It’s always sad when a storied and accomplished lineage comes to an end with no successor in sight. Today, that fate belongs to the Mitsubishi Pajero. On Wednesday Mitsubishi Motors announced that the illustrious off-roader will cease sales in Japan this August, and that the company will not develop the nameplate any further.
Since 1982, the Pajero (sold in the US as the Mitsubishi Montero and Dodge Raider) has been one of Japan’s flagship SUVs. Combining the comforts of a passenger car with true off-road capabilities, the truck has maintained its rugged body-on-frame construction even as car-based crossovers infiltrated the market. Its rise in popularity during the 80s and 90s coincided with Japan’s RV boom, which spawned countless vehicles for camping and outdoor activity enthusiasts.
What set the Pajero apart, and catapulted it to legend status in Japan and throughout much of Asia, was its dominance in the Paris-Dakar Rally. With 12 victories in one of the world’s toughest off-road competitions — including an unprecedented seven-year streak from 2001-07 — the Pajero made Mitsubishi the winningest marque in the race’s history. That record still stands to this day, even though Mitsubishi hasn’t participated officially since 2007.
Mitsubishi has produced over 3 million Pajeros with over 640,000 sold in Japan, but in recent years domestic sales have declined to just a few hundred a year. The current generation, the Pajero’s fourth, has been on the market since 2006, the same year Mitsubishi halted US sales of the Montero.
To mark the end of the Pajero family tree, Mitsubishi announced a Final Edition model. It will offer the most popular options, such as roof rails and leather upholstery, in a single trim with special badging to denote that it is the last of its kind. Only 700 will be made. Mitsubishi is also offering a commemorative decal set and a serial numbered wristwatch made by Citizen.
Mitsubishi will continue to produce the fourth-gen Pajero in its Gifu Prefecture factory for export. The Pajero is still popular in southeast Asia and Latin America, but how long that will last is unknown. With no development planned for a next generation and already 13 years on the vine for the current one, it’s likely living on borrowed time.
An unbroken 37 years is a long run for any model, but when it’s one as acclaimed as the Pajero, the demise is particularly heartbreaking. Sports cars have been on the decline for decades, but 4x4s, especially ones with competition provenance, seemed as if they’d be able to more easily find a place with enthusiasts as tall, AWD wagons became the vehicular norm. Instead, we see the passing of yet another great machine built with purpose. With all its iconic nameplates save for the Delica now gone or reconstituted as shadows of what they once were, it truly feels like the end of an era for Mitsubishi.
Images courtesy of Mitsubishi.