1992 Mitsubishi Mighty Max: I’ll Take Odd Vehicle Names for $500, Alex

When’s the last time you saw one of these? I had actually forgotten about these trucks until I saw this one several years back, off of Brady Street in uptown Davenport, IA. The Mistubishi Mighty Max (née L200) ended its U.S. run 25 years ago. Today, few are left here in the salty Midwest, so I had to stop and investigate.

Plymouth Arrow pickup, shockingly spotted by your author at the local Aldi a few years back.

The Mighty Max initially debuted in 1978 as the L200/Forte. For those of us in the States, these first-gen models may be better-known as the Dodge D50 and Plymouth Arrow, both appearing in the States in 1979 as captive imports for Chrysler-Plymouth and Dodge dealers.

After over a decade of being a provider of subcompact cars for Chrysler Corporation with the Colt, Sapporo and their brethren, Mitsubishi struck off on their own in the U.S. in 1982 with their own dealer network. That included the mini-truck, which was given the unusual name of Mighty Max. Perhaps the Mistubishi marketeers were thinking along the lines of the Mighty Mite?

I always associated them with a certain CONTOL secret agent, as I regularly watched Get Smart on Nick at Nite back when these trucks were available. I really don’t think Max would have given up his red Sunbeam Tiger for one of these, however. They were pretty plain Jane, and I am almost certain they didn’t have a machine gun that came out of the hood. Regardless, the Mighty Max and its badge-engineered Mopar siblings carried on until 1987 when the second-gen debuted–though the Plymouth version disappeared after ’82.

It was still boxy, but pretty similar to its competition-the Mazda B-Series, Toyota Pickup and other small trucks available at the time. U.S. versions came with either 2.0- or 2.6-liter inline carbureted four-cylinders. Four wheel drive was also available, as well as an automatic transmission. Between 1987 and the end in ’96, these trucks did not change much. Most were rather basic, with regular cab, bench seat and power nothing. I do not recall ever seeing a fancy version with chrome, power stuff, two tone, paint and the like. On the other hand, I remember seeing tons of well-equipped Toyotas, Rangers, S-10s and B2000s.

While the Mitsu trucklet was discontinued in the US after the 1996 model year, the L200 (as these were known outside the US) was redesigned that same year, and continues to this day as the L200/Triton. Of course, that one is not available here. With Mitsubishi’s current image (or lack thereof-the Dollar Tree of new cars?), it is unlikely we’ll ever see them. But survivors like this one remind us of a time when people actually liked small pickups. Only time will tell if the upcoming cheap and cheerful Ford Maverick trucklet will generate new interest.

32 Replies to “1992 Mitsubishi Mighty Max: I’ll Take Odd Vehicle Names for $500, Alex”

  1. John C.

    Nice that the Mighty Max had a camper shell so it is more ready to house a hobo than do any hauling that might involve productivity. Our Japanese friends initially sent these little trucklets over for the then many Japanese gardeners in California, I bet they had no idea the real market was younger would be hobos. What a powerful expression of nonconformity to live in the back, skip gainful employment, bathing or reproducing parked on someone else’s land or the outer reaches of the Kmart parking lot. There was plenty of time to enjoy substance abuse and being at one with nature by peasant squatting to relieve, with the only tie to the system being the occasional call to parents from the pay phone in the Western Union parking lot. Good times.

    Reply
    • CJinSD

      I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that the people who took out new car loans to buy Japanese mini-pickups were no less likely to have fixed addresses than the people who used to buy new Mercuries, Oldsmobiles, Plymouths, and Pontiacs. I almost included Buick in that list, but then I remembered that GM still makes them for nostalgic Chicoms.

      Reply
      • John C.

        If you are questioning this trucklet as hobo transport, I would point you to the rolled out window on the camper shell to provide ventilation for human occupants and the disabled plate from when the generous government stepped in to replace the cash of the aged out or given up parents.

        Reply
        • CJinSD

          What does that have to do with what I wrote about the people who bought new pickups like this one thirty to fifty years ago? Did Dodge build A100 vans for homeless people who hadn’t been born yet? Was Winnebago thinking about what LBJ’s Great Society and Nixon’s progressive love for Chinese Communists would do to the country when they pumped out affordable motorhomes in the ’70s?

          Reply
          • John C.

            You are assuming that the person who paid for the truck new, or even sadder signed the note on it, was the primary driver. If dear junior had wheels maybe he would get a job, and then have to show up, dress and learn how to act as a real productive person. Surely with this final chance, knowing what a hardship this was for his parents, he wouldn’t just blow it all like he did for every previous chance. Why do you think these trucklets died, given how passionate the youth of a certain mindset still are and the fact that the Japanese and now Chinese still make them. Parents no longer fall for the trap. or give loser sons as many chances.

