Mitsubishi History

Send This Page To A Friend
Fade To White
Mitsubishi History



 1917 - Present
IN COMMON WITH other Japanese motor-car builders, the Mitsubishi Motor Corporation, manufacturer of the Mitsubishi range of motor cars, is a relatively young company in terms of motor-manufacturing history.

Tosa Kaisei-Shosha

Of the Japanese firms producing motor cars, however, Mitsubishi is one of the few, if not the only one, which can trace its origins back before 1900. The direct origins of the company stem from a company which was called Tosa Kaisei-Shosha that was founded in 1870.

Mitsubishi Shokai

his company was renamed Mitsubishi Shokai in 1873, and two years later the Mitsubishi Mail Steamship Company. Mitsubishi means 'three diamonds', which gives the company its red three-diamond trademark. A year later, the company was again renamed, becoming Mitsubishisha Ltd, and merged with the Government-owned Nagasaki Iron Works which themselves had their origins in a forge set up by Tokugawa Shogunate in 1857.

Mitsubishi Shipbuilding

In 1917, the Mitsubishi Shipbuilding Co Ltd was formed and, in the same year, the Mitsubishi Model A, based on the Fiat, became one of the first commercially manufactured Japanese cars. Roughly twenty of these cars were built and sold, although experiments and development work continued until 1921 when the Mitsubishi Internal-Combustion Engine Co Ltd was formed from the previously named Mitsubishi Internal-Combustion-Engine Manufacturing Company Ltd.

The creation of the Mitsubishi Aircraft Company Ltd, in 1928, was followed by the founding of Mitsubishi Heavy Industries Ltd in 1934, and much of the intervening space of time was spent at the Kobe Works in the production of heavy trucks and buses.

Enterprise Reorganisation and Readjustment Law

During World War 2, production was converted to the manufacture of tanks and it was not until 1946 that production of three-wheeled trucks and large-sized buses was resumed. Under the Enterprise Reorganisation and Readjustment Law, passed in 1950, which was aimed at putting war-ravaged Japan back on its industrial feet, the company was reorganised. This reorganisation, which was completed in 1952, resulted in Mitsubishi being divided into three divisional .cornpanies: the Mitsubishi Shipbuilding and Engineering Company Ltd; Shin Mitsubishi Heavy Industries Ltd; and Mitsubishi Nippon Heavy Industries Ltd.

The Mitsubishi 500

In 1953, Mitsubishi signed an agreement allowing them to manufacture Jeeps under licence. It took eight years from the reorganisation before the first of the new generation of Mitsubishi passenger cars rolled off the production line - this was the Mitsubishi 500. Powered by a two-cylinder, four-stroke, overhead-valve, air-cooled, 20 hp engine, it was a small four-seater featuring synchromesh on second and third gears and a single-dry-plate clutch.

As the Japanese car industry grew, so too did Mitsubishi, and by 1973 the Nippon industry's annual production, including parts and bodies, amounted to about 5800 billion Yen, and automotive exports accounted for 16 per cent of the national total. Production of vehicles in 1973 was 7,082,757 units, an increase of 12.5 per cent over the previous year, with passenger cars accounting for 63.1 per cent of the total. Of the total production of passenger cars in 1973, 44.2 per cent were in the 1001cc-1500cc class; 39.2 per cent were in the 1501cc-2000cc group; 8.4 per. cent in the 360cc group; 5.9 per cent in the 361cc-1000cc class and 2.3 per cent in the over 2000 cc sector.

The 360cc Class Feeds Local Demand

It is interesting to note in particular that the 360cc class of vehicle, a phenomenon peculiar to Japan, experienced a remarkable change in fortune. Produced as a move towards mass motorisation in the formative days of the Japanese motor industry, and fed by Government concessions in taxation, registration and driving-licence requirements, it occupied a modest 16.8 per cent of the total Japanese car market in 1965.

In 1970, the under-360 cc class took 30.4 per cent of the home market - but no sooner had the market been established than it began to decline, occupying only 8.4 per cent of the market in 1973. Turning to the design front, it is interesting to note that, when the Japanese motor industry began to cater for the mass market in the mid 1950s, it found itself supplying a consumer educated to US standards and tastes.

