The Marunouchi Park Soigné

Even heavy industry must have its more elegant moments.

Image: Japanese Nostalgic Car

When Mitsubishi first ordained their flagship they chose a name deemed most apt for their creation. The dictionary offers a definition of confident, dignified and refined: welcome to the stylish, yet formal environs of the Debonair.

Japan in the early 1960’s began riding the crest of an economic wave and Mitsubishi were keen on getting ahead in the larger car stakes. Feasibility studies concerning the contemporary Fiat 1800 ultimately led to them ploughing their own furrow. Should your optics mark this as an early Lincoln Continental facsimile, you might be forgiven. German born, former-GM designer, Hans Bretzner openly admitted to using Elwood Engel’s 1961 design as inspiration, subtly imbuing Japanese characteristics such as squared-off solidity, along with amounts of wheel arch entasis for that refined air. 

The car wowed the 1963 Tokyo motor show but the expectant public would be denied access for some time – the Debonair being initially offered only to high ranking Mitsubishi executives – with fingers in pies from banking to ship building. Politicians along with other dignitaries came to admire the attributes of the Debonair, which evolved somewhat glacially over its thirty five-year production run. 

Prior to this, the Three Diamond’s largest car was the Colt 1100, but by May 1965, the Debonair (A30) was powered by an in-line six (KE64) two litre petrol engine generating around 104bhp shoving this 1,330Kg compact to 96mph. Fittingly, this car’s monocoque body with double wishbone suspension usurped rivals in handling, speed and comfort; the Power Specification package consisting of powered seats, windows and steering.

The Debonair’s first major change occurred under the bonnet, the installation of the Saturn 6 engine. Entitled 6G34, still rated at two litres, but output now reached 130bhp with a 112mph top speed. An ornate badge denoting the celestial engine brought about a model name change to A31. Minor redesigns (I to IV) were to trim parts but 1973 witnessed this well turned gentleman’s first face lift. The truncated hockey stick rear lights became eight square shaped lozenges along with changes to the front indicators, moving up the wings and made smaller. The front quarter light was deleted but the model name remained unchanged.

The facelift model – if you can spot the changes… Image: curbside classic

By 1976, Debonairs were Borg-Warner automatic only and in June, larger displacement courtesy of the 8-valve 4G54, 2,555cc unit producing 137 bhp with improved economy became A32s. The 1978 emission rules brought about engine modifications along with chassis code A33 whereas 1979’s Debonairs were replete with ABS, velour seating and rear passenger radio controls. 

Twenty three years(1) from the Debonair’s debut, Mitsubishi decided upon a complete overhaul for 1986; a new bodyshell, a change to front wheel drive, the first V6 Cyclone engines alongside an association with the US Chrysler Corporation. Whilst the second generation loosely resembled the New Yorker, no parts were shared between the two.

1986 Mitsubishi Debonair S10. Image: favcars

Image and sales of the original had trickled along – just 205 made in 1985 whereas the new S10 managed a healthy 6,230 units for 1987. Over this generation’s six year build, six engines were offered and enhanced over time. The 1998cc two litre 6G71 was upped from 105 to 150 bhp, supercharged. The 6G72 of 2972cc displacement began life as a single overhead cam producing 150bhp. The later DOHC managing 210bhp, nullified to a speed limited 180Km/h. 

The ride had been improved by fitting MacPherson struts up front with a three link torsion axle aft. Transmission remained automatic. If the original Debonair was an hymn to Sixties suave, this new take, whilst again obviously American influenced, tarried somewhat by not participating in Eighties excess – ever the gentlemen.

The front wheel arch now encompassed a blistered radius whereas the rear was semi-covered by those long flanks, residually squared off. Chrome embellishments were chosen for gravitas over anything gaudy. One feels predisposed to offer the noun, cool, here. One roguish venture rested on the bonnet – the company’s logo surrounded by a circle, remarkably echoing another brand’s gun-sight, ornament. 

The saloon kept that temperature low, even with (four coats of) lustrous black. This late model also featured tilt steering for easy in and egress and the first Japanese car to have hands free telephony. The Royal limousine with two extra feet of extension raised the temperature too far by comparison but your author is no fan of the extra-luxo-barges of any type. Money doesn’t always buy taste.

Wholly against type, Mitsubishi brought in German tuning gurus AMG (before Mercedes took over) to appoint some ill-served style to proceedings. The engine bay unusually lay untouched – two configurations could be had – standard with body kit or a 150mm wheelbase extension with body kit making both quite the ‘80s fashionistas. Mitsubishi also commissioned British luxury outlet Aquascutum to tart up the interior. The Debonair’s fling with ostentation was thankfully short lived. 

Debonair by AMG. Image: gomotors

Times change. Mitsubishi introduced for 1990 the Diamanté, a more modern sporting saloon, in every aspect the antithesis of the now somewhat dated Debonair. A decision to incorporate a whole host of electronic equipment into the new for ‘92 S20 version included upgraded engines and smoother lines.

The list of standard equipment trumped the S-Class: four wheel steering with ABS, electronically controlled suspension, GPS (with tiny screen), rear parking camera, self closing doors, five speed, traction controlled automatic transmission and LIDAR distance detection – shared with the firms GTO (and also Hyundai’s Grandeur).

1992 Debonair. Image: carsot

In as much the force of technology was strong, the cachet of the previous two models had now been lost. The S20 Debonair’s interior withholding its paragon of comfort with shell shaped front seats. To the rear, the operation of the cigar lighter woke the air purifier allowing the shipping magnate to puff away sans-odours. Neat trick. The Debonair was put out to pasture in 1999, followed up by the new Proudia, itself a step below the new Dignity limousine. Both fell short on the sales front, soon discontinued.

Gadgets and gizmos make not the gentlemen. Of course, add a watch, an in-keeping tie and shoes to match the outfit, should one wish. Make the car nice in the first place, to look at and ride in. Elegance needs precious little frippery.

(1) An old Japanese nickname for the car was coelacanth, pronounced silican – connected with a thought long dead fish that came back to life.  A twenty minute video showing excellent footage of the car   A ninety second video showing clay modelling 


Author: Andrew Miles

Beyond hope there lie dreams; after those, custard creams?

12 thoughts on “The Marunouchi Park Soigné”

  1. Good morning Andrew. Thanks for profiling another obscure (to us) car. The name Mitsubishi chose for its flagship is an interesting example of the difference between the dictionary definition of a word and how it is actually perceived. To my ears, ‘Debonair’ is now a rather archaic term and sounds a touch effete. It’s the sort of word that Bertie Wooster might have used to describe one of his chums.

    The first generation model is, as you say, a perfectly miniaturised Lincoln. The second generation model did indeed keep the temperature low: it has all the elegance of a chest freezer, especially with that hideous bodykit! The third generation model is quietly handsome, but pretty derivative, the Lexus influence being pretty obvious. That said, the DLO is rather better resolved than that of the first and second generation LS400.

  2. One nit-picky question about this interesting relic. You mention an 8 valve engine, but 8 into 6 doesn’t go. Does this mean they dropped to 4 cylinders, as the code 4G54 implies? For a flagship model, that would seem a retrograde step, especially as at 2,555cc it would likely be a rough old banger.

  3. Another school day Andrew, thank you. Never heard of this model and I doubt few, if any, made it to our U.K. shores.

  4. Well spotted, Peter. The Saturn six cylinder engine was made pretty much for the Debonair with it starting life as a four cylinder version with two added cylinders. Very few were produced.

    Mitsubishi (and Chrysler’s K cars) made rather a lot more of the four pot 4G54 engine which must have impacted on overall costs.. Being no engine expert, would having a compression ration of 9.2:1 and bore and stroke of 91.1 x 98mm, appear to be a retrograde step in smooth drivability tones? Would the average Mitsubishi shipping or bank manager have noticed, safely cocooned in the rear of his Debonair? The general public probably never sampled the six cylinder when new.

    1. The 4G54 gained counter-rotating balance shafts in 1975, it was made available in the Debonair starting in 1976.

  5. Hans Bretzner may have been inspired by the Lincoln Continental, but I can’t help thinking he also brought to Mitsubishi a lot of what he and his colleagues had been doing at GM. To my eyes at least the 1963 Debonair looks remarkably like the Vauxhall PC Cresta/Viscount and the Holden HD, both launched in 1965.

    1. Yes – I thought that, too, about the GM cars.

      And my new word for today from the article is ‘entasis’ (making things look straight by putting curves in them, when making them straight in reality makes them looked curved). There’s a visual equivalent in the unequal spacing of door hinges – to make them look ‘normal’ they have to be oddly spaced. Goodness knows how I’m going to work that one in to a conversation.

  6. I knew of the second and third gen Debonair, but the first one is new to me. To my eyes it does resemble the Continental, but it doesn’t have the same elegance. Shrinking the original only goes so far. Still a very likable car.

  7. Looking at the first Debonair and it’s face-lift version in the photos above, it occurs to me that the best way to heighten the resemblance to a Continental is to fill it with passengers. Either the springs were very soft indeed, or Mitsubishi’s promotional department was a dab hand with the airbrush….

  8. Not a fan of the 2nd generation Debonair, the 3rd gen was a visual improvement even though it is FWD. The same goes with the Proudia and Dignity that deserved more success than it achieved.

    1. Yes – I have to say it’s wonderfully meanacing. A Mercedes-Benz Fintail has very much the same, er, ‘specialist private dental treatment’ vibes, shall we say.*

      * From ‘Marathon Man’.

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