CC Capsule: 1992 Mitsubishi Minica (H22) Piace – The Kei That Was Almost Thrown Away

This month’s kei car is brought to you by Mitsubishi, also known as the sick man of Japanese carmakers. At least that’s what they have been looking like for the past couple of decades – this Minica takes us back to a sunnier time in Mitsubishi’s history, before the sickness set in. Though looking at it a bit closer, this Minica looks a bit peaky itself…

This Minica is a good illustration of why there are so few really old kei cars still around. This one looks like it was rescued and put back on the road recently, but it’s obviously seen better days. Thirty-year-old cars aren’t exactly rare here, but they’re nearly always meticulously preserved. This is not the first time I’ve seen an older kei with brand new plates and a scruffy body – not a thing that seem to happen with larger domestic classics or imports.

Another conundrum that some of you might have already noticed is that this car is not registered as a kei. It has white plates, so it’s registered as a normal car. Again, not the first time I’ve seen this with an older kei, but it’s unclear to me what the deal is with that exactly.

But let’s discuss what we do know, for a change. This is the 6th generation Minica, made between 1989 and 1993. The original Minica came out in 1962 and this 4-door Piace is a special anniversary edition for the nameplate.

The preceding generation made the switch to FWD and introduced the tall greenhouse design that this generation took to even greater heights. Styling became a bit less square, but the Minica still looked like an aquarium on wheels. The Autozam Carol, which came out the same year, looked infinitely bubblier and more modern. On the other hand, only the Minica had the “Lettuce” – a very interesting variant with one door for the driver and two doors on the other side. Not shown in the 1990 brochure above was a walkthrough van, the one member of this Minica range that can still be encountered occasionally.

Engine-wise, Mitsubishi were playing catch-up to the industry leaders (Suzuki and Daihatsu) and ditched the dated twin that the previous Minica still had in favour of the all-mighty triple. It was still stuck at 548cc in 1989, but was revised up to 657cc a year later when the kei regulations changed. Our feature car has (in theory) an evolution of this 3-cyl. with a DOHC head and five valves per cylinder providing 52hp. A 64hp turbocharged variant was also available, as was an AWD drivetrain.

As is common with kei cars, Mitsubishi made a staggering amount of these little things – over 780,000 units, to be precise. This does not include the 800cc version that was sold in Taiwan. Yet they have all but disappeared. Seriously – this is the first one I’ve seen in three years in this country.

With some exceptions, kei cars are seen as utterly disposable. Owners are urged to chuck them away through government incentives and regulations, so they tend to fade away from view after a couple of decades of use, replaced by a continual and steady stream of newer kei cars. That’s how the carmakers keep the lights on and how, despite churning out these little cars in huge numbers, very few survive. Finding this one parked exactly there was magnifique indeed!


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Curbside / Junkyard Classics: Somebody Likes Old Vans And Oddballs, by T87