Not a lot of automakers can boast that they've been in the business for 100 years. The latest car company to join the club is Mitsubishi and in the span of a century, they've built some of the most iconic cars we've seen.
Mitsubishi has consistently been one of the strongest manufacturers in the country and has built and imported vehicles that have become engrained in Filipino culture. Needless to say, Mitsubishi is a brand that is close to the hearts and minds of Filipinos.
As we celebrate a century of Mitsubishi Motors, we take a look at some of the cars that left a lasting impression in the country.
The 1970's were tough not just in the Philippines but also worldwide. The fuel crisis saw the demise of many muscle cars and the idea of anything sporty seemed to be dead in the water. And then came the Mitsubishi Celeste. With its shrunken muscle car looks, the Celeste was one of the few bright spots in the local motoring industry during the tumultuous decade.
In stock form, the spec sheet wasn't really that impressive. It mustered 85 PS from its 1.6-liter engine but it was only a matter of time before mechanics and enthusiasts alike started tinkering with it. Couple that with its sub one ton weight and the Celeste proved to be a zippy car to drive according to those who owned them. The car also received a bit of notoriety in the early 80's with the Celeste Gang, a group of youngsters who committed several armed robberies at the time.
To most of the populace of the era, the Minica was the stereotype caricature of a truly small car. The Minica was an outlier in the strict classification of cars that can be sold in the local market of the Seventies as dictated by the BOI [Board of Investments], the overlords of the PCMP. Neither was it the only really small car available locally as Honda, a member of the local manufacturing Motorcycle monopoly [PMMP] was testing the waters with their wagoner, a little hatch powered by a Honda twin cylinder motor.
The Minica was powered by a liquid cooled twin cylinder mounted in front but driving the rear wheels. Besides the 2nd generation boxy 2-door, there was a micro van with sliding doors where the engine was mid-mounted like the late 90's Toyota Lite Ace. A later generation, with more bulbous and less utilitarian styling also made it to market. If ever, the Minica was the push that encouraged government to explore expanding local car manufacturing to include smaller cars, which later gave birth to the so-called People's car category. Ironically, the Minica was not even a candidate for that assembly program. Among other things, the Minica is best remembered as Paper Copier [Xerox, U-Bix] delivery/salesman's company car, as well as the tongue twister: Minimikaniko ni Monico ang makina ng Minica ni Monica.
Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution V
Say Mitsubishi to motorsport enthusiasts and the first thing they imagine is Tommi Makkinen piloting the Lancer Evolution on rough roads and, occasionally, in the air. Fans of the World Rally Championship rejoiced when MMPC launched the Lancer Evolution V in the country back in the mid-90's. It was our chance to buy a championship-winning rally car and park it on our driveway.
The allure of the Lancer Evolution was hard to resist. Jargon like – twin-side, free-flow, cam 6, cam 5, blueprinting, port n polish, 4-2-headers, plus the mix of solid promotion and marketing of this Rally winning machine. As our Inside Man put it, The Evo V was part of a long series of 4WD street legal turbocharged winged rallye machines that topped 200bhp. It was such a nimble and powerful package it could well keep up with high performance super cars on both the straight and the twisting. It could eat muscle cars for breakfast. Best of all, all EVO's didn't have a racer's hot-blooded temperament when driving through the thick traffic of a typical Asian City.
Mitsubishi Pajero Fieldmaster
The last of the old school Pajero in a market crowded by turbo-charged crdi 4WD's and lighter/nimbler Crossovers. Ten years before it bowed out, it was still the hands down favorite for SUV types, easily outselling the Isuzu Trooper [both turbo diesel and V-6 gas] and the truck-like Nissan Patrol. In its final years, the tarmac fendered Pajero 's pre-combustion chamber diesel engine gained a turbo to keep it current against its crossover rivals with their far more powerful and efficient crdi turbos.
Truth be told, none of the new-style SUV's and crossovers could even match the Pajero's easy to handle nature. But that's because SUV dimensions were far less corpulent in those days [Eighties] as they didn't have to carry all that excess beam and weight all because of the dictates of modern manufacturing and crash safety regs. Like the Lancer box-type before it, the Pajero only ceased Philippine production when the Head Office closed down the last assembly line and cancelled orders for spare parts of this model.
If you're reading this, you've probably ridden in an L300 at some point in your life. It doesn't matter if it's the FB or the Versa Van, it's safe to say that many of us have had memories with Mitsubishi's long-running workhorse. Call it crude and basic by today's standards but it has all the basic ingredients that make it an effective hauler, both for business, and for families. Solid, dependable and robust, it was, and still is, a vehicle that fulfilled the needs of its owner.
Based on a chassis that dates back to 1979, the L300 sticks to the mantra, 'if it ain't broke, don't fix it'. Sure, there are newer, more refined, more powerful options out there. But when the going gets tough, one can always rely on the good old L300.
Before the Adventure, Asian Utility Vehicles (AUVs) were boxy, crude and as basic as they come. When Mitsubishi Motors Philippines debuted the Adventure in September 1997, it brought the AUV to the next level in the Philippines. From the start there were bare models to cater to those who needed a work horse, as well as well-appointed trim lines that were impressive at that time. With a wide variety of models available, that meant there was an Adventure for everyone. Given that more seats are a plus with Filipino families, Mitsubishi's long-standing AUV proved to be a hit.
To this day, the Adventure proves to be a classless vehicle and it still sells in strong numbers. Recently, MMPC announced that 2017 will be the end of the line for the Adventure. At 20 years old , it's no spring chicken and with no replacement on the horizon, we probably won't see another car like it.
