Finding a car like this is a real test of a CC writer’s character. I mean, aside from its advancing years and relative rarity, this thing has very little going for it. It’s brown, it’s tiny, it’s insipid – how can inspiration be found in a small pile of Mitsubishit? Let’s try and polish this one and see if we can make it shine.
I couldn’t say why exactly, but I’m really not a fan of Mitsubishi cars in general. There are a few exceptions, but by and large, I really find them to be rather dull. Mitsubishi is a weird company. They date back to the dawn of Japanese industry, built cars since the 1910s (and virtually everything else too, from planes and ships to A/C units and TV sets), so they’re both very old and tentacular, yet they remain a bit-player on the automotive scene. This extends to the kei car market, too.
For almost 50 years, Mitsubishi’s price leader was the Minica, launched in 1962. The first iteration (top left) was extremely rustic and pig-ugly, though it sold well enough because Mitsubishi was a highly respected conglomerate. The 2nd generation (top right) arrived in late 1969. It initially kept its predecessor’s air-cooled parallel twin, which delivered all of 28 PS. This 2nd generation sprouted a fastback version in 1971 called Minica Skipper (middle left). The Minica Van (i.e. the wagon) from this generation was surprisingly long-lived, continuing on until 1981 with only minor cosmetic changes (bottom right) and a 550cc engine. A third generation, dubbed F4 for some unfathomable reason, arrived in late 1972 (middle right), overlapping with its predecessor. In 1976, the engine became a water-cooled four-stroke and grew to 470cc, but little else really changed. The 4th generation, launched in June 1977 (bottom left), remained extremely conservative: though it was now both longer and wider — and had a bigger engine — it did not deviate from the template set in the early ‘60s. It even kept some of the 3rd generation’s body panels.
This template is the über-traditional front-engine / RWD layout, with a parallel 546cc twin providing the power – all 31 hp of it – via a 4-speed manual (or a 2-speed automatic) to a good old live axle. This 4th generation lasted longer than the previous one: in 1981, it got an extensive facelift that included a squarer roofline and square headlamps. A Turbo version even appeared in early 1983 – a kei car first – as well as super deluxe “CX” version, complete with a tape deck and remote control wing mirrors.
I’m wondering if this was not the last 2-cyl. front-engine / RWD car ever produced. It was certainly an oddity even before its day: if you check out this 1971 Road Test review of Japanese kei cars, they already singled out the Minica (then in its second generation) for the same reason. If you’re going to make a tiny car well below 1-litre, why not just go FWD or rear-engine to save space and weight? Pretty strange thinking going on at the Mitsubishi Motors Corporation.
This is evident when looking at the 1983 Minica’s direct competitors – the Daihatsu Mira (top right, launched in 1980), the Subaru Rex (launched in 1981) and the Suzuki Alto (bottom left, launched in 1979). They were all FWD machines and all offered 4WD versions by late 1983. The Daihatsu and the Subaru had a 550cc twin like the Minica, but Suzuki had gone for a triple, which soon became the kei class standard. Subaru and Daihatsu, for their part, offered a 5-door version. Mitsubishi got a turbocharger first, but Daihatsu and Subaru caught up before the end of the year. The Minica, outdated and outclassed both inside and out, had no competitive edge.
Another thing is that the Mitsubishi branding is absent on this car; instead, all we get is this “MMC” lettering on the grille. That was a recent decision, implemented in December 1982. What was going on in Japan at the time? Nissan were ditching Datsun, Toyota finally got rid of Toyopet and Mitsubishi were abandoning their name – a fabulously famous one, with a great logo – for alphabet soup? It’s not that it was rocket science to figure out the meaning of the acronym, but I’m at a loss as to the reasoning behind the change in the first instance. Other Mitsubishis also had that, I seem to recall, but I’m not sure how widespread this particular disease was across the range.
Then there is the second name thing – this “Ami” tacked on the end there. No idea why that’s there. Other makers have done this (Daihatsu Mira Cuore, for example), but “Ami” necessarily reminds me of the Citroën of the same name. It means “friend” in French. Not sure what it’s supposed to mean in the present case. I doubt anyone on the JDM had heard of the controversially-styled Citroën, of course. Still, it’s a weird choice – but maybe that’s just me.
This Minica makes no earthly sense. It didn’t in the early ‘70s and it certainly did even less a decade later. Mitsubishi were aware of it, I guess, as they went FWD with the next generation, which debuted in February 1984 to little acclaim. And so the little RWD dinosaur went extinct, taking its coil-sprung miniature solid axle with it. The Minica continued on until the end of the 8th generation in 2011, after which the Mitsubishi kei was renamed “eK,” which looks less like a name than a reaction (as in: “She saw my new MMC and went ‘eeeK’!”) By comparison, the Toyota iQ sounds positively intelligent.
