Squamish rock climber Jeremy Blumel’s 1991 Mitsubishi 4WD Delica van is badged as the Exceed model, but that name is wishful thinking at best. “You definitely don’t pass anyone on the highway,” he says. Exceeding the speed limit isn’t likely to happen, even on the turbo models.
Blumel couldn’t care less. He’s one of the many highly stoked Canadians who’ve gotten their hands on the Delica, an affordable alternative to the ultra-expensive, very American Sportsmobiles. The Mitsubishis have garnered cult-like status across mountain towns across British Columbia, some tricked out with bash guards, mondo roof racks, rally lights, and wide-track tires that make them look menacing, but in a charming Lego-like way. At less than 15 feet long, you would never describe your Delica as a monster truck. But with almost seven inches of ground clearance on some models, you can easily roll over a field of pretty nasty boulders.
The Delicas are part of an ever growing fleet of what’s known as JDM (Japanese Domestic Model) vehicles – built in Japan and outfitted with right hand drive. Canadian transportation rules allow vehicles that weren’t built to the country’s safety standards to be imported 15 years after their introduction, but Japanese obsession with cleanliness and detail and the fact that there aren’t many dirt backroads, especially in southern Honshu, mean they’re typically in good shape. And in Japan, all vehicles are subject to government inspection every two years and most Japanese are very diligent about following service schedules.
You won’t find these boxy high-clearance vehicles at your favorite Mitsu dealership parked next to those tricked out Lancers with their World Rally Car Champion pedigree. Companies like Richmond (a suburb of Vancouver) based Amazing Auto Imports offer Delicas that are ready to roll off the lot, but much greater savings can be had by participating in an auto auction. It costs roughly $3,000 in shipping costs, import duties, and safety upgrades to make your Japanese ride legit. Resales generally range from $5,000 – $15,000; but it’s safe to say that each Delica has its own special history.
Blumel’s description of his Delica seems perfect for the dirtbag demographic who purchase them: “These vans are slow, simple, have 4×4 and high clearance, but are very gutless. Mine’s a very old vehicle so ongoing simple engine maintenance such as filters and oil changes are key, body rust and disintegration is the biggest worry. Yearly it costs me about 1-2 grand but I drive it quite a lot. I got the van at 65,000 kms and it now has 240,000.”
The engines can be converted to veggie oil, and many owners rip out the back seats and customize their own van-conversions. But there is the tiny issue of driving an underpowered vehicle with the steering wheel on the wrong side (a chore that’s complicated if you have to operate a standard stick-shift). But Blumel downplays that aspect of it. “The vehicle has lots of windows and offers more than adequate visibility.”
As for Americans tracking down Delicas? U.S. transportation rules make you wait 25 years.
Photo by Michael Gill/Flickr
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