Gone but not forgotten | Mitsubishi Pajero
A decade before the Toyota Fortuner found favour with the political class, the Mitsubishi Pajero was the absolute best car to drive
Not that long ago SUVs here, well, SUVs. They could cross deserts, climb mountains, ford rivers and shuddered at the sight of a corner. Those slab sides were bolted on to a separate chassis, the gearbox fed into a low-ratio transfer case, perched on the dashboard was a compass and altimeter, and you hauled yourself into the cabin using the grab handles on the A-pillar. Turbo intercooler stickers on the flanks advertised your superiority, the humble-brag of the day. And nothing epitomised that breed like the Mitsubishi Pajero.
Before the G-Wagen reversed itself into our dream garage, this was the go-to 4x4. In the nineties, those who didn’t fear the scrutiny of the IT department imported a Pajero. When Mitsubishi finally began screwing it together in India, a decade before the Fortuner found favour with the political class, this was the absolute best thing to drive to Ladakh or Chikmagalur, chug up the Himalayas or through coffee plantations, and drive back home. On the desirability front it was second only to the W124 E-Class; in terms of usability and capability, it was second to none.
Our motorsport editor’s dad bought this Pajero nearly 14 years ago, clocked 250,000km over mostly rural farm roads, and she continues to run smoothly, reliably, and lazily. The 2.8-litre 4M40 intercooler turbo-diesel engine is from before the common-rail era, mighty back in the day, but today a Swift will zip past it. But that doesn’t matter because at the next traffic jam you will take a hard left into the field and chug past everybody.
You cannot do that with modern SUVs. Forget the fact that nobody buys SUVs with 4x4 any more, but most neither have the ground clearance nor the approach and departure angles. And those that do have it all are just too big. The Pajero is the perfect size. This is the latter wide-track, identifiable by the flared wheel arches and the enormously silly dual-tone paint job, and it sits perfectly in the ruts left behind by Mahindra jeeps and tractors. It has a brilliant turning radius. The visibility, thanks to pre-crash-test-era A-pillars, is incredible. Engage the shift-on-the-fly 4x4, via the super-cool chunky-and-separate gear lever, and only a real idiot will manage to get it stuck. And, with two sun visors, you have both the windscreen and the window covered at the same time when chasing the desert sun. Maybe that’s why it won so many Dakars.
Those early Dakar wins weren’t with the prototype racers you see today but modified road cars, and the Pajero was engineered to be tough-as-nails. It had coil springs, when everything else had bucking-bronco leaf springs. Nothing broke, nothing fell off, nothing failed. It was —is! — indestructible. After all, it came from an era where the desert meant the Sahara and a breakdown meant… starvation and eventual death.