BEING SOLD EXCLUSIVELY AT BRING A TRAILER .COM
Nippon Imports is proud to present a hip-to-be-square, go-anywhere warrior that can double as your own personal treehouse – a 1993 Mitsubishi Delica Star Wagon turbodiesel.
Masters of the city or the trail, Delicas get used hard and after some years of abuse, this truck has been refreshed and restored for you to enjoy almost anywhere – beach, trail, or just around town. It draws a crowd at Cars & Coffee too – versatility is Delica’s game.
The Big Box Story
The Delica dates back to the summer of 1968 – a time before the modern incarnation of Mitsubishi Motors was spun off from the huge Mitsubishi industrial combine. That original Delica, internally coded T100, was a humble 1.1L cargo and people mover, available first as a cab-over pickup truck and then, a year later, as commercial and passenger vans.
As you'd expect from a truck, most of the mission for the original Delica was commercial – hence the contraction of “Delivery” and “Car” into “Delica.” A larger, more powerful, squared-off second-generation Delica bowed in 1979, built in many more configurations to find a broader array of buyers – both commercial and consumer, with more consumer-oriented passenger vans becoming “Delica Star Wagons.”
It wasn’t until 1982, however, that the truck took on its most famous guise – the all-terrain, go anywhere 4WD van.
Over the course of previous year, Mitsubishi’s engineers had experimented with fitting the 4WD componentry from the then-new Pajero (better known as the Montero to Americans and Canadians) under the shell of the Delica van. The combination worked very well and went into production that June. By the mid-80s the 4WD Delica was a core part of the lineup and getting plenty of attention from Japanese consumers who were interested in a go-anywhere RV.
The last steps in creating the definitive Delica were adding a 2.3L Turbodiesel in 1984 (later supplanted by larger diesels), and the big redesign which created the third-generation van for 1986. Skid plates and bull bars completed the rugged image.
The design language of the third-gen van has, in the past, been labeled “Soft Cube” by Mitsubishi, and compared to the second gen truck, it is vaguely softer – but in the 1980s sides were flat and vans were still aggressively square, and the Delica was no exception. Though it was only one of the many marketing names applied to these vans (and a label inherited from its 1979-86 predecessor) this generation is often referred to as the “L300,” with the subsequent 1994-2006 generation bearing the “L400” name.
Being a mid-80s Japanese product, the 4WD Delica Star Wagons were often festooned with tech extras beyond their heavy duty running gear – onboard karaoke systems, and an air-conditioned cold box for food and drink, and a spectacular glass-paneled ceiling reminiscent of the 23-window VW Bus. Mitsubishi called that feature the Crystal Lite Roof, and it came with power retractable sunshades.
A vast array of equipment choices and special editions and Japanese consumers’ preferred method of speccing out new vehicles with personalized options meant few Star Wagons were exactly alike.
Around this time, the Delica made its way to North America as an official Mitsubishi model, but it isn’t the U.S. models that the Delica is famous for in North America. The trucks were sold here beginning in 1987 in two forms – as the “Wagon,” a luxurious passenger van, or the much rarer “Van,” a commercial panel van.
Mitsubishi-Fuso commercial trucks, some of them distant relatives of the Delica, took American cities by storm in this period, but the “Van” was sold by the unrelated Mitsubishi Motors car channel, who’s only other remotely “commercial” vehicle was the Mighty Max pickup truck. The “Van” was a very slow seller.
Both of these vehicles were powered exclusively by Mitsubishi’s 4G64 2.4L gas four and only offered as automatics with rear drive (in other markets, the 2.5L 4D56 Turbodiesel prevailed).
The “Wagon” was quite luxurious for a van of that time and, as with all Delicas, hugely roomy. It got generally favorable reviews, but forward control vans were seen as old fashioned compared with newer minivans like the Dodge Caravan and the “Wagon” looked very much like a big boxy van even if its dimensions were not full-size.
At the time, the minivan market was still relatively new and crowded with recent entries. 16,485 “Wagons” and 6,542 “Vans” were sold over four and a half years before Mitsibushi pulled the plug on both models in the fall of 1990.