Meeting the last RWD Minica has done little to change my feelings toward Mitsubishi in general – and small Mitsubishis in particular. I saw a 1st generation Debonair the other day and just gawked as it went past (alas, I was too stunned to react and document it). It was an elegant and characterful design. I have also admired the Galants of the late ‘70s / early ‘80s. I’d even say the early Lancers aren’t too bad. I’m open to some of this carmaker’s products. But what we have here is a technological dead end. A flimsy excuse for a kei masquerading as a high-trim economy car. A vehicle whose body has had more facelifts than Cher. A marque-less model that has less identity than the most badge-engineered Deadly Sin that GM or British Leyland ever committed. Some kei cars are cute, some are boring but competent. And then there is the Minica Ami.
The ‘primitive’ suspension seems to work pretty well…
wow, that guy has got brass balls!
I like it, although the super ugly 1962 version is even better. I wonder sometimes what kind of mileage you could get with a modern 550cc motor in a tiny car. I could commute in something like that.
Or would you just wind up with a Smart car that’s not much more efficient and not much cheaper than a “serious” car.
Thanks for this look at something I’d never seen before.
I’m dead… hilarious take on this car. I do actually (sort of) like the Minica Skipper fastback.
Your writing style just keeps getting better and better.
Another great find Tatra. A Japanese Chevette. Guessing it competed primarily on price. As Isuzu and Hyundai managed very well in the early and mid 80s, they could have at least hidden its 70s roots with affordable and effective 80s exterior styling cues. Like blackout trim, a modern styled steel wheel design, and modern wide (black) bodyside moldings. Though ultimately it would just be an attempt to conceal a dated exterior that looks very mid 70s English. Especially, the cheesy way so many UK cars had an unnecessarily long hood for the overall proportions of the car. With the front wheel arches located forward towards the fender leading edge.
From your second last pic, the interior looks more than decent for an early 80s example.
It’s always those strange exterior styling details that Japanese makers have been doing for decades, that add nothing to the design, but polarize them. That bodyside crease that goes over the front wheel arches looks a decade (or more) behind the times. While the tacked on appearance of the trim piece at the leading edge of the C pillar says 1975 GM parts bin.
I consider this one of your best finds yet, given its obscurity. I have a curious soft spot for these engineering dinosaurs, living fossils.
The Talbot Samba is what came to mind; a bit bigger but equally outdated with its RWD. Of course Toyota made the RWD Starlet until 1984, in the 1.0 L class. For what it’s worth, there was no more reliable car in the world than the RWD Starlet. Maybe that was the appeal of the RWD Minica?
The Talbot Samba (released 1981) was a reworked 1973 Peugeot 104Z/Citroën LN. And while indeed a little dated underneath its sheetmetal at its launch, it surely had FWD.
You probably refer to its predecessor in Talbot‘s line-up, the 1977-1981 Chrysler/Talbot Sunbeam, which was basically for Chrysler UK what the Gremlin was to AMC. It was the 1970 Hillman Avenger cut down to a hatchback. And it had RWD.
Doh! Of course that’s what I was thinking of.
The Starlet and the Sunbeam were a size up from the Minica. The Mitsu was using a RWD set up with a twin – the last Western European car that I can think of with those characteristics would be the Glas Isar.
Yes, and said that, in my comment a bit bigger but equally outdated with its RWD.
The ‘Minica’ name seems technical and cold, even for the early 80s. Great for a camera, not a car. ‘Ami’ (friend) adds a bit of warmth. Though I’m not justifying it. 🙂
To me, Minica seems like “Mini-car” pronounced with a r-dropping Boston accent.
This one reminds me greatly of the Toyota Starlet KP61 (the one we got in the States), but at 3/4 scale.
The Minica ‘Skipper’ looks like a 1972 Dodge Colt that shrank a little too much in the wash….
What’s curious is the similarity between the Minica Skipper and Suzuki Fronte fastback – apparently shaped by Giugiaro and based on his Rowan Electric done during his brief tenure at Ghia. Still trying to figure this out.
Another great find, and another great education for me, since this is a car (once again) that I’d never heard of.
And I’m starting to think that the ability to park within inches of a wall must be a requirement in the Japanese driver’s license test.
It looks a bit like an Austin Metro.
And again . . ..
Mitsubishit? No! Or maybe… but I love all these old little Japanese cars, SO CUTE!