Historic Car Brands



Mitsubishi’s automotive origins date back to 1917, when the Mitsubishi Shipbuilding Co, Ltd introduced the Mitsubishi Model A, Japan’s first series-production automobile. A hand-built, seven-seater sedan, based on the Fiat Tipo 3, it proved expensive compared to imported American and European mass-produced rivals and was discontinued in 1921, after only 22 had been built.


In designing the Model A, Mitsubishi engineers dismantled a Fiat and made drawings of its components. The engine was cast iron; the chassis of beaten sheet steel and the bodywork was made by experienced coach builders, using lacquered steel panels over white cypress. The interior trim used luxury English worsted fabric. 

The Model A was displayed at the Fukuoka Expo in 1919, beside an aircraft engine also manufactured at the Kobe Shipyard. 


Mitsubishi Model A


Japanese automobile manufacturers struggled with low levels of automotive infrastructure and minuscule car ownership in the early 1920s, despite investment efforts by the Japanese Government. Then, the 1923 Great Kantō Earthquake devastated most of Japan’s fledgling infrastructure.

From 1925 until the beginning of World War II, Ford and GM had factories in Japan and they dominated the Japanese market. The Ford Motor Company of Japan was established in 1925 and a production plant was set up in Yokohama. General Motors established operations in Osaka in 1927. Chrysler also came to Japan and set up Kyoritsu Motors. 

Between 1925 and 1936, the United States Big Three automakers’ Japanese subsidiaries produced a total of 208,967 vehicles, compared to the domestic producers’ total of 12,127 vehicles.

In the 1930s, Nissan Motors’ cars were based on the Austin 7 and Graham-Paige designs, while the Toyota AA model aped the Chrysler Airflow. Ohta built cars in the 1930s based on Ford models; Chiyoda built a car resembling a 1935 Pontiac and Sumida built a car similar to a LaSalle.


1936 Mitsubishi PX33


These associations allowed Japanese manufacturers to examine the ways in which imported vehicles were made and to develop their own products.

The Mitsubishi PSF 33 was a prototype for a four-wheel drive staff car that was commissioned by the Japanese Army Automobile School in 1935. Next came the PX 33, stage-two prototype powered by an X-type military engine that was finished in 1936. Further improvements were made and four vehicles were manufactured in July 1937, but the PX 33 did not go into mass production.

The original vehicles are no longer in existence, but in 1988 the French company Sonauto used a Pajero as the base for a replica that successfully completed the 1989 Paris-Dakar Rally. 


Mitsubishi PX33 Replica – Lennart Koopmans


In 1936, the Japanese government passed the Automobile Manufacturing Industry Law, which was intended to promote the domestic auto industry and reduce foreign competition. It was also part of thinly veiled preparations for Pacific Area military conquest.

By 1939, foreign manufacturers had been forced out of Japan.


Mitsubishi Zero on an aircraft carrier – Australian War Museum


During World War II Mitsubishi contributed greatly to the War effort. The company is best known for the excellent Zero naval fighter that caused the Allies much grief, until they developed ways to exploit its lack of armour.

After the War Mitsubishi developed a prototype XTM1 small three-wheel delivery trike, with a 400kg payload that was developed and named Mizushima. Powered by a two-stroke, 744cc, single-cylinder, air-cooled engine, the TM3A Mizushima was produced until 1962, by which time some 90,000 units had been sold.


1946 Mitsubishi Mizushima


As reconstruction efforts after the end of the World War II got into full swing, US Army surplus Jeeps became popular. However, the Japanese Government’s domestic industry protection policy meant that finished vehicles could not be imported in large numbers. 

In 1952, Shin Mitsubishi Heavy Industries Co Ltd contracted with the Jeep’s manufacturer – Willys Overland Motors – to import the Jeep CJ3A in CKD (completely knocked down) form. 


1953 Mitsubishi Jeep


In 1953, the company completed the first Jeep J1 assembly and 54 units were delivered to the Forestry Agency. In July of the same year, MHI entered technology assistance and sales agreements with Willys and Mitsubishi began domestic production of the Jeep. This happened to coincide with Willys switching production from the CJ3A to the CJ3B design.

The Mitsubishi 500 was the first in-house design after World War II by Shin Mitsubishi Heavy-Industries, Ltd, one of the companies which would become Mitsubishi Motors.


1961 Mitsubishi 500 – Mytho 88


It was built from 1960 until 1962, powered by a rear mounted, air-cooled, 500cc, two-stroke, two-cylinder engine with a single downdraught carburettor producing 21hp at 5000 rpm, driving the rear wheels through a three-speed manual transmission. The body was a monocoque, in order to be light and strong enough to reach the goal of seating four and reaching 100 km/h with such a small engine. 


