Sometimes you have to go out of your way to get what you want. And by “out of the way,” I mean traveling 3,386 miles. Well, we wanted a 1992 Mitsubishi Pajero, and we flew to Houston, TX to buy it, and drove it back to Portland, OR.
IN SEARCH OF …
This all starts about a month ago. We decided we wanted a first- or second generation Mitsubishi Montero. We wanted a V-6 model with a manual transmission, rust-free, and lower mileage. Insert needle/haystack reference. But we were in no rush, so we started our search.
We found an amazingly clean 1990 Montero in Tucson. It was a bit pricey, but we figured we’d entertain the idea. We contacted the seller (a broker), who was more than willing to go the extra mile to put it on a lift, take a bunch of photos, and give us all kinds of info about it. Carfax showed it was a one-owner Arizona car with 88,000 original miles on it. It was a V-6. It was a 5-speed. It was super-duper clean. I even had a friend of my friend, Brian at Gearbox Magazine, take a look at it. It turns out it was in fantastic shape.
Concurrently, Bring A Trailer adds a listing for some insanely perfect 1988 Pajero Dakar edition. Short-wheelbase, two-door, diesel-powered perfection. I mean, this may have literally been a museum piece. It may have been too nice to actually use off road. I still bid $7,500 on it and figured I’d see what happens.
Shortly after bidding on the ’88 Pajero Dakar, I hop on a plane for Palm Springs en route to the King of the Hammers race for my day job. I keep looking at the ’90 Arizona Montero. The more and more I think about it, the more and more I want it. I also notice the Bring a Trailer Pajero has now skyrocketed past the $10,500 mark—no more bids for me. (FYI, this vehicle went for a staggering $22,750!)
I return from my trip a few days later only to find the Arizona Montero has been sold. Damn it. The search continues. But hey, we’re in no rush, right?
The next day I was in the Mitsubishi Monteros USA Facebook Group and someone posted up a link to a second generation (1991–1999) Montero in Denver. Out of curiosity, I click through to craigslist, only to see it’s an automatic, which we didn’t want. Oh well, while I’m on the site, let’s see if Denver has any Monteros available.
FINDING A UNICORN
I hit the search button and there it was: A shimmering turbo-diesel unicorn adorned with a Ralliart logos, 31×10.50 all-terrain tires, a bullbar, massive JDM yellow fog lights, a five-speed transmission, and a spiraling horn on its sheetmetal forehead! The photo showed it rearing up, displaying it’s majestic qualities, rainbows shooting out of its tailpipe, white mane flowing in the breeze. It was prancing on a cloud and stealing our hearts. OK, so it was actually just a 1992 Pajero parked in a driveway, but still …
Here’s the odd thing: The Pajero was on Denver’s craigslist, but the ad said it was in Houston, TX. Sounds fishy. We decided to call on it anyhow. Mercedes spoke with the owner/importer, and he was, indeed, in Houston. He hadn’t had much luck selling the vehicle in Texas, so he started to advertise in other markets, such as Denver. There was no Nigerian Prince, no Irish Lottery, and no questions about wiring money to Bratislava in exchange for the vehicle. This seemed legit.
The owner/importer said he had some more photos on his Instagram account. While I was scrolling through his photos, I noticed another one of my friends, Adam Barrera (another Mitsubishi fan), had commented on the Pajero photo. Wait—Adam knows the seller? I message Adam who said he happened to have just seen the car the other day, and would gladly go check it out for us. Plus, he could vouch for Jcars Import being a good, honest seller.
Adam does a video call via Facebook with Mercedes and me so he can show us the rig. It looks pretty awesome, and he said it ran strong, shifted smoothly, and the Super Select 4WD system worked; I trust Adam’s opinion.
LET’S DO THIS (WITH A HEAD COLD)
I know we need to strike while the iron is hot. Keep in mind: this is the week before President’s Day, so I’ll already have Monday off, and both Mercedes and I could take Friday off to fly down there. We check flights to Houston and book. Holy shit: this is going to happen. I believe this was a Tuesday. Side note: I am now coming down with a nasty head cold, sore throat, etc. I get into the doctor to make sure I’m OK to fly. They give me a strep test that comes back negative, and say I’ve just got a cold. They write me a prescription for pseudoephedrine (Sudafed), tell me not to make meth with it, and have a good trip. I rush home, and Mercedes and I throw some stuff in backpacks (including the mandatory duct tape and zip ties repair kit), and get ready for what could be a hell of a trip.
We wake up at 2:00am on Friday to catch a 5:20am flight to Houston via Denver. (We must be nuts.) We hail a Lyft to PDX with our backpacks, complete with cash and emergency fix-it supplies. As we stand in line for security, we’re sure there’s no way the TSA will give us any problems for flying to Houston with a backpack full of duct tape, zip ties, a bed sheet for protecting the interior from spare wheels/tires, and more than $8,000 in cold, hard cash. Nothing to see here, officer!
A few hours later (and no issues with TSA), the owner picks us up from the airport in a right-hand drive JDM Toyota MKII. We head to his house, where we meet up with Adam, and check out the Pajero. It really does seem as good as he said. It’s got a little cosmetic issue on the door, but that can be fixed. The interior is nearly perfect. It’s got the giant JDM bubble rain deflectors, a big old bull bar, HID headlights, and some old-ass BFGoodrich All-Terrains Adam had warned us about. Upon inspection, they were old and were cracking. We wondered if they even make the 2,300 mile drive back to Oregon. Well, only one way to find out. For what it’s worth, we did have the spare on the back (complete with tire cracks) as well as two other spares that were potentially even more dry rotted than the existing tires, but they’d do in a pinch. Maybe.
