CC Outtake: 1982-85 Mitsubishi L300 Express Starwagon – The Past, The Present And The Future

I was walking home from watching the Brazil vs. Costa Rica match at a bar when I saw something that made me do a double-take. We often feature cars on here that generate comments like, “Wow, I haven’t seen one of those in years” and “These all disappeared from my city ages ago.” Well, check out this Mitsubishi L300 Express. Wow, I haven’t seen one of these in years. These all disappeared from my city ages ago. However, somebody from Jakarta wouldn’t be saying that.

This was the first generation of Express van sold here, debuting in 1980. The Starwagon decals signifies this as the people-mover variant, first introduced here in 1982 and seating eight passengers. The mechanical layout of these was nothing exciting: rear-wheel-drive, recirculating ball steering, front disc brakes and rear drums, and independent double-wishbone/coil spring front suspension with a live axle and leaf springs at the back.

These were popular here, mostly as delivery vans. However, their ubiquity paled in comparison to that of their 1986 successor. That model was sold concurrently with its successor, and was available to order from Mitsubishi Australia all the way up until 2013. At that point, Mitsubishi retired the van because of its embarrassingly poor crash test ratings.

In some markets, however, crash safety just isn’t a priority. That means vans like that 1980-vintage Express can still be found throughout the world. When I was sharing this find on my Instagram the other night, a commenter pointed out this very vehicle is still sold in Indonesia.

There is something especially surreal about seeing a 1980-vintage interior on a fancy, Flash-heavy modern website. The old L300 is sold in Indonesia in pickup, cab chassis and bus chassis form. The sole powertrain is a 2.4 four-cylinder diesel mated to a five-speed manual transmission. It’s hard to tell just what has changed in almost 40 years with the L300.

The 1980s never died. The tooling just got sent to Indonesia.

Check out the proud badge at the front: Power Steering. What luxury!

While I can appreciate the price sensitivity of developing markets, I take a dim view of automakers selling new vehicles with poor crash protection in any country.  Fortunately, the rest of Mitsubishi’s Indonesian lineup is thoroughly modern. There’s the familiar Mirage and Outlander Sport, as well as the capable Triton and Pajero Sport.

Lest you think Mitsubishi Indonesia only manufactures old L300s, check out the new-for-2018, Indonesian-designed and built Xpander. The B-segment people mover segment is popular in South-East Asia, and the front-wheel-drive Xpander is Mitsubishi’s rival for vans like the Toyota Avanza and Honda Mobilio. Measuring just six inches or so longer than an Outlander Sport, the Xpander seats seven passengers. It rides on a new platform, with motivation provided by a 1.5 four-cylinder engine mated to either a five-speed manual or a four-speed auto. It’s simple, it’s what Indonesian consumers want and, while it competes in an entirely different segment, for a developing market product it’s a lot more impressive than the old L300.

Express photographed in Fortitude Valley, Brisbane, QLD in June 2018.