Before the war, both General Motors and Ford assembled cars in Japan, and, after the war, seven years of occupation by US forces helped particularly to shape Japanese attitudes towards passenger cars. Consequently, such tradition as there was, when production began in earnest in the sixties, stemmed largely from Detroit. As a result of this, when the cars appeared on the US market they had a styling which was familiar to the American consumer and were that much more acceptable.

Mitsubishi Model A
The first Mitsubishi was a Model A, based on a Fiat. It was one of the first commercially available cars in Japan, although the production span only ran to about 20 cars.

1959 Mitsubishi 500
The Mitsubishi 500 started production in 1959. It was powered by a twin-cylinder four-stroke overhead valve air-cooled engine producing 20 bhp. Ahead of it's time, it had synchromesh on the upper two of its three forward gears.

1966 Mitsubishi Minica 360,
1966 Mitsubishi Minica 360, powered by a two-cylinder two-stroke.

1972 Mitsubishi Colt Galant
The 1972 Mitsubishi Colt Galant GTO GSR, which was powered by a 1995cc 125 bhp engine.

1975 Lancer 1400 two-door
1975 Lancer 1400 two-door.

Chrysler Mitsubishi Signa
The car that changed Australian attitudes to Mitsubishi, the wonderful Sigma.

The First Mitsubishi Colt

In 1962, the first Mitsubishi Colt made its public debut in Japan. Two years later, the present holding company was formed by a merger of the former three divisional companies, under the pre-war name of Mitsubishi Heavy Industries Ltd. In the same year, Mitsubishi's top-of-the-range Debonair was shown. 1966 saw the launch of the Mitsubishi Minica 360 saloon, powered by a 356 cc air-cooled, two-stroke, two-cylinder engine. By this time, the Colt saloons (of which the smallest had fastback styling and was powered by a three-cylinder, two-stroke engine of the DKW type which developed 41 bhp) were being powered by 1000 and 1500 cc oversquare, push-rod, four-cylinder units and had front suspension by coils and wishbones in place of the transverse leaf springs of the smaller types.

The Mitsubishi Debonair

The Debonair was now a 105 bhp six with six-seater coachwork, four headlamps and the choice of all-synchromesh or automatic gearboxes. In 1968, Mitsubishi Heavy Industries established a technical link with the Ford Motor Company and Mobil Oil Company in the United States for the development of an anti-pollution device. This was one of a number of technical agreements which the company signed with American companies for technical liaison on motor-vehicle components, such as steering columns, dynamo relays and electro-magnetic clutches.

In 1969, the motor-vehicle headquarters of Mitsubishi were relocated in a new building in Tamachi. A new Automobile Technical Centre was opened in Okazaki-shi the same year and the Colt Galant Series and new Minica were introduced. By this time, Mitsubishi were producing 128,000 cars a year, giving them just under five per cent of the Japanese market, and 209,000 commercial vehicles and buses. A year later, the motor-vehicle headquarters of the company were separated from Mitsubishi Heavy Industries Ltd, and established as the Mitsubishi Motor Corporation.

The Colt Galant Hardtop and GTO

1970 was also the year in which the Colt Galant hardtop and GTO were introduced. In 1971, the Colt Galant Coupe FTO and Minica Skipper were introduced and small trucks and ultra-large dumper trucks were developed. The Skipper was powered by a single-over head-camshaft in-line, two-cylinder, 360 cc power unit mounted conventionally and driving the rear wheels via a conventional transmission and drive train.

Although the Mitsubishi Corporation's connections with the Chrysler Corporation in the USA go back as far as 1925, the first phase of Chrysler's equity participation in the Japanese company was not officially announced until 1971, when, in June of that year, Chrysler took a 35 per cent interest in a new joint company with Mitsubishi. As a result of this business and technical agreement, the overhead-camshaft Colt Galants appeared on the American market in 1971 and were sold through the Chrysler Corporation's Dodge dealer network.

At the same time, the Debonair received a new overhead-camshaft power unit. It was also in 1971 that a late version of a Mitsubishi single-seater, roughly conforming to Formula Two rules, won the 1971 Japanese Grand Prix for single-seaters. 1972 saw the introduction of the Colt Galant L Series and the Minica F4. The pushrod Colts now had bigger 1.4-litre engines, and the overhead-camshaft, four-cylinder Mitsubishis catered for everything from 1.4-Iitre saloons to the GTO-MR Series, which used a twin-cam, twin-carburettor 1597 cc engine developing 125 bhp, a five-speed all-synchromesh gearbox and servo-assisted front disc brakes.

Also in 1971 the company remodelled their medium and heavy-duty truck ranges. And they announced their new anti-pollution clean-air system and as a result their Saturn engine passed the 1973 USA Emissions Standards. In the competition field, 1972 was the year which saw two Colt Galant 16 LGSs take first and third places overall in the Seventh Southern Cross International Rally.

The Mitsubishi Minica and Skipper Coupe

1973 was the year in which Mitsubishi introduced four new passenger cars: the Colt Galant FTO Coupe, the Colt Galant GTO 2000, the Lancer 1200cc and 1400cc and the New Colt Galant 1600cc and 1850cc. In the Eighth Southern Cross International Rally that year, Colt Lancer 1600 GSs swept the board, taking first, second, third and fourth places. By the end of that year, the Mitsubishi range boasted four model series: the Minica, the Lancer, the Galant and the Debonair, with nearly 50 model derivatives.

Smallest of the range was the three versions of the Minica saloon and the Skipper Coupe, which were all powered by a front-mounted, four-stroke, two-cylinder, in-line, 359 cc power unit which delivered 30 bhp (DIN) at 8000 rpm. The two-door, four-seater cars had full synchromesh, four-speed gearboxes and a top speed of 71 mph; their overall length was 117.91 in.

Chrysler Loans Mitsubishi the "Lancer" Name

The Lancer range - a name 'on loan' from the Chrysler bank of model names - comprised 18 derivatives of two and four-door saloons and coupes, with the 1200 models powered by a four-stroke, three-crankshaft-bearing, four-cylinder, in-line, OHV, 1187 cc unit which delivered 70 bhp (DIN) at 6000 rpm; the 1400 model powered by a four-cylinder, five-crankshaft-bearing, 1439 cc unit which gave 92 hp (DIN) at 6300rpm; the 1600 models powered by either a four-cylinder, five-bearing, OHV, 1597 cc unit producing 100 bhp (DIN) at 6300 rpm or a five-bearing, ohv, 1597 cc that produced 110 bhp (DIN) at 6700 rpm.

With a conventional, full synchromesh, four- speed transmission, the five-seater cars had independent front suspension and rigid-axle rear suspension. The Galant series offered the low errussron, air injection, 1597 cc, 97 bhp (D IN) at 6300 rpm unit giving 99 mph in the 1600 saloons and hardtops, with the top of the 1600 range GL MCA II being powered by a four-cylinder, in-line, 1597 cc five-crankshaft-bearing, OHV, slanted, OHC unit.

The Galant 1850 GL saloons and hardtop were powered by a 1855 cc unit which produced 105 bhp (DIN) at 6000 rpm with the SL-5 version having a five-speed gearbox. The Galant 1850 GS-5 saloon and hardtop were both powered by a 1855 cc unit which gave 115 bhp at 6200 rpm while the Galant 2000 GL-II saloon and hardtop were powered by a 1995 cc engine that produced 115 bhp at 6000 rpm. All four models had a five-speed, full synchromesh gearbox.

The GS-II saloon and hardtop versions of the Galant 2000 were powered by a 1995 cc unit which produced 125 hp (DIN) at 6200 rpm which gave the cars a maximum speed of 115 mph. The Galant FTO 1600 GSR Coupe was powered by a four-cylinder, OHC, in-line, five-bearing, 1597 cc unit which gave the car 110 bhp (DIN) at 6700 rpm. With a five-speed box, the two-door car had a maximum speed of 112 mph. The Galant GTO series of coupes had as bottom of the range the 1700SL, which was powered by a four-stroke, four-cylinder, twin-overhead-camshaft 1686 cc engine which gave 105 bhp (DIN) at 6300 rpm and a top speed of 109 mph.