Mitsubishi Colt 600 – Yones


The Mitsubishi Colt 600 was a larger version of the 500, powered by a slightly larger 600cc engine that produced producing 25hp. It debuted in July 1962 and was the first Mitsubishi to bear the ‘Colt’ name. Production ended in 1965.

Following the racing success of its predecessor, Mitsubishi entered Colt 600 touring cars in the 1963 Malaysian Grand Prix, where they placed second and third in the under 600 cc class.

The Mitsubishi 800 was powered by a water-cooled, three-cylinder, two-stroke engine of 843cc capacity, producing 45hp. Equipped with a four-speed manual gearbox and weighing only 750kg, the 800’s top speed was 120km/h. 

While it may have looked like a hatchback, the 800 was never available with a rear hatch. However, both a coupe utility version and a wagon were marketed.


Mitsubishi Colt 1100F Fastback – GTHO


Built from 1963 until 1970, the 800 replacement was the four-stroke, four-cylinder Colt 1000 model that was available in four body styles and on two different wheelbases, with gradually increasing engine displacements 1000, 1100, 1200, and 1500.


Mitsubishi Colt 1100 Sedan – GTHO


After a May 1968 facelift, they were marketed as the ‘New Colts’. Along with the smaller, fastback Colts they formed the mainstay of Mitsubishi’s passenger car lineup in the 1960s. 

With the late 1969 introduction of the larger Colt Galant, the outmoded Colt-series soon faded away, eventually replaced by the smaller Mitsubishi Lancer as well. 


1972 Mitsubishi Colt Galant 1.6L – Riley


in 1971 MHI sold a 15 percent share in the new Mitsubishi Motors Corporation (MMC) to US automotive giant Chrysler, which sold the Galant in the USA as the Dodge Colt, making it the first rebadged Mitsubishi product sold by Chrysler. In 1977, the Galant was sold as the Chrysler Sigma in Australia.

Mitsubishi achieved annual production of one million cars in 1980, but by this time its ally Chrysler was not so healthy.  As part of its battle to avoid bankruptcy, Chrysler was forced to sell its Australian manufacturing division to MMC that year. The new Japanese owners renamed it Mitsubishi Motors Australia Ltd (MMAL).


1980 Chrysler Sigma Sedan – GTHO


Production of the popular Sigma range of vehicles continued in Australia under the Mitsubishi name until 1987, with its eventual replacement, the Magna, having been released in 1985. Colt production, which had commenced in 1982, ended in 1990, with no locally-manufactured replacement.

The Magna, like its forebear the Sigma, was based on the Japanese Galant, but with additional body width. A station wagon variant was added to the model lineup in 1987. The Magna received several model refreshes during the 1990s, including a luxury variant named Verada. 


2003 Mitsubishi Magna Sedan – OSX


The Magna’s main sales problem was its front-wheel-drive layout that contrasted with the then-popular, rear-wheel-drive layout used by Ford and Holden. Mitsubishi consistently failed to address this issue and paid the price. It developed a brilliant AWD version and failed to market it. Likewise, the LPG-only V6 Magna, with hardened valve seats, would have made a great taxi, but Mitsubishi failed to follow-through on the project. 


2006 Mitsubishi 380 DB Sedan – OSX


A facelift to the Magna and Verada line in 2003 failed to lift sales, so a new vehicle, the Mitsubishi 380, was launched in late 2005. However, public perception that the withdrawal of DaimlerChrysler from its involvement with Mitsubishi Motors Corporation in 2004, along with the revitalisation plan that called for the closure of the Lonsdale engine plant, made MMAL a non-viable company.

The Mitsubishi 380 sold poorly from its introduction and failed to meet expected sales targets. Mitsubishi didn’t even fit the taxi-perfect LPG engine to it. Daily production volume dropped from a dismal 180 to a fatal 50 vehicles per day, along with further reductions in the workforce.


Mitsubishi Starion Turbo – Mr Choppers


On 5 February 2008, it was announced that MMAL would cease production of the 380 at the Tonsley Park plant, effective at the end of March 2008 and the company would pursue a ‘full import strategy’ for the Australian market.


1985 Mitsubishi Cordia AB GSL Hatchback – OSX


Of course, Mitsubishi always had a some import content in its Australian vehicle lineup, including the Pajero 4WD, weirdly-named ‘Starion’ and great-performing Cordia variants.


Stay informed and receive our updates

From Jim Gibson & Allan Whiting directly to your inbox

You have Successfully Subscribed!