The Opel Omega wasn’t the only car to be sliced down the middle and widened for Australian consumption. Three years prior, Mitsubishi introduced the Magna, a car that helped cement its position in Australia as one of the most powerful Japanese players, despite getting off to a rough start.
The Magna was the first serious attempt by the Japanese to tackle the family sedan market with something modern yet suitable for Aussies. Its predecessor, the Sigma, resembled the other family sedans other Japanese companies were peddling in Australia in the 1980s: stodgy and rear-wheel-drive. Mazda’s front-wheel-drive, space-efficient 626 was a breath of fresh air, but Toyota and Nissan trudged along with the antiquated, locally-assembled Corona and Bluebird well after they were replaced in overseas markets. The Sigma was flagging and Mitsubishi’s Australian fortunes were rapidly fading, so the Magna represented a real Hail Mary pass.
Introduced for 1985, the Magna was based on the overseas Galant but was widened by 2.6 inches – enough to make it a comfortable five-seater – and underwent modifications to make it more durable for our tough climate and tougher roads, including heavier axles and a stronger transmission. Originally, Mitsubishi had intended to simply rebody the rear-wheel-drive Sigma, but realized this was a developmental deadend. Mitsubishi’s efforts in so thoroughly Australianizing its Galant were rewarded with the Wheels Car of the Year trophy for 1985.
TM SE. Photo courtesy of OSX.
There was just one engine choice, as Mitsubishi eschewed the turbos and V6s available overseas. Instead, Mitsubishi’s venerable 2.6 Astron four – dating back to 1978 – provided motivation in either carburetted (114hp, 146 ft-lbs) or, from 1987, fuel-injected versions (124hp, 151 ft-lbs). The latter was considerably smoother in its power delivery, and both versions featured balancing shafts to help curb the excessive vibration inherent in larger four-cylinders. This was the same 2.6 employed in myriad Chrysler products, including the K-Cars.
Underneath, the Magna was much like other contemporary front-wheel-drive sedans: four wheel disc brakes, MacPherson struts with L-shaped lower arms, coil springs and anti-roll bar suspension up front, torsion beam rear axle with anti-roll bar, trailing arms and coil springs out back, and rack and pinion steering with optional power assistance. Transmissions were a five-speed manual or four-speed automatic with electronic overdrive.
It was the automatic transmission which left a bad taste in many mouths, as early TM Magnas had particularly unreliable units. A fast-wearing transmission housing would lead to failure and an expensive repair bill. In addition, there were complaints of leaking head gaskets, rattling timing chains and smokiness.
TP wagon. Photo courtesy of OSX.
Owing to their front-wheel-drive packaging and increased width, these Magnas were spacious cars and boasted more cabin room than a contemporary Commodore, as well as rival Japanese mid-sizers. However, their Astron engines, despite being grunty for a four, were two cylinders short of the Falcon and Commodore. Thus, the Magna occupied a curious in-between spot in the market.
Still, the first Magna had plenty of appeal. The flagship trim level was the Elite, which featured velour upholstery, steering wheel audio controls, digital instruments, power windows, central locking and a stereo with graphic equalizer. An Australian designed wagon would arrive in 1987, and 1989 would see the arrival of the much improved (but curiously named) TP series with an improved automatic. A sporty Elante sedan and Grand Tourer wagon would join the lineup, as well as numerous special editions. Only the TP series cars seem to be on the roads today, with TM/TN cars seemingly extinct; the featured car is a TP.
A new, more modern Falcon and Commodore would arrive for 1988, and the Magna would start to look a little old-fashioned. The Magna would soldier on until 1991 when an even bigger Magna would arrive with optional V6 power; an Australian-developed wagon would follow, and be exported globally. The Magna wouldn’t ever inspire the fervor the Falcon and Commodore would, but it would enjoy a loyal following over its twenty year run.