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Montero Is SUV History
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Author: Brandon Bruun | Editor: Phil Hansford, January, 2001

From Japanese Jeep to today’s Montero, mountain climbing will never be the same.

Geoff Falconars Dodge Raider
Geoff Falconar's Dodge Raider, from Edmonton Alberta, Canada

A cult following of compact SUVs reflects the ever changing designs and types now available in the United States and overseas. Mitsubishi has established itself as a major player in this SUV uproar as evident by its strong history that’s not well known to many folks.

I first noticed a Mitsubishi Montero years after they had been pounding the asphalt with their all-terrain treads. The stout, aggressive two-door body of a 1985 black and gray Monty made my eye twitch with wonder in high school auto shop. The year was 1998 and the Montero was 13 years young, still showing a youthful appeal. Something set this vehicle apart in my mind. I had never recalled seeing one before, but it wasn’t long after my first encounter that I started seeing more and more of the elusive vehicles trekking across the streets of Olympia, WA exhausting a foreign eastern breeze behind them.

In 1917, the first production Model-A car rolled off the assembly line, not in the United States but in Japan. It wasn’t until 10 years later, in 1927, that Henry Ford’s first Model-A was produced. Mitsubishi Mail and Steamship Co. was busy much earlier, having been founded in 1875 by Yataro Iwasaki.

The 1960s and 1970s cross country vehicles produced in the United States raised interest in a compact four-wheeler in Japan. Up until this time, other CCVs were full size such as the Suburban, K5 Blazer, Jeep Wagoneer, and the full size Ford Bronco. Furthermore, despite an even larger following, the Jeep was compact and lacked a car’s creature comforts. Enter the SUV.

In 1982, Mitsubishi released its original SUV known overseas as the Pajero and in North America as the Montero. Originally a two-door vehicle, a four-door model also was produced as the Montero. It was the first vehicle to bridge the gap between civil comfort and true off road power in a compact form.

That could be what caught my eye in the summer of ’98. The Montero wasn’t a small vehicle and it seemed to be possessed by its rugged compact sporty looks, harkening to the American Jeep. Little did I know that in 1953 Mitsubishi produced its first Jeep under license with Willys CO. USA and domestically manufactured the Jeep in Japan, which it continued to stamp with the Mitsubishi diamond until 1998. This partnership undoubtedly led to the innovations visible in Mitsubishi’s own line of original SUVs. In 1992, the Montero got its first makeover. Visible rounded edges and a boost in horsepower stepped away from the boxy but widely accepted ‘80s model.

Alan MacIntyre's SWB 93 Pajero
Alan MacIntyre's 93 Pajero SWB, featured as June 2000's Mitsu of the month

Many factors contributed to the successful debut of the Montero across the world. One year after its first production year in 1983, Pajero won the renowned Paris-Dakar 6,000 mi Rally in the unmodified category. In 1985, the Pajero won outright. What’s more, in 1984, Mitsubishi was the official vehicle supplier for the Olympics in Sarajevo and for the ’87 Universal Games in Zagreb (former Yugoslavia). Pajero was now known world wide. Eager to get in on some off-road action, Dodge also picked up the Pajero in the 1980s and marketed the Dodge Raider alongside its identical predecessor the two-door Montero. Today, only the four door four-wheelers are being imported onto United States soil.

Mitsubishi decided to keep its two-door models out of the United States since the introduction of the 1992 model. The two-door Pajero is very popular, however, in other countries around the world including Australia and New Zealand, not to mention Japan. A plethora of Pajero styles is available in Japan including the Pajero, Pajero Evolution, Mini, iO, and the Challenger, which is known in the United States as the Montero Sport.

It wouldn’t be until 2000 that a new beast of a vehicle would arise from hibernation with styling that some say is inspired by Japanese cartoons. However, the new Montero maintains its brute looks with such grace and beauty that it is anything but comic.

When I first saw the ’85 Montero, I tried to decide that if it were mine whether I would want to lift it or lower it. If you worry that the latest craze of SUVs has left the "sport" and "utility" somewhere in the dust, you’ll be happy to know that the all-new Montero not only got aesthetic upgrades but also increased its stance to a minimum ground clearance of 8.6 inches.

But don’t worry about tipping over.

While the ground clearance was increased, the center of gravity was decreased, and a new monocoque frame is the platform the entire body is built around; not on. At the wheel of Montero’s newfound height is its front independent double wishbone suspension with coil springs and rear independent multi-link suspension with coil springs which is sure to give a comfortable ride on and off road.

Roberto Coleman's 2001 Montero
Roberto Coleman's 2001 Pajero

According to Mitsubishi, the 2001 Mitsubishi Montero is available in two trims: XLS and Limited. Off pavement or on, safety equipment includes dual front and side airbags, an anti-lock brake system (ABS), child-seat tether anchors and child safety locks. Under the hood of the new Montero is a 3.5-liter 200-horsepower V6 engine mated with a 4-speed automatic on the XLS, and a 5-speed automatic on the Limited. Standard features on the XLS include air conditioning, power windows and door locks, cruise control, an AM/FM stereo with CD player, remote keyless entry, a roof rack, alloy wheels, and part-time 4WD. The Limited upgrades with leather seats, a steering wheel trimmed in wood and leather, a premium Infinity stereo system, chrome exterior accents, front fog lights, a powered glass sunroof, a limited-slip rear differential, and most importantly, the shift-on-the-fly Active-Trac 4WD system.

If all this is not enough, you can build your own Montero on-line at www.mitsucars.com and choose from an endless list of options.

Although the 1985 Montero I saw in 1998 had very few amenities compared to the new 2002 models, its old days at the new car dealership in ‘85 were by no means seen as anything but luxury. I guess it was because of its unique timeless splendor that a year later I bought the 1985 Montero unaware of its history and the capabilities it possessed, on or off the beaten roads of life.


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