It may seem a bit strange to someone who grew up in the era, but Mitsubishi’s 90s SUVs like the Montero have become amazingly popular. Sold overseas as the Pajero, many Monteros are now old enough to be considered classics. But age alone is no guarantee of value or fame. So why are 90s Mitsubishi SUVs so trendy?
90s Mitsubishi SUVs had racing cred
The 80s and 90s were a kind of ‘golden age’ for Japanese engineering and performance. SUVs like the Montero were overbuilt for toughness and longevity. Not only that, but their manufacturers invested heavily in giving their SUVs advanced features, and proving their reliability in grueling environments.
The Mitsubishi Pajero, along with its competitor the Nissan Patrol, was a regular sight at the Paris-Dakar Rally. As Jalopnik described, six months after the Pajero/Montero went on sale, Mitsubishi raced the SUV in the grueling rally. And it won repeatedly. Between 1982 and 2009, a Mitsubishi Pajero was on the podium 12 times, placing high either in its class or overall. A Pajero won the 1985 Rally outright.
But unlike today, where racing tech usually stays on the racecourse, Mitsubishi made sure Pajero/Montero buyers were getting some fairly advanced (for the time) SUVs.
90s Mitsubishi SUVs also had useful features
The least of these, according to Jalopnik, was a locking differential and body-on-frame construction. The early Pajeros/Monteros also had full coil-spring suspension—even today, many pickups still have rear leaf springs. Even the seats had their own suspension. Later Monteros upgraded the front suspension to torsion bars. Mid-90s Monteros also had four-wheel disc brakes and ABS that actually worked with four-wheel drive engaged.
And speaking of 4WD, that locking differential? In addition to high and low range, it also lets the Mitsubishi SUV function like a modern all-wheel drive vehicle. And this is roughly 20 years before the 4WD/AWD Ford F-150 Raptor. You could even order the Montero with an air locker.
And some of the Pajero’s/Montero’s interior features wouldn’t be out of place in a Toyota FJ Cruiser. There was an inclinometer gauge, for helping with rock-crawling and dune-scaling. The Montero also came, in the 90s, with interior and exterior digital temperature gauges. Autoblog reported it even had a passenger grab-bar, like a Mercedes G-Wagen.
The Pajero/Montero is still affordable
While a 90s Pajero/Montero won’t have a modern luxurious interior—or even certain modern safety features—it helped Mitsubishi keep the SUV durable and affordable. Even today, Monteros can be found for as little as $2000, according to Popular Mechanics. Although examples at that price may have quite a bit more than 100,000 miles.
But low-mileage Pajeros are still a fair bargain, especially considering they can be bought with diesels—something the US Montero never received. Importers like Japanese Classics and Duncan Imports regularly sell Japanese-market Pajeros. And prices are regularly below $20,000.
Tastes have shifted
Cool features and rugged reputation are only part of the Montero’s appeal. As manufacturer efforts like Acura’s SLX restoration have shown, the 80s and 90s are in. In a big way.
As is the case for classic cars and trucks as a whole, tastes have changed. As Hagerty and even the New York Times have described, Gen Xers and millennials are starting to invest. And what they want is the stuff they thought was cool when they were growing up, just like Boomers wanted when they finally got some cash. But, whereas Boomers favor 50s-70s vehicles, RADwood goers prefer 80s and 90s sleds.
Japanese vehicles are especially valued. Part of it is the JDM ‘forbidden fruit’ factor. But the other part is, again, the features and reliability. Japanese automakers simply had the budget and dedication to make even entry-level vehicles feel advanced and robust. And 90s Mitsubishi SUVs are excellent examples of this.