The Mitsubishi 2000 GTO SL

The 2000 GTO SL and 2000 GTO SL-5 models were both powered by a 1995 cc twin-ohc unit which gave 115 bhp (DIN) at 6000 rpm and the slightly faster top speed of 112 mph. The SL-5 version had a full synchromesh five-speed gearbox. The GTO 2000 GS-5 and GTO GSR were both powered by the same 1995 cc unit as the SL and SL-5 models, but with modifications that boosted the power to 125 bhp (DIN) at 6200 rpm. The top of the Mitsubishi range, the Debonair Executive saloon, had a four-stroke, six-cylinder, 1994 cc, seven-cranks haft-bearing, ohv unit which as standard gave 130 bhp (DIN) at 6000 rpm and the option of another unit that produced 120 bhp (DIN) at 6000 rpm. The four-door, six-seater cars had independent front suspension and rigid-axle, semi-elliptical leaf-spring rear suspension. Transmission to the rear wheels was through a four-speed full-synchromesh gearbox and a single-dry-plate clutch.

By 1975, the Mitsubishi Motor Corporation had a capital of 35,177,000,000 Yen and employed about 22,000 people. It was part of one of the largest companies in the world, with the Mitsubishi empire taking in interests in the manufacture' of heavy machinery, ships, rolling stock and aircraft. In 1974, the Cooper Car Co Ltd was set up in conjunction with the Mitsubishi Corporation to import Mitsubishi cars into the UK for the first time, and were to be marketed under the brand name Colt.

In 1977, the Colt range had expanded to fulfil many market requirements. The Lancer was a small family saloon-conventional, unpretentious and compact. The Celeste became the obligatory coupe version with opening tailgate. The medium-sized Galant was very much in the Ford Cortina bracket. Again, there was a sporting coupe-the GTO. Top of the range was the Sigma, a prestige saloon little larger than the Galant but with better equipment.

Chrysler Australia Manufacturers the Mitsubishi Sigma

Chrysler expanded once again, this time to manufacture the Sigma, a local version of Mitsubishi's Japanese Galant model. The factory continued producing Valiants in ever diminishing numbers but with higher standards of equipment and finish. Small car sales went from strength to strength and in 1978 Sigma became the top selling four-cylinder vehicle on the market. Despite this success, Chrysler Australia Ltd ran into severe financial problems.

By 1977, a network of "Colt"-branded distribution and sales dealerships had been established across Europe, as Mitsubishi sought to begin selling vehicles directly. Annual production had by now grown from 500,000 vehicles in 1973 to 965,000 in 1978, when Chrysler began selling the Galant as the Dodge Challenger and the Plymouth Sapporo. However, this expansion was beginning to cause friction; Chrysler saw their overseas markets for subcompacts as being directly encroached by their Japanese partners, while MMC felt the Americans were demanding too much say in their corporate decisions.

Mitsubishi Motors Australia

Mitsubishi finally achieved annual production of one million cars in 1980, but by this time its ally was not so healthy; As part of its battle to avoid bankruptcy, Chrysler was forced to sell its Australian manufacturing division to MMC that year. The new Japanese owners renamed it Mitsubishi Motors Australia Ltd (MMAL). In 1982, the Mitsubishi brand was introduced to the American market for the first time. The Tredia sedan, and the Cordia and Starion coupés, were initially sold through 70 dealers in 22 states, with an allocation of 30,000 vehicles between them. This quota, restricted by mutual agreement between the two countries' governments, had to be included among the 120,000 cars earmarked for Chrysler.

Toward the end of the 1980s, as MMC initiated a major push to increase its U.S. presence, it aired its first national television advertising campaign, and made plans to increase its dealer network to 340 dealers. By 1989, Mitsubishi's worldwide production, including its overseas affiliates, had reached 1.5 million units.

Also see: Mitsubishi Car Reviews | The Chrysler Australia Story
Chrysler Mitsubishi Sigma
Latest Classic Car Classifieds

Sell Your Car or Parts Browse the Classifieds It's Absolutely Free! - Find Out More