First Generation Mitsubishi Montero – An Urban Gorilla We All Miss

First generation Mitsubishi Montero (Pajero). This is the JDM version. It’s all kinds of awesome too.
(Image: Mitsubishi)

My 1987 Mitsubishi Montero was awesome.

The Mitsubishi Montero sold in North America for over decades ending in 2006. It was known as the Pajero, Shogun, Colt Shogun, Hyundai Galloper and Palath Sabha in other markets. The Dodge Raider was a spinoff in our market, which was pretty much exactly the same as the Montero.

The Mitsubishi Montero started as a three-door, four passenger SUV that was marketed in the United States as the Montero or the Dodge Raider.
The Raider was a direct spinoff, which was pretty much exactly the same as the Montero. From the day it first hit our shores, the Mitsubishi Montero was one of the most capable off road SUVs in the segment.

Image: Mitsubishi

Not only was it a great vehicle for off-road adventures, it wasn’t half bad in the city. Mitsubishi started an ad-campaign calling the Montero the “Urban Gorilla.” It was fairly successful and the Montero started to sell in the states.

Image: Mitsubishi

Worldwide, the Montero/Pajero was gaining a reputation for winning the world’s toughest off-road race – the Dakar. Between 1985 and 1997, it won it a total of twelve times. That’s still a record.

First Generation Mitsubishi Montero 1982 – 1991

I’m featuring the first generation Montero as it was available as a three-door in our market, and I owned one. Actually, I’ve owned other generation’s of the Montero, and loved them. The first is my favorite and it compares well with the Isuzu Amigo, Daihatsu Rocky and Kia Sportage, TFLoffroad already featured.

This crappy photo was of my actual 1987 Mitsubishi Montero. I owned it for three years (a record for me) and I miss it every day.

First generation Monteros came with a SOHC 105-110 horsepower 2.6-liter I4 that made about 139 lbs-feet of torque. The Astron-series (4G54) 2.6 was one of the largest displacement four-bangers of the time. A five speed manual was first available, and an (Aisin-built) four-speed automatic became available later.

Manual locking front hubs, a 1.944/1 transfer case, 4.222 (eight-inch) rear with LSD were standard. A beefed-up Montero with a 139 hp V6 and auto-locking hubs eventually came along, as did a popular five-door model. Eventually. five-door Monteros fully replaced the three-door in our market.

Steering with the recirculating ball system was a tad slow, and some owners had an issue with the smallish front disc brakes (it had rear drums).

The Montero came with a double wishbone front suspension with torsion-springs and a rigid, three-link rear axle. Compared to the Jeep Cherokee and Suzuki Samurai of the time, it was a much better daily driver. The suspension, axle and seating setup (suspension driver’s seat) helped make for a comfy ride.

The three-door wasn’t a lightweight. At about 3,100 lbs, it was hefty and slow, especially with the four-cylinder. Still, the I4 was lauded for being stout and reliable. I blew up a few alternators, but ran my I4 hard for thousands of miles and it never quit.

Second Generation Mitsubishi Montero
Yep, I owned one of these too.
(Image: Mitsubishi)

Later Monteros

Like most off-road vehicles for sale in the United States, the Montero became more civilized thanks to consumer demand. With more sophisticated drivetrains, seating for seven and more safety features, the Montero went upmarket. It never lost its ability to hit the hard trails and it’s reputation for solid powertrains.

Slow sales and bad press helped kill the Montero in the USA. In 2001 Consumer Reports rated the Mitsubishi Montero as “unsafe.” They stated that it lifted a wheel in certain maneuvers. Mitsubishi responded with: “We have searched our records and found no reported incidents or complaints of rollover crashes in this vehicle, not one.” – – Pierre Gagnon, Mitsubishi’s chief American executive.

Third Generation Mitsubishi Montero
(Image: Mitsubishi)

The damage was done. As with all good things, the Montero, now a monocoque design with independent suspension, tons of safety upgrades and much better road manners, was pulled from our market. U.S. sales ended in 2006.

Good luck finding a nice first generation Monte’

Image: East Coast Auto Source

Finding an 82-91 three-door Montero in good condition is difficult. They often rusted and were treated poorly by most. Appreciation for these little trucks is starting to climb, thanks (in part) to our friend Andrew P. Collins at Jalopnik.

I did find a great deal on one at a Chicago dealership that looks pretty good from the outside. There seems to be some problems with it, (“needs tuneup”) but that price of $2,995 is way better than the $6,000 – $14,000 prices I’ve encountered.

Image: East Coast Auto Source

Man, I miss my old Montero. I kept up with Jeeps on the trails and most of my buddies preferred riding in my rig for its comfort. It had problems, like a recurring bearing issue and poor acceleration – but I was damn happy with it. I may buy another one in a few years.

The good news is: the Pajero/Montero lives on overseas. Rumors about its return to the U.S. have floated around, but nothing has come of it. Perhaps, one day, folks will realize what a brilliant little machine this was.

Easily amused by anything with four wheels, Nathan Adlen reviews vehicles from the cheapest to the most prestigious. Wrecking yards, dealer lots, garages, racetracks, professional automotive testing and automotive journalism - Nathan has experienced a wide range of the automotive spectrum. Brought up in the California car culture and educated in theater, childhood education, film, journalism and history, Nathan now lives with his family in Denver, CO. His words, good humor and video are enjoyed worldwide.