Feral Cars fan Byron Laursen writes to tell us about his 1990 Mitsubishi Montero. It was Mitsu’s entry in the burgeoning market for Japanese-built SUVs a few decades back when everybody and his uncle fielded a contender. Remember the Isuzu Trooper? The Daihatsu Rocky? Suzuki Sidekick?
We’ll let Byron jump in here.
The Vietnam War was a real good thing for Mitsubishi. They built our armed forces a passel of Army Jeeps for the Southeast Asian Fog-of-War Follies, and then had beaucoup R&D funds for their subsequent stabs at America’s domestic market.
Probably inspired by Ford’s Bronco and International Harvester’s Scout, and thoroughly schooled in building rugged off-roaders, they engineered a four-wheel drive machine with discretely feralicious macho appeal. Not so much hip as square of line in a Range Rover-emulating way, stealing Brit influence years before the Mazda Miata riffed on the Lotus Elan shape.
To suggest it had lithe, big-cat manners crossing rugged terrain, they called it the Mitsubishi Pajero, after the South American Pampas Cat – or Leopardus Pajero to biology majors. Then someone told them about Mexican slang, that fecund zone of the Spanish language, in which “pajero” means “he who pummels his own pestle,” “he who wrassles his own wombat,” or “he who massages his own monsignor.”
Pajero badges disappeared, and instead the Mitsubishi Montero (meaning something like Mountain Man) was shipped to most Mitsu-selling destinations. In the UK, showrooms held Mitsubishi Shoguns.
The breed lasted from 1982 to 2006 in the US. This 1990 example loiters in Santa Ynez, a Sideways country town north of Santa Barbara, where its a “valley car,” a hauler in semi-retirement, approaching 200K on the odometer, running local errands and seldom traversing the mountains for which this former rock-crawler is named.
Mitsubishi sold about three hundred thousand of these first-generation models, then sheepishly rounded off the square corners in 1991 and onward, until their Montero eventually began to, like everybody else’s Cute Ute, be drained of its former feralocity.
It’s powered by a three-liter V6 and features a dash-mounted Tilt-o-meter, essentially a painted orb bobbing in fluid, only able to give accurate readings when the car is stock-still. So it can’t tell you when you’re about to tip over, but it will let you know when you already have.
The jokey license plate frame describes the niche Mitsubishi was trying to grab –something jaunty, yet much cheaper than the notoriously unreliable Brit snob wagon, which was equally squarish but designed to make owners come off like Country Squires, and not the FoMoCo variety. The firefighter decal dates to a previous owner, but remains as an effective ticket-deflector. What local cop would ever write up a volunteer fireman?
Did you know that Chrysler offered a badge engineered version of the Montero? They called it the Dodge Raider and, despite conjuring up the most macho NFL-sanctioned thuggery, it found virtually no buyers. A Montero by any other name just didn’t smell right. Our friends at Bring A Trailer found one on Ebay. Get your bid in now if you’d like this anomaly in your carport and here’s a period TV commercial for Montero that makes the case that its off-road attributes are appropriate for the urban jungle. Cute but, ahem, we have no truck with that assertion.
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