A photo for Sunday: 1986 Mitsubishi L300

This example hoved into the gloomy car park of a shopping centre near me.

1986 Mistubishi L300
1986 Mistubishi L300

Although barely known in Europe it is one of those world cars with a basket of names and functions. It has had eight badges attached to it and has been propelled by eight engines. It’s the Mitsubishi L300.

In Europe the most likely engines for this variant are the 1.6 litre petrol or 2.5 litre diesel engine. For certain markets there is a 4wd version of the vehicle which, I am told has a certain cult following.

1989 Mitsubishi L300 interior: source
1989 Mitsubishi L300 interior: source

If you look inside this one you find captain’s chair and a kitchenette in the back. It has sliding doors so that once you have driven to your location you can open up the side, crack open a beer and enjoy the view. Haven’t we seen this idea presented as a concept car trope by Renault at some point, and also by Citroen? Well, albeit in a rather severe package, here is that very idea.

If you think about it this very much a perfect family car. It can not only take you and the flock to various places but can allow you to be there as well, offering a mobile base for adventures or simply getting some air and some new scenery. While large on the inside it has a length of a mere 4.3 metres so it’s easy to drive around. It’s not wide either. In contrast the comparatively useless CUV’s don’t have sliding doors, are larger and heavier and less useful every which way.

The interior photo shows one of the 4Wd versions, and an American market specification. It’s fairly representative though.

Mitsubishi’s problem is not engineering, it’s marketing. Here, in 1986 is the lifestyle car we probably really need. Add 4WD (optional). This is what people needed if they didn’t want estates or saloons. Mitsubishi could not find a way to sell it, along with their other good ideas. (Having written about the Carisma I see them everywhere and really, it’s a perfectly fine-looking car which needed a suspension upgrade and a couple more engines and an estate).

The industry has followed the path of least resistance and found it easier to jack up mid-sized hatchbacks and call them a whole new way of life.

Author: richard herriott

I like anchovies. I dislike post-war town planning.

15 thoughts on “A photo for Sunday: 1986 Mitsubishi L300”

  1. Although not sold in the UK officially, the L300 Delica was quite a common sight until recently, probably due to a ship load of used examples coming over from Japan (yes, I know they were manufactured in the Philippines), no doubt having failed their stricter MOT test. They seem to have evaporated recently no doubt with the help of our local authorities spreading salt on the road every time the temperature dips below 5°. There have also been influxes of Mazda Bongos and more recently, Nissan Elgrands.
    The fact that with the L300’s cab-forward design, the two front occupants are sitting in the crumple zone may well have put safety conscious people off buying them. It is reminiscent of the Toyota Space Cruiser which was sold here officially before being replaced by the Previa. That was also a van with plush seats and glass panels in the roof.

  2. The Space Tourer seems to be very similar to what was marketed here as ‘Model F’. This was very common as a car for big families, as well as the Mitsubishi you showed here. The 4WD versions helped, as always in the Alps. If a vehicle like this was still too large, you could always choose a Subaru Libero / E10, a kei car minibus that sold well during the ’80s.
    I think it’s the advent of more saloon-like MPVs as well as crash safety consciousness (Mark mentions it) that killed this kind of friendly and convivial vehicle.

    1. Years ago we inherited a Bedford Midi (Isuzu Fargo) at work. It was a pretty knackered example, but once you’d got over the feeling that you were only marginally less vulnerable than if you were strapped to the radiator grille, I agree that with its column change it was fun to drive. Simon’s description of these vehicles as convivial is an excellent one. Conviviality is sadly missing from many of today’s po-faced offerings. Friendly conviviality was what I felt driving in my Mk 1 Renault Espace. I bet the current one isn’t. Still, I suspect my observations are similar to my gran moaning about rock and roll and the fact that families didn’t sit round the piano any more. Aw shut up Gran!

