300 brand new Mitsubishis were shipwrecked off the Canadaian coast in 1972

1972 Dodge Colt Mitsubishi Galant

On March 14, 1972 the Vanlene freighter was engulfed by fog and ran into the so-called Graveyard of the Pacific, a treacherous area off the west coast of Vancouver Island. On board were 300 Dodge Colts, built by Mitsubishi, bound for North America. 


All the cars had fuel in their tanks and keys in the ignition, as is standard procedure for cargo ships. According to an article in the Times Colonist, the captain had sailed all the way from Japan with nothing but a compass, as none of the on-board navigation systems worked. With the back half of the boat underwater and the bow angled sharply upward, it must have looked like the finale of Titanic from afar. All 38 Chinese crew members made it off the ship safely, but the cars were trapped on board.

A helicopter was called in to save as many Colts as possible, and impressively, it managed to airlift 131 of them onto dry land. Once the Vanlene was declared a loss, locals from nearby villages swarmed in to scavenge. The article describes one man who had a plan to cut open the hull and fashion it to a ramp, and drive 40 of the remaining cars onto a barge. However, the salvagers nixed the idea. Others pulled engines and wheels, while even more raided the ship’s galleys for furniture, clothes, and more.

Ultimately the Vanlene sank, taking 169 brand new Mitsubishis with it. What remains of the ship and cars are still at the bottom of Barkley Sound, apparently a popular diving spot (at 2:13 in the video above, you can see the remnants of one unlucky Colt). Like the lost Toyotas of Cyprus, it’s another tale of new JNCs that were never driven. If you’re wondering why Colts are so rare on this side of the Pacific, well, this is one of the reasons.

Source: Times-Colonist.

This post is filed under: Lost Cars and
tagged: , , , , , .

14 Responses to 300 brand new Mitsubishis were shipwrecked off the Canadaian coast in 1972

  1. Derrick says:

    I grew up on Vancouver island and was always told story’s about that boat every time I mentioned I liked old Japanese cars.
    Never got a clear story but this is prob the best. Did hear about the guy wanting to cut open the hull.

  2. Toyotageek says:

    “…a popular diving spot”/

    Then it seems like a diving expedition is in order to get some photo documentation of this Colt graveyard…..

    • Dandy says:

      This is a video of a dive on the wreck from 2011.

      Between 2:13 and 2:23, they pass over the remains of a Colt; though, the most that they show are some skinny white-line tires amongst a few scraps of precious JDM sheet metal. I bet there has to be more remnants of the Colts than this, but this was the most I could find from the videos I saw.

    • Ben Hsu says:

      Awesome find, Dandy. I’m adding this to the article itself.

  3. donnie baker says:

    time to grab my snorkel and swim fins and go divin!

  4. mason says:

    this is such an interesting story that makes me wonder what models and if there were any special colts on that boat.

    also in your reader survey it asked for age and the youngest it went was 18 and just to let you know there are probably some people younger on here to like me whose 16.

  5. Gary says:

    Very interesting – especially for me as I have worked in maritime and shipping for 20 years.

    Can say the Vanlene was not a RoRo (Roll-on Roll-off) ship as indicated in the story. She was in fact a conventional hatch cargo vessel (the swinging dereck cranes give that away in the pics).

    In the early phase before RoRo ships hit the seas there was an incredible number of Japanese cars exported as ‘CBU’ (completely built units) using the lift-on / lift off method (some pics are on Toyota Geek of this). Later cars were exported as ‘CKD’ (completely knocked down) on the lift-on lift-off vessels.

    RoRo ships or more correctly ‘PCC’ (Pure Car Carrier) came along later in the late 1970’s and 1980’s – and we returned to mostly CBU imports from Japan.

    There is a litany of ship wrecks around the globe that had car cargoes onboard – you just need to know where to find them!

  6. Akbar says:

    Ben, I know this not in an appropriate section, but please let us know the results of JNC Survey, and we are eager to know what is your team summary about the survey.

    Bravo JNC!

  7. cylinders says:

    I worked on the salvage of the CV Rena back in 2012 as a rigger involved in the cargo removal from the stricken vessel. One of the better tasks was lifting a Mercedes sedan out of the hold without getting a scratch on it. One of the sadder days was telling a man his mint ’67 Camaro was 10 metres below the high tide line.

    • Gary says:

      With fear of turning this to JNB (Japanese Nostalgic Boat) or more correctly JNS..

      Have seen maritime industry pics of the CV Rena – that was a big job.

      Did you work on the TriColor in the English Channel?

      I worked at a motor vehicle terminal here in Australia for a while. We once Had a PCC turn up with a full deck of cars that hadn’t been lashed properly in Singapore.

      There were about 100 cars that had slowly been battered to 1m wide as they slid across the deck with the ship pitching and rolling in a force 7!

      • cylinders says:

        No I have only worked marine salvage on the Rena, I got lucky as I am usually a land based rigger/abseiler. You’re right, it was an absolute monster of a job, my home beach is the one that got wasted by the resulting oil spill so it was great to be out there cleaning up the clusterf*ck.

        On the note of the 1m wide cars, it is absolutely astounding witnessing the power of sea when pitted against steel. I thought I had a healthy respect for the ocean’s capabilities being a lifelong sailor and surfer, but I had my eyes truly opened out there watching 30t hatch lids with 600t of cargo on top of them get popped from their fixings like beer bottle caps due to hydraulic pressure from a little 2m swell. Or watching 800t of 20ft containers get thrashed into a pile of scrap in less than 24 hours.

        Where abouts in Aus are ya? I’ve just relocated to Perth.

  8. RainMeister says:

    Not the last time Mitsus have been lost at sea: http://www.autoguide.com/auto-news/2012/12/mitsubishi-loses-1400-cars-after-car-carrier-sinks.html

    Mazda’s also lost cars: http://www.autoblog.com/2006/07/27/cargo-ship-cougar-ace-tips-over-4-700-mazdas-aboard/

    How about a boat load of new S2Ks: http://www.s2ki.com/s2000/topic/6558-honda-car-carrier-sinks-off-japan/

    I also recall back in the ’80s a Honda car carrier catching fire somewhere in the Pacific.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *