it for a mere 150 Euros. I only drive the 500SL about 2000 km a year so running costs are low although the fuel costs are insane here. The 500SL has had two previous owners with full service history. It’s been a reliable car according to the records. The roof folding mechanism needs so adjusting and oiling from time to time but that’s normal.
  • Theflyersfan I wonder how many people recalled these after watching EuroCrash. There's someone one street over that has a similar yellow one of these, and you can tell he loves that car. It was just a tough sell - too expensive, way too heavy, zero passenger space, limited cargo bed, but for a chunk of the population, looked awesome. This was always meant to be a one and done car. Hopefully some are still running 20 years from now so we have a "remember when?" moment with them.
  • Lorenzo A friend bought one of these new. Six months later he traded it in for a Chrysler PT Cruiser. He already had a 1998 Corvette, so I thought he just wanted more passenger space. It turned out someone broke into the SSR and stole $1500 of tools, without even breaking the lock. He figured nobody breaks into a PT Cruiser, but he had a custom trunk lock installed.
  • Jeff Not bad just oil changes and tire rotations. Most of the recalls on my Maverick have been fixed with programming. Did have to buy 1 new tire for my Maverick got a nail in the sidewall.