  3. Poverty spec L300 panel vans were very popular with builders/ roofers/ plumbers/etc. in the Netherlands. Despite never having worked in the building trade, I’ve driven all sorts of van variants: petrol and diesel, short and long wheel base, standard and high roof, but never 4x4s or minibuses. They’re a joy to drive, especially the column shift version. L400s were a bit more comfy, but never as popular for some reason.

    1. A joy to drive in town and country, I should add. They’re horrible on the motorway.

  4. Fairly sure we got the 4WD versions of these in Oz, although it has been years (probably a decade plus) since I last saw one.

    Interestingly, Australia got quite a lot of this type of converted-van-type jobs in the early 1980s, including the Bongo and Nissan Vanette. As was mentioned above, safety was the big killer for these types of vehicles – both perceived and real. That and the fact that, even for their intended role, the dynamics really weren’t up to much – certainly, the Ford Spectron was called “atrocious” in print, and it was far from atypical. We didn’t get the Espace or the first-generation Voyager, so the really big sea-change in the market was marked by another Mitsubishi product – the first-generation Nimbus (nee Space Wagon) in 1984, with the egg-shape Tarago/Previa coming along in 1990 to wipe out the remainder of the market for those who really needed eight seats. And to be fair, the Tarago really was a clever piece of kit for what it was – the things were absolutely everywhere for a while back then. It certainly made a lot more sense than the alternative eight-seater in Toyota’s lineup (the 80-Series Landcruiser, which was what the rich kids got ferried around in).

    The market’s concerns over safety for these type of LCV-derived vehicles were demonstrated when in 1993, confronted with the soaring yen, Toyota was desperate to get something on the market below the by-now-stratospherically-priced Tarago. Their response was a TownAce fitted with eight seats called the Spacia. Despite the cheap price, it tanked – word about its safety credentials got around quickly.

    1. The Previa leaps out as the best alternative yet it misses the sliding doors and the feeling of a house on wheels. VW still make the Caravelle. That does the trick though it strikes me as costing more and being bigger.

  5. There is the Trafic, the Primastar and the Vivaro, they all come as busses too. The Hyundai H1, the Multivan, the Mercedes versions, they are all fairly common up here in Sweden. I drive a 9 seat Vivaro myself.

  6. When static, it looks like the perfect car. When driving, less so. I dislike crossovers and SUVs, but – with Christmas fast approaching – I know which I would choose for a gloomy winter’s motorway trip.

  7. Seeing this reminded me of a once owned Toyota Space Cruiser which was early days for this type of luxury van and one we as a family of four enjoyed immensely.
    Commanding driving position that had a floating feel due its extreme forward location, load flexibility, luxury of second heating and ventilation for rear seating plus their own electrically opening full sunroof and not forgetting those plush velour seats.
    Downsides,first on the scene of any frontal accident and being part of the crash structure!

    1. Another just remembered downside of ownership was being commandeered by all and sundry to transport others goods or people when their own vehicle choice was inadequate.
      Thinking back we have had prior experience of a small Mercedes bus a type one and type two VW bus plus a Ford Aerostar.
      As experienced I have found the concept very alluring and in reality very practical.

  8. They were / are common here in NZ. I drove some during the ’80s and always remembered them as truly awful to drive. Loads of free play in the steering, loads of understeer, crap brakes, little wet grip, and asthmatic sounding. Still, I was driving a Citroen GS at the time, so most other vehicles seemed crap in comparison.

  9. Actually, I quite like L300 🙂 I am currently looking into buying one with 2.4 petrol engine, with air con, twin sunroofs, etc.
    I do agree that cab forward vans do not give same protection as new one with engine in front. That’s true for full-frontal crash (although some of these van carry spare whell in front, which could do wonders in similar situation 🙂 ). However, with up to 40% offset frontal crash, they are as dangerous as any pre-2007-ish, that failed some crashtests in USA. Also, in almost all cars, any crash at speed about mandated 65km/h, could be fatal, with or without airbags.
    So, to be safer, drive more carefully and slower.

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