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V.I.S.I.T.: Mitsubishi Delica in Boston

If there a vehicle that both obscure and renown, the Mitsubishi Delcia just might be it. Favorite among the explorers and the overlanders of the world, the Delica packs reliability, ability, space, and affordability into one efficient package. The Delcia was never sold in the United States by Mitsubishi but its was, albeit in relatively low numbers. 

The third generation of the Delica is the one that most people prefer. Made in what many consider to be Mitsubishi’s heydays, it is modern enough to be reliable and comfortable but old enough to be cool. Since it has been more than twenty-five years since its introduction, the Delica is now legal for importation into the U.S. Judging by the sticker on the back of this little van, there is a shop in Philadelphia that specializes in these vehicles. 

The Delica is basically a small, raised, 4×4 van. But it is not just an AWD van like the modern Toyota Sienna. Rather, the Delica’s is a part-time system that is based off the legendary Pajero, with two-speed transfercase. Some models had a limited-slip rear differential and some had a locking one. It has a live axle and leaf springs in the rear. Suspension lift kits, bigger tires, snorkels, brush guards, and skid plates are often affixed to Delicas.

While vans are not typically known for their off-road prowess, there have historically been several. One example is the UAZ 452, which was based on the UAZ 469B. Toyota 4×4 Van (it had many names) was a direct competitor to the Delica. One that everyone knows is of course the Volkswagen Vanagon Syncro. They all had the same purpose – maximizing interior space by moving the controls forward, maintaining a small footprint, while minimizing the compromise of off-road ability. 

Of those vans, for various reasons, the Delica and the Syncro are the most popular ones. While both look cool and are equally functional, only one of them is realistically attainable and it’s not the veedub. Prices for VW vans, especially the 4WD Syncro and campers, are astronomical these days. But the freshly imported twenty-five your old . They also come with a healthy diesel engine which might make them easier to drive, if any faster than the VW. 

The Delica pictured here was parked right in the busy Hanover Street in the North End section of Boston. With New York plates, these people are either taking a short trip to New England or starting their own Bowman Odyssey. If there is a downside, is that this right-hand-drive vehicle has its side sliding door on the left side, which means accessing it from the road side and the curb side. Either way, they have chosen a totally cool vehicle to do it. Enjoy the trip, I hope you stacked up on cannolis!

  • outback_ute

    The thing that puts me off these vans is their horrible crash safety. Perhaps ok if you basically only drive it in forests, but otherwise there are much better vans available, eg a later Mitsubishi with the axle in front of the seats in the manner of US vans, or the VW Transporter T4

    • But forward controls is what makes them so cool!!!

      • outback_ute

        In theory perhaps, they are a pretty miserable device to drive as well.

        • Troggy

          I kind-of liked the 4wd one that I had for work. It had surprisingly snappy acceleration for a van, but on dirt roads the back end sometimes wanted to swap places with the front end thanks to the high centre of gravity and short wheelbase.
          It wasn’t bad offroad either. It was great being able to get it into 4wd without needing to stop.

      • Vairship

        Crash test moose disagrees with you!

    • Rover 1

      They stopped selling this model in Australia in 2013 after it achieved a one star NCAP rating.
      And that was a modified model with extra crash protection and a new longer bumper assembly.

      • outback_ute

        I wouldn’t say it was the crash rating that took it off the market, most likely an emissions regulation update that the tiny by then sales didn’t justify. The crash safety issue had been around for long enough that they clearly had no shame about it, unless it was a new CEO with a different idea or something like that.

        • Rover 1

          The potential buyers put off by the lack of crash safety, hence the tiny sales?
          Hyundai dropped their version of the L300 here in NZ at about the same time to replace it with the new H1 Van which now appears to be outcompeted by the Chinese SAIC’s LDV range


  • GTXcellent

    Also add the Astro and Safari AWDs to that list. I’d totally rock an Overland lifted Astro

    • Yes! But no forward controls on that one. But yea, I always like those.

      • Rover 1

        And for the last version 2007 on, so available for import to the US in 2032, efficiency is further improved by switching to the global GS platform shared with Chrysler which underpins vehicles as varied as the Chrysler 200 and Sebring, Jeep Compass and Patriot, Dodge Caliber, Avenger and Journey, and Mitsubishi Outlanders and Lancers including the Evo 7and 8. My neighbours have one of these and they love it.

        The styling bears the imprint of Olivier Boulay, now at Mercedes Benz, and who previously brought us the 2nd gen Subaru Legacy, the Maybach, and the Misubishi 380.



        • smokyburnout

          they’re not really as interesting underneath or on the inside, but I do like the styling of the D:5.

          !

    • Rover 1

      Just wait another few years and the next, fourth, generation of the Delica becomes available.They’d stopped calling it Delica,( in passenger versions, just ‘Space Gear’; in commercial use, L400.) These have monocoque construction with no separate chassis but still use Pajero running gear. They drive much better too. Better aero and crash protection.


  • Alff

    Things that make you go hmmm…

    • With no pictures it rates near sketchy.

      • Alff

        Boy I hope not. I have been searching for a 2008 Rav 4 1975 Volkswagen with OEM parts. They’re very rare, this may even be one of one.

  • Troggy

    In Australia they were known as the Mitsubishi Starwagon. They tended to be loved for their short gearing which gave them surprisingly good acceleration for a van.
    I had a 4×4 version for work. It was great being able to lock it into 4wd while on the move, unlike other 4wd’s of the time where you had to stop, then get out to lock in the hubs.
    The problem with the 4wd versions was that the fuel tank was tiny – my best estimate was that it held only about 40 litres. It was a somewhat impractical machine for working in the outback, where
    travel distances between towns are measured in hours, rather than kilometres.
    I had a job to do in a town called Muttaburra, some 2 hours away from the nearest fuel in Barcaldine. Being a nearly 4 hour round trip, it meant keeping the speed down to a lazy 90km/h in order to conserve fuel. Any faster and we would run out in an area that barely sees one vehicle a day, and daytime temperatures reached over 45C (115F or so).
    Needles to say, I kept plenty of spare drinking water and a few days of supplies in it at all times.

    • Rover 1

      And a few jerrycans of fuel?

      • Troggy

        The problem with working FIFO was that you only take what you could legally take into a plane, so bringing my own cans was out of the question, and when I hit the company up to buy some they figured that they would wear the extra travel time required rather than spend money. I had access to all of the radio terminals along the route due to the nature of my work, so I figured I could either send a signal through the order wire and hope somebody was listening, or simulate a major fault on the alarm panel and just wait…

        • Rover 1

          In 45 degree heat.

          Welcome to the new world order, while we assess your monetary value to the company.

  • Synchromesh

    There is 2 of these hanging in my neighborhood in San Francisco! I was shocked! But it does make sense since importing a diesel is definitely doable while a gas version would’ve been a no go in California.

  • Citric

    I see a Delica every day! One of the people on my local city council drives one and my office is across the street from city hall.