Curbside Classic Lite: 1997 Mitsubishi Montero Sport – Almost Forgotten Veteran Of The Great SUV Boom

Remember the Great SUV Boom? I mean old-school Body-On-Frame SUVs, that were mostly just a truck with a longer body. Yes, there’s still a few around, but they’re mostly on the fringes now. But back in the 1980s and 1990s and into the 00’s, these were the hot number. Most of all the Explorer, S10-Blazer, Jeep Cherokee, Bronco II, and a raft of Japanese brand trucks. And some of them are starting to get a bit uncommon on the streets, like this Montero Sport. So we’d better document it before they’re all gone. And forgotten, as this is not exactly a highly memorable vehicle.

We’ve had a very thorough CC on the original Montero (Pajero), which graced us from 1983 to 1991. It was one of the pioneers of the genre, beating the Cherokee and other American compact SUVs to the market. Originally only as a short wheelbase two-door, it was joined later. by a larger four door. It was a success for Mitsubishi. In 1991, it was replaced by the gen2 version, similar but with the edges rounded off, in the spirit of the times. Sales started to trail off.

In 2001, Mitsubishi went upscale with the Montero/Pajero, featuring a unibody construction to improve rigidity and ride quality, and a new 3.8 L 24 valve V6 engine. Its sales continued to be quite modest in the US, and it was withdrawn from the market in 2006. Its ambitious pricing opened the door for a lower-tier SUV: enter the Montero Sport.

The Montero (Pajero) Sport was heavily based on the third generation Triton pickup (K50/60/70).  And also on the gen2 Montero, sharing its wheelbase and suspension. In essence, it was a cheaper gen2 Montero, with a lower profile body shared with the pickup. And built in anticipation of the much more expensive gen3 Montero arriving within a few years.

It arrived hereabouts in 1997, making this one a first-year model.

Front suspension was IFS with torsion bars. Rear suspension started out as leaf springs, but in 2000, the rear suspension was upgraded to a coil spring setup. This one clearly has a V6, which was the venerable 3.0 L unit, and was teamed with a four speed automatic. The lowest cost ES model had a 2.4 L four and 5-speed stick. In 1999, a new high-end Limited arrived, with the larger 3.5 L V6.

Along with the coil spring rear end, in 2000, the four cylinder went away, at least in the US. Outside the US, several diesel engines were available. Further refinements came along in 2002, with a new full-time AWD system. And in its last year, 2004, the 3.5 V6 was the only engine.

(sorry about the bad focus) The Montero Sport went on to have a long life in various parts of Asia, and was built until 2008, including local production in China. An evergreen.

The interior is about as typical or generic as it gets from this era: a sea of gray vinyl and fabric. Or is it that brownish tint? I can’t tell for sure.

This Montero Sport was the subject of a CC Clue back in October. I rarely do them anymore, because you all are way too good, and they’re usually identified in minutes. But this one was a bit harder than average, and it took a whopping nine hours before Dave got it. Congratulations.

I’m not exactly inspired to go on about this truck for great lengths. These were typical Mitsubishis trucks: tough and in this case, more than a bit on the crude side, But quite effective. And I rather miss these simple Mini-Travelalls.