Curbside Classic: Mitsubishi Debonair (1964-1986) – Continental Lite


Imagine that you are a “fly on the wall” in the executive suites of Mitsubishi Motors in the early 1960’s.  The subject – the styling for Mitsubishi’s upcoming model in the “executive” class, their flagship model, the Debonair…


“Saito-san, we’re stuck, we don’t know in what direction to go – what should the Debonair look like?”

“That’s a good question Abe-san, so to help inspire us, I have brought over three luxury models from the US – all 1961 models; a Cadillac Sedan Deville, a Chrysler Imperial, and a Lincoln Continental.”

“Saito-san, they are all so very different, how can we choose?”

“Abe-san, remember our car’s name – Debonair – it means elegant, stylish, chic, tasteful…”

“Yes, Saito-san, I see what you mean, you’re right; there is only one choice…“


Mitsubishi Motors Debonair and Mitsubishi Aircraft MU-2 Turboprop

The ‘60s were Japan’s “go-go” years – it had rebuilt itself from the utter destruction of the previous World War, and its industries were humming.  As before the War, Japan’s economy was largely in the hands of several large conglomerates.  These conglomerates had numerous individual business entities – so there were lots of senior executives.  Company loyalty is a given in Japan, and these executives needed transportation – and for Mitsubishi exec’s, (aircraft, cars/trucks, shipbuilding, chemicals, energy, electronics, financial, real estate), riding in a Toyota or Nissan just wouldn’t do – thus was born the Debonair.


Century                                                                           President

The Debonair, and later  Nissan President (1965) and Toyota Century (1967), were sold mainly to fleet operators of their respective parent corporation or affiliated companies.  They shuttled executives as they went about their very busy duties contributing to Japan’s economic miracle.  The cars were not generally marketed to the public, but if you knew the right person, one could be ordered.  They would also show up on the used car market.


The Debonair debuted in 1963, and with its slab sides and chrome-stripped fender peaks, clearly drew its inspiration from the Elwood Engel-penned 1961 Lincoln Continental.    This first generation model was built an incredible 22 years – from 1964 to 1986.  There were three changes during the production run.


The initial model, the A30, was powered by the KE64 1991cc straight six with dual carburetors, and was sold from 1964 to 70.


For 1971, a new “Saturn” series 6G34 straight six was installed, and in ‘73 the round taillights gave way to L shaped versions – this model was designated the A31.


The “Silent Shaft” 2.6L 4G54 four cylinder debuted in 1976 – this was the same engine recently highlighted in Paul’s Plymouth Arrow post.  The car remained basically unchanged until 1985, when only 205 rolled out in their last year.

deb 2-horz

2nd Gen                                                                              3rd Gen

The following generations (Debonairs were built until 1998) were more mainstream models marketed to both the public and business fleets.  The second generation was quite distinctive, to include an AMG model, but that’s a story for another post…


“Saito-san, look at these sales figures – I think we chose wisely…”