The SpaceWagon is not all that renowned but this particular example might claim to be almost famous (at least in our circle).
DTW saw this particular car in Copenhagen at the very end of May. Since it exuded an intriguing banality, I decided would be a good idea to photograph it for an article. Much to my surprise I found the very same car featured in Curbside Classic on April 6, 2023. You can read the article here and get some American views on our local Euromundanities.
The SpaceWagon (as it was known in Europe) also went under the names Nimbus, Savrin and Sovereign. This iteration sold from 1997 to 2003. It’s not a car that left a deep footprint on the path of automotive history. I combed through two years of Car magazine (1999-2000) to find any clues of its existence. The World Car Guides said little but did remind me that around this time Mitsubishi had a selection of Space cars: the Space Star and SpaceWagon in different markets. The car here is the third generation SpaceWagon aka Space Chariot, running from 1997 to 2003.
The SpaceWagon series kicked off with the 1983-1991 iteration which had a modest selection of 4 cylinder engines and distinctive angular styling reflected in the contemporary Galant (whose estate car’s duties the SpaceWagon took over from). For 1991 the ‘Wagon gained radii but the characteristically pronounced vertical C-pillar was retained. The lower body had a different colour, aided by cladding inspired perhaps by the W-124 Mercedes of 1984. The engine range decreased in size but gained a 2.3 litre motor to carry the larger, heavier body.
For 1997 the car got heavier and larger again, sold as the Chariot Grandis in its home market. The engines now all occupied capacities north of 2.0 litres and extended to a 3.0 V6, perhaps to address the engine choices of Toyota’s entrant in the market, the remarkable Previa. For some reason, the C-pillar design reverted to the obvious low-key style of a typical hatchback, blacked out and blended into the side glazing. The lamps reached up and touched the rear door glass, a marked change from the full-width design of the predecessor. And angles returned, in the form of straighter lines, chamfers and flatter surfaces. Sales peaked around 1997-1998 and thereafter strolled off the proverbial cliff as MPVs fell distinctly out of favour.
One thing to note was that across all three generations, designers stayed clear of the temptation to blend the windscreen angle into the front wing. The SpaceWagon never attained the mono volume look of Renault or Opel’s entrants in the market.
RAC provide a review here. I will note that at launch Car magazine quite liked the SpaceWagon, in particular its car-like drive and flexible interior. They didn’t care for the grille or the uninspired interior. At the other end of the SpaceWagon’s life, the World Car Guide 2003 considered it a little mediocre and preferred offerings from Renault.
20 thoughts on “Get up! The Sun Rises For Everybody.”
Good morning Richard. The Space Wagon, a.k.a. Chariot, may be eminently forgettable, but interesting in one respect at least: Chrysler is widely credited with inventing the MPV / Minivan with the 1984 Plymouth Voyager and Dodge Caravan twins, while Renault shares the honours with the launch of the Espace in the same year. However Misubishi beat them both to market and launched the first Chariot a year earlier in 1983. Here it is:
Not only was it first, but it came with the option of 4WD as well.
Given the partnership between Chrysler and Mitsubishi that existed at the time, I wonder which of them came up with the concept first?
Mitsubishi had a concept of what became the eventual Chariot that was already almost fully realized on display at the Tokyo Motor Show in 1979 called the SSW (super space wagon).
I thought the early naughtiest Grandis was a decent effort, with the option of a VW Diesel engine.
Surely the first minivan was the Nissan Prairie from 1981, not at all pretty but easy to access and heavily inspired by the Megagamma from 1979.
I guess the seats weren’t removable, so is the qualification for an MPV?
And at what point did we suddenly have the need for 7 seats?
As for the Space Star… slightly boring, but very useful, though it suffered from the same failings as the Espace / Sharagalaxy: too high floor / too low seats which, if you’re tall, means your knees are way above your hips … not pleasant for any journey, whether short or long.
And when are we going to have a closer look at the Previa on DTW?
I have some photos of a Previa and a recent passenger-experience. Maybe I could rustle up something.
Good afternoon all – I guess it’s afternoon in your time zone. As I write it’s an autumn Saturday morning here in south-eastern Australia. Wonderful to be able to talk to you all without jet lag. 🙂
Andrew, a good call on the Nissan Prairie. It was a strange little thing, perhaps a bit on the small side to be really useful as a people-mover, but certainly much better than the cargo-vans-with-seats the other Japanese makers offered at the time. And though I never rode in one I was always wary of the whole no-B-pillar thing with eighties Japanese standards of body lightness.
Richard, good to ‘see’ you again. I remember you commenting on this over at Curbside Classic. What a shame you and Jim Klein (the author of their piece) didn’t meet up. But he had his family with him, so perhaps that’s just as well. Once us car guys get talking…..
This particular generation of Nimbus (to use its Australian name) was something of a rare sighting here, though the first generation had been quite popular. While the styling of this one is quite neat, it suffers from that angular grille; some plan-view curvature would not go awry. Mitsubishi did something similar but worse with the Lancer Evo 7. And as always, your comments make me look at the design afresh and see the little subtleties that had previously passed me by.