            I know you are more comfortable at making fun of Mercury/Buick driving squares with their wives, children, mortgages, and tax returns, but you were close enough to it, as we all were, to know what I am talking about with these trucklets.

          • CJinSD

            Nobody I knew went from being on the receiving end of new cars in high school to living in their cars as a lifestyle choice. Zero. Nada. Whatever you’re ‘remembering,’ I was nowhere near it. There were plenty of these in my middle class neighborhood. 4×4 ones were often driven by people like supermarket managers and surgeons who needed to get to work no matter what. Two wheel drive ones served as second cars for people who liked home improvement projects. Still others were commuter vehicles for people with jobs. Nobody was sleeping in their cars back then, although I did hear from my parents that someone was sleeping in a van in the same neighborhood now. Thanks Obama!

            Trucks like this really don’t exist anymore. The ones made in Thailand today are to simple trucks like this Mighty Max what a typical Section 179 tax deduction is to a Ford F100.

          • John C.

            By trucks like this you mean Toyota, maybe Hardbody for the more butch. The younger folks, not high school 20s after a few bomb outs, wanted Toyota. These Mighty Maxes were picked by parents, noting they looked the same, drove the same and had that reasonable price and accommodating credit, not practical considerations losers would consider.

          • dejal

            He sucks the air out of the room with the comments. He’s not going to change. I never believed that gateways to alternate universes existed. He’s proof that I was wrong.

  2. stingray65

    I spent a summer using one as a parts runner, and main memory is of the very poorly padded seat where I could feel the metal frame in multiple places. The whole vehicle was very lightly constructed and rear end didn’t have much weight on the wheels when unloaded so you could spin the tires very easily in the wet (with a manual 5 speed).

    Reply
  3. Rutherford

    Living in the pacific northwest one still sees 80s toyota puckups, rangers, datsun/nissan trucks and even these more esoteric offerings frequently. Usually driven by an older white or hispanic guy and often with subtle signs of devotion like unusually nice tires despite a patina of rust and accumulated dents.

    Reply
  4. gtem

    I was cheap used truck shopping a few years ago and a clean one of these popped up over in Huntington IN. A sort of revived barn find, the truck was treated to a nice paint polishing so the red really popped. Unfortunately the owner also lowered the truck, ruining the steering geometry and making it ride like absolute crap. I ended up buying a 106k mile ’94 Ranger XLT with a Lima+5spd, reg cab 7 ft bed in that nice “Medium Aubergine Metallic” (purplish dark cherry) for $2000. The Ranger felt much more substantial and more comfortable. The Mighty Max had these insanely thin door cards and felt like an absolute tin can, but it also had a surprising amount of cab width. The Ranger was the obvious pick too for parts availability. Both new and spares in junkyards are everywhere. Not so for the old Mitsu.

    Reply
    • Jack Baruth

      Oddly enough, when I worked for David Hobbs we had two parts trucks: an early Ranger without power steering and a Plymouth Arrow converted to stakebed. Basically a Mighty Max. I’d co-sign all your observations.

      Reply
      • gtem

        The impression I got from the Mighty Max was that it was designed in a very industrial sense of function over operator comfort. Presumably the spartan cab and thin doors result in lower weight and combined with a stiff leafpack, higher payload. The Ranger was a totally comfortable daily driver and even road trip capable (within the context of a 90s compact truck). I drove my ’97 (same 5spd Lima XLT, but short box) out to my bro’s 8 hours away in PA to haul a motorcycle back. No cruise control, partially collapsed seat, busted A/C. Honestly I didn’t feel bad at all when I got in. The basic ergos are good, unlike say my dad’s 2007 Honda Fit, which likewise lacks A/C and for anyone over 5’10” suspends your leg in a strained position to maintain a steady throttle. Pure torture.

        Reply
  5. hank chinaski

    The big question is which of Tom’s classics will survive to populate the Cuban-esque post ICE automotive landscape as industry and fedgov stop building them and intentionally make them increasingly difficult to obtain, fuel, and repair.
    At least in non Rustbelt states, these trucklets make a decent bet.
    See also, Mogadishu.

    Reply
  6. bullnuke

    If my memory serves, one of these Mighty Max’s was being used as a mobile meth lab in San Diego County when I live out there 30+ years ago. It would run up and down the 805 cooking away at highway speeds. When they were finally caught and a picture was published I immediately recognized it with its camper shell as I’d been sharing the highway with it for a couple months during rush-hour.