That might have been the end for Delicas in North America. Though camping-themed or go-anywhere versions of Japanese vans, and particularly Delicas (redesigned in 1994 into a fourth-generation) found eager audiences in other markets, they were not offered in the U.S. or Canada and restrictive import laws, enacted at the end of the 1980s, prohibited their entry via private import.
In the U.S., non-conforming cars must be 25 years old to be imported without cost-prohibitive modifications; but in Canada that time limit is only 15 years. In the early 2000s, in Vancouver, British Columbia, a few 4WD Delicas began trickling in alongside the Skyline GT-Rs, Toyota Celica GT-4s, and previously forbidden JDM vehicles that were just becoming legal in the "fast and furious" era.
British Columbia was an ideal environment for the Delica - possessed of large swaths of wilderness and offload trails and conditions ranging from temperate seaside to snowy fjords. It’s a camper’s paradise and the 4WD Delica a perfect camper - offering rock reliable, if slow turbodiesel performance, real off-road capability with a low range, and room enough to mount tents or sleep in side, with an easily customized interior.
It eventually came to rival or even displace the VW Vanagon and other traditional light RVs, and rapidly gained a following among people who weren’t otherwise necessarily interested in JDM cars and were first exposed to them on the trail.
Many of the Delicas that arrived in British Columbia in the early 2000s were in nearly mint condition. Cars and trucks are subjected to very tough regular inspections in Japan and Japanese owners tend to be sticklers for maintenance as a result. Depreciation of older cars is also steep, which drives the regular export of older vehicles - it just took awhile for these vehicles to reach Canada and, ultimately, the United States.
The popularity of the Delica eventually spread south to the U.S. Pacific coast and, since 2013 or so, across the United States as a whole. Since the more rounded fourth-generation Delica vans (introduced in May, 1994) are only just about to become U.S. legal, U.S. interest focuses almost entirely on the third-gen “Soft Cube” trucks of 1986-1993.
The vans are still relatively uncommon on the East Coast, but are a daily sight in the Pacific Northwest and far more common than the “Van” and “Wagon” ever were despite their official status.
Our 1993 Delica Star Wagon started life as a fairly basic P35W - Mitsubishi’s language for an optional raised roof similar in dimensions to the Crystal Lite roof, but fully metal. The Crystal Lite gives beautiful views but can be a detriment for serious off-roaders - the shell can flex and create leaks over time, and we intended this Delica to be a back-country machine with a roof mounted tent.
The tent, a brand-new Smittybilt Roof Top, inspired the whole project. What better for a solid night’s sleep after climbing in Moab, hiking in the Shenandoah Valley, or surfing in Tofino? It comes with the truck, but more on that in a bit.
The basic vehicle wasn’t a special edition but it was a nice, rust-free, low-mileage example with just 105,000km (~65,000 miles) on the clock. Mechanically, the van was in excellent shape and required no intensive work to prepare for sale.
Inside, the cloth and materials were in great shape and the interior largely unmarked and original.
Delicas are prolific rusters, particularly if they’ve lived in close proximity to salty ocean waters, but this example is clean and rust free. On the exterior paint, however, 26 years in the elements had taken their toll. A week of buffing and cutting has restored its luster.
Why a week? The Delica may not be as big as a Winnebago or a Sprinter, but it’s still huge vehicle with large, flat, empty surfaces. It looks showroom fresh now.
The original wheel surfaces were also quite worn and the brush bars beginning to rust and pit. The chunky, original OEM alloys were acid dipped, sand blasted, powder coated, and treated to 31” BF Goodrich All Terrain tires. Too large to sandblast, the brush guards were hand-sanded and then powder coated in the original white.
With the goal being a capable off-road adventure truck but still one that was practical to use, a 2” lift kit was installed and new Pro Comp shocks replaced the factory originals.
To mount the tent, a quartet of Thule gutter mounts and crossbars are used to vault it above the van. A normal pair of mounts might be sufficient, but a pair of pairs distributes the weight more evenly and also acts as a failsafe. Because the Delica is a P35W, it required 11” mounts - with the lift kit the tent is high enough to require Smittybilt’s extra-long ladder, but it feels like hanging out in a treehouse.
Although the truck is a fresh import from Japan, few historical details came with it. It is, however, ready to go anywhere in style. We’ve prepared this vehicle as if it were going to be our own to adventure in - we hope you’ll like it.