Mitsubishi L300 Express Wagon
Reviewed by Unique Cars and Parts
Our Rating: 1
Not So Sqeezy
the concept of the “People Mover” was gaining in popularity. The front bench seat was pretty much a thing of the past, which meant the traditional family wagon only had the ability to carry 5 – inevitably it was grandmother that would miss out on seeing the kids at their local sporting events. In a stroke of genius, Mitsubishi realised that their hitherto commercial van could be suitably adapted to fill the role of a family car. It was a brilliant idea.
Mitsubishi took their L300 Express Wagon and added seats, and then set about marketing it with the slogan, "Not so Squeezy". Best described as an eight seater 'bus', the L300 Express was one of two vehicles fully imported from Japan which headed Mitsubishi's long overdue push onto the Australian commercial vehicle market.
In announcing the Express Wagon and its sister Express van, Chrysler had reorganised its commercial vehicle operation and the two vehicles represented the start of a major push into that market segment. At the time Mitsubishi had been increasing its involvement in commercial vehicles dramatically. According to 1979
sales figures from Japan, they sold more commercials than passenger cars on the home domestic market.
To be honest, however, Mitsubishi did do more than simply fit some extra seats to the van to make it a serious family proposition. It was fully trimmed, well equipped, and with eight seats arranged in a three – two - three sequence. Access to the cabin was provided by the usual side doors, with rear compartment entry via a huge lift-side door. A swing up, gas strut supported rear hatch completed the picture. The two rear bench seats were removable, as was the full length carpeting. However, when it's all in, what you had was an amazingly practical family car.
The Wagon had all the comforts of any regular family sedan. The seats were comfortable - except in the centre front where padding was very thin - and reasonably supportive, the driver and outside front passenger even getting headrests. Carpet, headlining and neat side trim ran the 3990 mm length of the vehicle, giving it a very sedan like feel. Adding to that was the equipment level, which rivalled any small car. The dash had a neat and compact instrument binnacle, plenty of warning lights, and stalk controls straight out of the Sigma. Only the near horizontal steering column and large steering wheel would remind you that it was based on a commercial van.
The ventilation system was very good, as was the heating and demisting (including side demist - on the passenger's side anyway). Even a push-button radio was standard equipment – in an era when such things were kept to the options list. Powering both Express models was the faithful 1600cc Saturn four cylinder, seen in the base Sigma and Lancer Hatchback models. It was a great engine, extremely willing and flexible, although a little noisy. Fitted to the box-shaped Express, the unit pushed you along to a top of 122 km/h – which was not altogether bad as, with a family aboard, safety dictated that sticking to the speed limit was a good idea.
On the Road
Average fuel consumption of 13.5 litres/100 km was reasonable too. When driving a little harder, that would drop away to 16.6 litres/100 km. The four speed on-the-tree (column) transmission was simple to operate, although it suffered from a tight syncro on first. First gear was too short in ratio also, no sooner had you moved off from standstill than you needed to change up. It tempted many driver to start in second all the time, something the Express would do easily – unless you were fully laden.
Steering was via the usual recirculating ball system, and that meant it was inherently vague and somewhat imprecise, the large steering
wheel not helping matters any. Generally though, it was the amount of body roll which determined how close to the apex of a corner you got, rather than the accuracy of the steering. With one up the steering was acceptable, although it would load up quickly if you were punting along. However, with a full load on board body roll took over and you had to fight it a bit to get round. Road testers found that accuracy deteriorated in direct proportion to speed increase.
were a disc/drum setup, with a light pedal affording very good retardation. Front suspension was by independent double wishbone with coil springs and telescopic-shockers, the back by assymetrical semi-elliptic leaf spring. It worked well in the absorption of bumps, and soaked up all road noise and harshness very effectively – if you were judging it against other commercial vehicles. But when judged against the traditional Holden or Ford Wagon, it was evident the Wagon needed two things - a set of radials and some good anti-roll bars
. The body swayed alarmingly with a full load on board, although it was (just) acceptable with one up. This in turn threw any semblance of 'handling' out the window. The driver was left with the impression that if the body-roll was obviated, the rig would probably handle quite nicely.
Letting the side down still further were the standard crossply tyres. If ever a vehicle needed radials, this was it. On crossplies the front end loaded up horribly at speed and the whole thing understeered like a pig – which was a result of both the body-roll and the scramble for traction. A year after its launch Mitsubishi addressed the problem, switching to larger diameter wheels shod with radial ply tyres. An added benefit was that the payload capacity increased from 925 to 1,000 kilograms (2,040 to 2,200 lb). One month later, in December 1981
, Mitsubishi introduced the high-roofed luxury "Deluxe" trim, fitted with electric sunroof and cloth upholstery.
The Mitsubishi Starwagon
The next update to the SB series arrived in October 1982
, resulting in the "Deluxe" trim being renamed "Starwagon" and gaining a larger 1.8-litre engine - offered with a five-speed overdrive manual or optional three-speed automatic. Mitsubishi extended the availability of the 1.8-litre engine to the lower-specification variants, albeit, in automatic guise only. From May 1983
, the L300 Express received rectangular headlights in chrome surrounds as part of the SC iteration. The SC also featured newly-designed black resin bumpers and adjustments to the front suspension spring rate to improve ride and handling.
The four-wheel drive version, badged "4WD", came in October 1983
as a 1.8-litre model with floor-mounted five-speed manual only, therefore becoming a seven-passenger model by losing the front-row center seat. After another facelift in late 1984, the car became the SD series, introducing better equipment and black headlight surrounds along with a black trim piece between the headlights on "Starwagon" and "4WD" trims. The SD revision also upgraded the "4WD" to a 2.0-litre engine, with the 1.8-litre standard issue in a new long-wheelbase commercial (van) model. A final minor update, the SE series appeared in 1986