And Tom, that Galant is lovely.We owned its larger sister the Diamante, or Verada as it was called in Australia.
The Prairie had the neat trick of no ‘B’ pillar when the front doors and sliding side doors were open, meaning the front seatbelts were mounted on the doors. A design trick attempted by no-one else.
Lovely car, Peter, and good taste! I hope the rest of the experience was as good as the design.
Thanks Tom. The one in the picture wasn’t ours, but rather a pic from the net. Ours was indeed a lovely car, and our second big Mitsubishi. A little cramped in the back for large teenagers, and the handling wasn’t quite as good as the ride suggested it might be (but close), but overall an excellent family car and great for towing. It needed a rebuilt (auto) transmission at sixteen years and 300,000km, and the engine (3.5 V6) was still strong 50,000km later when it was sadly written off. Now an ASX does Grandma/Grandpa duties, while our son’s family runs an Outlander and an ASX, and our daughter (a Honda fan) has a Jazz.
And David, now that I look at that Prairie pic, I’m amazed those door-mounted belts were legal in Australia.
I’d reckoned that much, Peter 🙂. I had a look at Mitsubishi’s Australian website and wasn’t amazed that they don’t sell “normal” cars anymore. In my own country the only such car they sell is the Space Star supermini. They also have the Eclipse Cross and a new ASX that is in fact a Renault Captur:
Another “normal” car on its way is a new Colt, which is going to be a rebadged Clio. Whether they bother to do more than switch badged this time remains to be seen, but since Mitsubishi was set to disappear completely from Europe, rebadged Renaults are better than nothing. It gives them time to figure out a strategy and get embedded into the Renault-Nissan alliance (rocky as that may be).
Thanks, Richard. I think this Space Wagon is one of those typically Japanese designs: bland at first sight but really carefully wrought on closer (detail) inspection. The way the A-pillar, front DLO edges, bonnet and front door shutlines are treated reminds me of the Focus Mk2:
The whole design reminds me of the millennial period where Opel, Ford, Volkswagen, Audi and many others turned out some nice, sober designs that hinged on being well proportioned.
The Space Wagon’s contemporary Galant sister is a fine thing:
Hi Tom. The design of the Space Wagon puts me in mind of another European car of similar vintage, the Fiat Stilo:
Despite being a bit rubbish, I thought It was rather well styled.
And yes, that generation of Galant was a fine looking car, and finely engineered too.
That Galant is rather lovely and under-appreciated. You could see it being a Peugeot as well. I wish the 406 looked like that. I can see some parallels in the Focus 2 but that car is in a league of its own for down-right excellent styling. It´s quietly brilliant and manages to have a strong identity without using shout-y styling tropes. The Stilo… less so. I have to disagree politely and say that one always struck me as a bit crude, much like the Peugeot 407 from the same time.
I sort of like the Stilo, like you say Daniel: it’s nicely styled. Not in the same league as the Focus, but a nice take on the halfway-to-MPV trend that overtook the C segment around that time (with Peugeot as its saddest exponent). It never felt entirely convincing to me, though. Fiat’s decline has been long and sad. The Peugeot 407 to me is in a league all of its own when it comes to awfulness. Like the sea banquet it was inspired by was left sitting in the sun far too long.
The Focus, like a few more or less contemporary designs (Opel, VW, Mondeo and Fusion) has such a pared back design (no shouty details, as you say, Richard) that it derives its identity and visual impact from its proportions. To me, that’s a very satisfying way to design a car.
I like this iteration of the Galant, even though the roof and DLO look a bit too high. However, I can see very little Peugeot in it.
Agreed – it´s not got a lot of Peugeot. Imagine putting a Peugeot grille and lamp set on the front and some slanty lamps at the back and it could then be a Peugeot. A neat one.
Agreed, Freerk, although I hadn’t really noticed until you pointed it out. The wheels look a smidge too small for the wheel arches as well, for me.
Agreed, Richard and Tom. Maybe we are nitpicking here, as it’s a very likable car.
The Galant was once popular as a company car in the Dutch market. At the time you needed a diesel engine to succeed in that market. When Fiat and Alfa had the common rail diesel and VW the TDI’s, sales of the Galant fell behind and the model was dropped eventually.
I remember seeing these Galants when new and thinking they had BMW or Mercedes levels of presence. Well, maybe not entirely, but remarkably close. They didn’t have halo models, though (not in Europe anyway), which didn’t help in my younger mind. Honda’s contemporary Accord for instance, tried for, but just failed to get the same impact, I think:
That Prairie reminds me of the Ford B-Max, which only sold in modest numbers (45k per year, in Europe). It’s a pity, because I think it’s a clever (and attractive) design – a great deal of research went in to creating it. Great advert, too.
They mounted the seatbelts in the seats in the B-Max’s case, although quite a few cars in the US had them mounted in the doors, in order to provide a way of meeting automatic restraint regulations.