Mitsubishi Montero Sport (Second Generation)
It was the late 2000's and the fight for pickup-based SUV (PPV) supremacy was about to reach its boiling point. Mitsubishi made their entry into the segment with the first-generation Montero Sport. Handicapped by its smaller size and the lack of third-row seats, it was overshadowed by one particular PPV. Enter, the second-generation Montero Sport.
Bigger on the inside and out, it now had the goods to take on the establishment on the time and it did. Coupled with a blend of comfort and a wide range of punchy engines, along with seven-seat practicality, Filipinos warmed up quickly to it. The second-generation Montero Sport was such a big hit for Mitsubishi, it occasionally topped the segment's sales charts. Perhaps you could even say it set the tone for the second wave of PPVs.
Mitsubishi Galant GTI
This, perhaps, is the car that brought the idea of a sport sedan to the Philippine masses. To understand the impact of the Galant GTI, set yourself in the early 90's. At the time, the local automotive industry was getting back on its feet after years of stagnation, both in vehicle selection and technologies. Mainstream cars barely nudged past the 100 horsepower mark and idea of fuel injection, multicams and other advances were alien to many. So imagine how impressed people were when they saw the specs of the Galant GTI
With 16-valves, Multi-point fuel injection, twin camshafts and 144 PS from the 2.0-liter engine, it was revolutionary at the time. The idea of a car that could reach 100 km/h under 10 seconds back in the early 90's must have been truly impressive and it is still brisk, even by today's standards. It had good handling and, to some degree, motorsports heritage thanks to its more powerful sibling, the VR-4. Drive one today and it will still be an involving steer, whether on the road or track.
Mitsubishi Pajero (First Generation)
As our Inside Man put it, the first-generation Pajero saw the birth of the SUV craze in the country. In his words, car enthusiasts in the 80's who wanted to ape the small but swiftly growing fans of SUVs in the USA, would have very limited choices here. He could either go for the aging and bare bones Isuzu Trooper 2-door, the Philippine Mail's favorite Suzuki Beaver or the pricey thirsty crude heavy truck, the Nissan Patrol. By now, local car nuts were getting to see familiar international TV footages of the new symbols of the United Nations relief efforts in war torn countries; White Nissan Patrols and Mitsubishi Pajeros.
With our fast deteriorating roads during the Cory Aquino regime, Mitsubishi was wise to spec the local market Pajero to high profile radial tires mounted on aggressive looking alloy wheels. Taking a page from the lesson of the fast selling L300, Mitsubishi also specced the high roof version for our first gen Pajero and stuck to just one model – the 5-door.
Thus the Pajero became the new style icon of the rich. It was not unusual for rich households to own both – the L300 to do real hauling while the Pajero squeezed as many relations into its 3 rows of 6 seats. Not that the 3rd row and the ridiculously thin padding on the 2nd row were particularly comfortable places to sit. At least the fat tires did most of to flatten road surface imperfections. And so did the mono shock absorber mounted driver's seat. The Pajero introduced the inclinometer to many a newbie SUV owner and from then on, many associated the inclinometer as a Pajero first. A prestige wagon if you will and it started a cult that keeps being imitated many decades later.
Mitsubishi Lancer (Box-type)
Of course, this article wouldn't be complete if we didn't mention the Lancer box-type. Perhaps a symbol of resiliency, the Lancer Box Type stuck with us through thick and thin while doing battle with external forces like foreign exchange crises and political upheavals in government. Inside Man Tito Hermoso says the brand's long list of long serving evergreen models – L300, Fieldmaster, Adventure – owes it all to the Box type Lancer. He adds that even though it wasn't designed to be timeless, its plain planes and straight edge rendered lines were to prove it strength in a sea of compound curves and wedges.
But it got the basics right – smooth absorbent simple suspension, spacious, clean dashboards, easy maintenance and easy to build. Moreover, to the tuner inclined, this was a Lancer and there was whole lot of aftermarket parts to turn a humble model into a GSR, turbo or even an EVO. With Delta Motors shuttered, the Lancer faced down its only nemesis on the local charts – Nissan. From the modern style front wheel driven Stanza to the Sentra and even the 2-door Pulsar, nothing could have been as contrasting as a box type Lancer.
Don't feel bad if your Mitsubishi didn't make it to the top ten list. With such a wide selection to choose from, it was tough to narrow it down to just ten. With that, here are the honorable mentions.
Starting with the first-generation Lancer, also known as the L-Type and Bar-type, it set the tone for for Mitsubishi's C-Segment stalwart and it is still cherished to this day. There's also the rich Galant line with the Sigma and Lambda, plus the more contemporary versions, the Rayban, bringing V6 power to the masses, and the Shark Galant. Worth mentioning is the Lancer GSR, which is practically the indirect successor of the much-loved Celeste.
Although somewhat overshadowed by the Toyota Hilux, the Mitsubishi L200 Strada can be called an icon as it put up a fight in its segment. We'll also mention the Cimmaron which paved the way for the L300. Speaking of making inroads, the Colt Galant was one of the cars that started it all for Mitsubishi in the Philippines and it deserves to be called an icon as well.
If there's one noteworthy thing about Mitsubishi in the Philippines, it's the fact that they never left event during the country's darkest times. The brand was always present and ready to serve the motoring masses. Mitsubishi have also had their fair share of troubles but that hasn't stopped them from churning out some of the most iconic cars around.
Happy 100th Mitsubishi. Here's to another century of motoring.