    Reply
  7. Carmine

    Can we ad the Isuzu Pup and Subaru BRAT to the list?

    My friends dad, who was not a crippled homeless japanese gardener, but was a 727 and 747 captain, had one of these he bought brand new as an airport beater, the earlier ones like the Arrow truck at the start of the article, his had a topper on it too, but it was utlra base, no a/c in Miami, though his drive was about 10 min to and from the airport and it was usually before dawn so it really didn’t matter.

    Even having never been near salt, it was still starting to get crispy around 1991. I can remember how many miles it had when they go rid of it but they had to be really low.

    He went opposite with his next truck and got a 94-95 2500 Cummins engined Ram, with a manual……

    Reply
    • John C.

      Thanks for posting this story Carmine, it moved me. Imagine Buzz Lightyear senior, a man a real country had trusted to fly a jumbo jet, the Soviets didn’t have those, nor the British, nor the French, and certainly not the Japanese. Yet we did, and we entrusted one to Buzz Lightyear to command. Yet he was so traumatized, probably by flying in to Da nang, Clark AFB, Kimpo, and Kandahar, that he buys a cheap truck with a camper shell, so he can sleep in it and sell for cash those coupons they gave him for the airport Hilton. Imagine the Plymouth dealer being convinced to order an Arrow without A/C in Miami by freaking Buzz Lightyear. Yet with all that sad Armageddon planning, Buzz is thwarted in his doomsday machine by thin Japanese sheet metal. Sad, but funny!

      If only he ha listened to Mr. Miagie, purveyor of slow talking Asian wisdom, who you can call Arnold. “Wax on, Wax off, repeat!

      Reply
      • Carmine

        You don’t think foreign countries have their own pilots for their own planes?

        Every time I think you’ve possibly hit bottom on your retardation, you find another deeper level……

        Reply
        • Carmine

          It wasn’t an Arrow, it was a Mitisubishi one, a Mighty Max, you could find cheapo ad cars/trucks in Miami without a/c, dealers usually had at least one stripper for advertising……

          Also how was he sleeping in the car he would leave in the long term lot? You don’t even make any sense, do you need explanation as to how a pilots job function? Would you even understand?

          Reply
          • John C.

            I am imagining a buddy show with Lightyear the grizzled veteran and CJ’s friend the lovable young rogue. They could fly around the world committing crime from invisible pickups with camper shells that blend in the homeless community anywhere. They could call it Lightyear and Liteweight. I would watch that. It is going to be bigger than “Jake and the Fat Man”! Must see TV!

  8. Carmine

    Last time I saw a MightyMax that clean it was in Mitsubishi display in the mall near the B Daltons and the Barefoot Mailman……

    Reply
  9. Pete Zaitcev

    Just about 6 years ago I saw a Daihatsu Rocky in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Pretty well preserved, albeit with a mismatched color door. The desert climate helped. The town had several Might Maxes, but only one or two Rockies.

    Reply
    • John C.

      Idaneck makes a perhaps inadvertent great point about modern all quattro Audis. Did the total absence of modern Quattros among current Idaho doomsday machines despite the propensity of Quattros among no speed limit Montana/Idaho wrecks a generation ago portent what kind of losers were involved with Audis? I think so! That Mighty Maxes are still around, clean!, among the homeless is still sad however.

      Reply
        • John C.

          Sorry then for the misunderstanding. I don’t know what an Aldi is so it is one of those rare subjects that I have no inciteful commentary to offer.

          Reply
          • Idaneck

            That was my point, it’s supposedly big chain in the Midwest and was referenced in comments above.

            Now, ironically I did see a regular cab Mighty Max at the gas station today. Very old couple and the truck was in good condition. The plates indicated it was from Boise County, which is an area of old miners and doomsdayers.

  10. jc

    It’s a shame that no one builds a small truck of this type any more, or at least no one sells it in the US. I know the stock answer is “no one will buy it; a full sizer is almost the same price; etc., etc., etc., but these little trucks (Nissan/Datsun, Toyota, Mazda, Mitsu, Isuzu, original small Ford Ranger, Chevy S-10, etc) really had a valid place out there. No, you couldn’t put 5 adults in it, but it wasn’t meant for that. As a cheap and cheerful commuter plus a way to haul light loads, you couldn’t beat it. I drive a F-150 nowadays, due to trailering, but if it weren’t for the trailer, I’d jump on one of these in a heartbeat.

    Reply

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