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The Mitsubishi Delica L300: Now Invading from Planet Japan

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author photo by Chris O'Neill May 2017

The first time I laid eyes on a JDM Mitsubishi Delica L300 on American roads, I knew something was off. There's really no other way to put it: These early 1990s Japanese vans are just plain weird looking. Just look at it! I can't figure out if it has an underbite or an overbite. On top of that, the driver's seat is located directly over the front wheels, there's a massive "greenhouse" area and a way-too-abrupt rear end, and most of these vans come equipped with tractor trailer-esque side mirrors, giving the whole thing a 1980s spaceship vibe.

Does the Delica have a practical design? Definitely. Is it sporty, aggressive, or American-looking? No way. Even a casual car enthusiast can tell that this isn't just some run-of-the-mill American van. But the Delica's unique design has a cool factor -- and if you add that to its go-anywhere adventure capabilities, you start to understand why these vans are becoming popular in the western United States.

Before I cover that, though, a little history. A version of the Mitsubishi Delica L300 was in fact sold new in the US for a brief period from 1987-1990 as the less-than imaginatively named Mitsubishi Van (cargo models), and Mitsubishi Wagon (passenger models). Years ago, I saw a "Wagon" example in northern Virginia -- they're hard to miss, and if you're like me, it's an automotive encounter that you don't soon forget. The owner walked up and couldn't for the life of him understand why I was taking a picture of his old van. Thanks to a cut-rate portable hard drive, I've since lost that picture, and I've only ever seen one other Mitsubishi Wagon since.

But this U.S.-adapted Delica left something to be desired. It could only be had in one body style -- and it suffered from two-wheel drive, an anemic gasoline engine and zero sense of adventure.

In foreign markets, on the other hand, the Delica L300 was an entirely different beast. Buyers could opt for two cabin lengths, three roof styles, all-wheel drive, diesel engines and a number of different off-road and graphics packages, making for a potentially epic adventure-mobile. Luckily, across the world, these giant VHS-players-on-wheels are getting old, with many eclipsing the 25-year age threshold required for legal importation into the United States.

As a result, the flood gates are opening, with more and more people realizing how well suited these vans are to life in the west. I have a friend named Brian who imported a JDM Delica L300 Starwagon Exceed (the green one in the photos above) to serve as his daily driver, ski-shuttle and adventure mobile for trips all over the U.S. You never know exactly what you're going to get when an imported vehicle comes off the boat -- and apparently his had been used as a mobile karaoke bar in its former life in Japan. With that said, there's one major perk to sourcing an imported vehicle from Japan: They typically arrive with relatively few miles on the odometer -- Brian's came with only 38,000 miles -- due to the steep taxes, registration fees and fuel costs associated with operating an aging vehicle in Japan.

These vans are incredibly unique, and they're packed with potential. Plus, they're extreme automotive outliars in the United States. While I've only encountered a handful on the road, from what I've heard and seen online, it sounds like there are already more than a few imported 4x4 Delica adventure vans roaming around the western U.S. and beyond. As more and more examples become eligible for import and more and more people catch onto their versatility, I would only expect the trend to grow here in the Mountain West, and in the U.S. as a whole.

 Chris O'Neill grew up in the rust belt and now lives in Salt Lake City, Utah. He managed to work in the auto industry for a while without once crashing a corporate fleet vehicle. On Instagram, he is the @MountainWestCarSpotter.

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This image is a stock photo and is not an exact representation of any vehicle offered for sale. Advertised vehicles of this model may have styling, trim levels, colors and optional equipment that differ from the stock photo.
The Mitsubishi Delica L300: Now Invading from Planet Japan - Autotrader