Why you should want a Mitsubishi Delica
Need a spacious family workhorse? The Delica ticks these boxes and more. I bought the cheapest on the market – how bad can it be?
Stop the presses! Another vehicle has joined the family shitbox fleet. The culprit this time is not me, but my brother-in-law Robert. His new merry-go-round? None other than the Mitsubishi Delica.
On paper, this makes it an eminently sane family moving machine. There are seven seats, a part-time four-wheel drive system and plenty of storage bins. It also has charm and charisma by the bucket load. A quick foray on Instagram will tell you it’s a cool car. He is loved and admired by thousands of people around the world, but not so much by neighbors.
Launched in 1968, the Mitsubishi Delica is now in its fifth generation. At its peak in 1995, a massive 109,930 units rolled off the production line, proving without a doubt that this is a powerful and durable machine.
This particular third-generation model has spent the last few years as an expensive aisle ornament. The owner, Dave, intended to completely restore it. However, with a growing family and another earlier L300 minivan to take over, he decided it was time to give up. It’s no surprise when he decided to send me a message, my penchant for rust-riddled machinery now well known. Realizing that Robert had three kids, two project cars, and a new job to fill him in, I, uh, urged him to buy it. Sorry not sorry.
The current state of health of the Delica is mixed. The engine and gearbox seem powerful and full of vigor, coming to life on the first turn of the key and without ominous clouds of smoke. As it currently has no MOT, we were only able to test it on a short stretch of private land, but it worked like a charm. The bodywork needs more attention, with various areas requiring patch fabrication and attachment. I’m pretty sure the Fred Flintstone spec hole in the floor wasn’t an optional extra. It currently has four seats, three less than a full set, with the missing piece of the puzzle being a three-seat bench. Most electrical appliances look fine, and even the roller shutters on the back still work.
Robert’s worksheet is mostly soldering, luckily something he masters well. His estimate is about five full days of work. Measuring, making jigs, cutting sheet steel and welding in place, it all takes time. The advantage is that it will save a fortune in garage bills. Other than that, a backyard breakers bench and a day spent with the polisher and the Delica should be ready for adventure.
It’s clearly going to be a lot of fun. We took the three smallest family members to see it and they loved it. The feeling inside of being truly a living room on wheels delighted them. The spinning chairs, the tank-like exhaust note, and the way it bounced off the rutted track made adults and kids alike smile with appreciation. If he could talk, this bus would tell you to pack a bag, turn off the phone, and head out into the wilderness.
Once the Delica is roadworthy again, Robert intends to use it on a daily basis. He will spend most of his time traveling the short distance to and from work, a 26 mile round trip. These miles will be expensive, however. One downside to Delica that’s impossible to ignore is that these machines are pretty thirsty. According to the owner’s reports, he can expect an average fuel consumption of around 20 mpg. A vehicle in which to use the “smiles per gallon” unit of measure, maybe.
Dive into the wild lands of Internet forums and the Delica has many followers. We’re talking about hardcore mud plugs to off-grid campers and everything in between. With prices starting at just £ 1,000, they seem to make the perfect project vans, and thanks to their global sales and a thriving aftermarket scene, there doesn’t seem to be a problem with parts sourcing. So far plans are to keep a stock specification for this Delica. We also found some gold – it came with the desirable JDM wind deflectors and spoiler options for extra points on Instagram.
If you are tempted, I recommend that you set eBay saved search alerts. Delicas prices seem to be heading north and bargains are hard to find. Considering the current demand for camping vacations, this is definitely a seller’s market. A quick scan of the classifieds shows several prices well above £ 10,000 for the cleanest examples, although a third of that will still buy you something with MOT. If you have the space, time, and skills to fix one, you can recover from MOT failures for as little as a big one. Make sure you have a thorough inspection first. What at first glance seems like basement theft can quickly snowball into financial disaster. See my Suzuki Jimny ownership accounts for proof.
If your budget can stretch, consider an import. Japanese models can be bought from around £ 9,000, and after spending their lives in the salt-free country of Japan, you shouldn’t experience any rusting issues. Buying from a specialist importer also means that all costs are paid. It is possible to import a car yourself, but the amount of paperwork is horrendous. You can hire experts to help you manage the process, which is money well spent if you value your sanity.
With a busy summer and limited free time, our Delica project may well last a little longer. Hopes are high for a technical control to be carried out before the end of the summer.
Whatever happens, I will endeavor to photograph, document and report on the Delica project. I also hope to rekindle my welding skills, as it would save me a fortune. On the other hand, after a trying year it is vital that we all spend our money locally and I worry about my freelancers if I learn to weld. My decaying fleet is slowing down the local economy at its flaky lifting points. I am nothing if not thoughtful.