Curbside Classic: The Japanese Retro Re-Trial (3rd Witness) – 1998 Mitsubishi Pajero Jr. Flying Pug

Bailiff: All rise and shine. This CCourt is in session, Judge Jim ‘Junkyard’ Klein presiding.

Judge Klein: Please be sordid. This is our final witness and I’d like to send the lot of them to the scrapheap before lunch, so let’s be quick about this. Fortunately, by the looks of today’s defendant, things are bound to be brought to a swift and monocoque-crushing conclusion very soon indeed. CCounsel, take off the handbrake, put it in gear and give it some gas.

T87: Thank you, your Editorness. They say that Justice is blind. As we detail today’s witness, I am reminded that I really envy Justice, sometimes. Please state your date of manure-facture, marque and model.

Flying Pug: I am the one and only 1998 Mitsubishi Pajero Jr. Flying Pug.

T87: Is that “Pig” or Pug”?

Flying Pug: He he he… Pug.

T87: You find it funny?

Flying Pug: It’s hard to take yourself seriously when you’re called Flying Pug.

T87: I’ll grant you that. Though it’s equally hard to figure out what your parent corporation was aiming at when the designed you. Are you supposed to be a ‘30s throwback? DeSoto Airflow or an Aero Hupmobile, perhaps?

Flying Pug: Nope. My avowed inspiration is the Austin FX4.

T87: The London black cab?? Really?? Could have fooled me.

Flying Pug: I know, right? What were they smoking?

T87: I don’t know, but I want some. Were you ever a four-door vehicle?

Flying Pug: No, I’m based on the Pajero Mini kei car, but I got wider and was given a 1.1 litre engine. Hence the “Jr.,” I guess.

T87: Let the CCourt, who may not know about this Pajero Jr. line, see a file photo. And of the FX4 taxi, while we’re at it.

Never should the twain have met (except in our nightmares) – 1995-98 Pajero Jr. & 1959-97 FX4 Taxi

T87: Even with the best imagination and a hefty helping of psychotropic drugs, I fail to understand how anyone could have looked at the Pajero Jr. and said “You know what? This is but a vertical grille and a couple of chrome accents away from being a London cab.”

Flying Pug: Well, LTI had just stopped FX4 production – after a highly respectable 38-year run, so the shape was on car designers’ mind, I suppose.

T87: Yes, but it’s a completely different shape from whatever you’ve turned out to be! I mean, your grille is completely different, your headlamps are in-board, your fenders are bulging, you have a hood ornament and your taillights bear no relation to the vertical ones on the black cabs. And the name. What is with up with that, may one ask?

Flying Pug: Pugs are associated with Britain. Flying is cool and the word was used on many cars. The conjunction of the two creates an amusing mental image. And few Japanese understand English.

T87: Whaddaya know, that makes about as much sense as the rest of the story. So the deeply conservative and tentacular Mitsubishi Corporation went ahead and got in on the ‘90s retro craze with a mini 4×4 styled like a Chinese knock-off of a ‘50s British design (with two doors missing, no less). How did this all go down on the JDM?

Flying Pug: Reactions were fairly muted, in my recollection. At first, there was stunned silence. Then a noiseless look of disapproval, followed by an inaudible hush of condemnation. Things went quiet after that.

T87: I see. Not exactly a warm reception, then, was it?

Flying Pug: Not too warm, no. I’ve seen more enthusiastic crowds at war memorials and atonal music concerts.

T87: So when you say that “things went quiet after that,” are we to infer that your presence on showroom floors was not followed by a buying frenzy that enabled your parent company to laugh hysterically all the way to the bank?

Flying Pug: You might say that, yes. Mitsubishi were already having trouble convincing the public that the Pajero Jr. was good value for money – sales were sluggish. Then they introduced me in September 1997 as a special deluxe edition, limited to 1000 units.

T87: So you’re saying that 1000 Pugs came Flying out of Mitsubishi dealerships?

Flying Pug: Er… no, not exactly that many…

T87: How many then?

Flying Pug: 139.

T87: Wow! That’s an indictment if I’ve ever seen one. Speaking of which, I believe it’s time for me to deliver my closing argument. Your Serenity, I have no further questions.

Judge Klein: Very well. Flying Pug, you are excused. Your closing, Mr Tatra. While we’re still awake.

T87: I’ll be brief, your Imperiousness. We have seen yet another three egregious examples of the retro craze that has swept Japan for the past three decades, and it’s fair to say the situation has not improved. Whether under attack from kit-makers, coachbuilders or OEMs themselves, automotive good taste has been put through some of the most challenging tests on the JDM since the Great Nissan Fuglification Plague of the ‘70s. I do not know how we can address this. I only know it had better stop, lest the coming decade become a world of glaring plastichrome and contrived references to past designs that were questionable in their day already. Let us act now, before we go blind.

Judge Klein: Thank you Mr Tatra. Ladies and gentlemen of the CCommment section, what say you?


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The (First) Japanese Retro Trial (Part 1Part 2Part 3), by T87