Nostalgia and legend
by BusinessWorld Online

Posted on December 1, 2016


All Photos: Brian M. Afuang


Ninety minutes via the shinkansen (Japan’s bullet train) from Tokyo, and nestled in the picturesque Aichi Prefecture, the Mitsubishi Auto Gallery (MAG) is a comprehensive compendium of vehicles that have truly left indelible marks in our collective memory of mobility.

Established in 1989 and situated at Mitsubishi Motors’ own Engineering Center, the 1,100-square meter MAG not only enshrines landmark vehicles from the three-diamond brand, but affords a closer look at design trends and concepts, competition cars, engines, miniatures, and most anything an aficionado can ever want to behold. Take, for instance, a facsimile of the Mitsubishi Model A -- whose prototypes first saw the light of day in 1917. It holds the distinction of being the first mass-produced vehicle in Japan. Curiously, a mere 22 units of it were produced at the company’s shipyard (yes, shipyard) until 1921.

Another section of the facility is devoted to bicycles, motorcycles, scooters and three-wheelers. The modes of transportation became popular choices for post-war Japan, and Mitsubishi reports that their production and development lay the foundation for the company’s eventual, decisive entry into the passenger car market. The Silver Pigeon C-10 scooter, made in 1946 at Nagoya, “symbolized the beginning of a peaceful era, and it was well received by the Japanese.” In the following year, Mitsubishi’s aircraft engineers reworked excess duralumin previously earmarked for use in planes to assemble a lightweight bicycle, named Juji-go. Also in 1946, the Mizushima, a small three-wheel truck, was commissioned for delivery service across Japan.

But Filipinos of a certain again who are fortunate to find themselves at the MAG must surely be moved by the sight of vehicles that once had their run of the streets, but now have largely disappeared.

Take the diminutive Minica, that subcompact of subcompacts, which endeared itself to many and has long become immortalized in a tongue twister. The nomenclature was first stickered onto a three-wheeler called Leo in 1959. Like the Mizushimi before it, the Leo was primarily utilized as a delivery vehicle (and sometimes a family car). After this came the first “proper” Minica, the Mitsubishi 360, then the snub-nosed Minica LA20 in 1962. Mitsubishi describes the latter as the “precursor to Japan’s economic boom.”

Indeed, in 1969, Japan had fully regained its bearings following the trauma of World War II. With its GNP rising to second spot globally, the Japanese had much to rejoice in. Mitsubishi ushered in this era of prosperity and peace with the reimagined Minica ’70. Its peppy performance (with a maximum speed of 130 kph) reflected the joie de vivre that suffused the Japanese. A sleeker fastback version, called the Minica Skipper, was released in 1971.

Also worthy of note to Filipinos is the storied Colt/Galant series. Who doesn’t know of the Sigma? At the MAG, visitors can take gander at it and its myriad of siblings, beginning with the Mitsubishi 500, which debuted in 1960. The nameplate eventually grew in renown to become the vanguard, flagship mark of Mitsubishi.

To fill in the gap between the Minica and the Colt, the company introduced the Lancer and Mirage series in 1973. The former was equipped with either a 1.2-liter or 1.4-liter power plant. An alpha-dog variant, the 1.6-liter GSR, later made its entry. According to company literature, the GSR “played an active role in international rallies to strengthen the reputation of Mitsubishi as an active player in rally sports.” The highly touted, sporty Celeste (a few of which still ply our traffic-choked roads) also takes its place in this pantheon of wheeled heroes.

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