We do the deal, and by mid afteroon, we are officially owners of a ’92 Pajero. By odd coincidence, we meet up with another friend, Frank, who is the editor of OutdoorX4 Magazine, for a fitting Tex-Mex dinner. We all could’ve talked for hours, but we needed to get a move on, since we needed to complete the first leg of our drive: Houston to Ft. Worth.
HOUSTON TO FT. WORTH: THE SHORT LEG
We didn’t leave the restaurant until about 7:00pm, which meant we wouldn’t get into our hotel in Ft. Worth (that we had just literally booked) until late. Mind you, we’ve been up since 2am PST. The drive was mostly uneventful, that is until we got into the Dallas Metroplex. Any place with the word plex in it has to be a pain in the ass to navigate. It was raining, under construction, pitch black, and we were in an unfamiliar vehicle. We missed the exit to some connecting highway that’d put us on I-35W not once, but twice. “Look kids—Big Ben; Parliament.” But we finally rolled into the Comfort Inn at around 11:30pm.
We were beat. I felt like total crap, but we knew we had a big day ahead of us. Leg two would take us from Ft. Worth to Denver.
FT. WORTH TO DENVER: FLAT. OUT.
Despite feeling like I had a moderate-to-severe case of the plague, we grabbed breakfast and exited Ft. Worth early, and were aimed squarely at Denver. We crossed the wide, flat spaces of West Texas taking us through not-so-sprawling metropolises like Wichita Falls and Amarillo, until we crossed into northeastern New Mexico. Going to New Mexico ticked off a box for me: I had now been to every single state west of the Mississippi River in the continental U.S. We weren’t in New Mexico very long; I think we stopped in Clayton for fuel, and sped on.
By the way, I use the word “sped” lightly. The Pajero is powered by the same engine as our Delica, the venerable turbocharged, diesel-powered 2.5-liter 4D56. The Pajero has the benefit of an intercooler, which is good for about 20 more horsepower and about 30 more lbs./ft. of torque than our van. With its 4.88 gears and 31×10.50 tires, it’d cruise comfortably at 65–68 MPH all day. Unfortunately, the speed limits were 75 to 80 most of the places we were headed. Life in the slow lane. What else is new?
We booked a hotel in Denver on the way, and rolled in around 7:00pm after over 12 hours of driving. We grabbed some grub, and hit the sack. And yeah, I’m pretty sure I’m dying of the plague.
DENVER TO TWIN FALLS: WILL THE WEATHER KILL US?
We wake up early to depart Denver, go downstairs for breakfast, and start looking at weather reports. Three words you never want to see on your route this time of year are Winter Storm Warning. Low and behold, that’s what we’re seeing. Nine to 10 inches of snow with local accumulations of up to 15 inches. Really? High Wind Warning for gusts over 60 MPH. Oh God. We ultimately determine that we simply need to try it. We can always pull off, get a hotel somewhere, and wait it out. However, we need to be back at work on Tuesday morning and it’s now Sunday, so there’s not much room for setbacks.
Initially, the drive out of Denver is uneventful. That is until we get to about to Tie Siding, WY on Highway 287. The winds are now howling. I’m fighting the wheel trying to keep the Pajero on the road. The wind is so strong that my door starts to rattle back and forth.
We eventually connect to I-80, where we’re greeted with signs that say Winter Storm Warning. Expect Hazardous Travel Conditions. The screen flips and says High Wind Warning. Extreme Blowover Risk. I-80 Closed to Light High Profile Vehicles. Now, I have no idea what is technically a light, high-profile vehicle, but a Mitsubishi Pajero certainly seems like one. But we’re not stopping, damn it.
We continue to fight the wind on the Interstate. Now, semis are parking along exits and rest areas by the dozens. This wind is no joke. Around the next bend we see our first victim of the wind. A semi has blown over and is lying on its side. Didn’t expect to see that. Not more than a mile or two down the road we see another semi on its side, this one is in the median and the windscreen blown out. As we continue on, we notice semis in front of us listing to the right as their trailer acts like a sail caught by a gust. We give them plenty of space. However, we’re all going under 60 MPH at this point, with the exception of the semi driver who is either A) trying to meet a deadline B) trying to outrun the storm C) a deranged maniac, or D) all of the above.
We make our way past Elk Mountain, and the wind is dying down, but we’re now waiting for the impending snow. It starts to fall somewhere outside of Evanston, WY. We stop for fuel, and it’s coming down hard. I grab my 93rd coffee of the trip, and we press west. We’ve booked hotel in Twin Falls, ID, some four hours away. We need to be sure we can make it, or cancel the hotel. Smartly, Mercedes calls ahead to a few truck stops on I-15 and I-84. They report good conditions. Looks like we’d drive out of this storm as we head north. Thankfully, that’s exactly what happened. We did hit a lot of snow near Ogden, but it wasn’t sticking to the roads, only our Pajero which looked like an ice cube when we stopped for fuel in Snowville, UT.
The rest of the drive to Twin Falls was like being on autopilot. No more wind, snow, or bad weather; just clear roads to our destination. Our hotel is a time machine back to the late 1980s. It’s dingy, dated, and cold (the first room’s heater doesn’t work), but they upgrade us to a Jacuzzi suite. After dinner, a soak in the Jacuzzi was nice, although I’m still not sure I didn’t get some sort of flesh eating bacteria from it.
TWIN FALLS TO PORTLAND: ALMOST HOME
The last day was uneventful and not noteworthy. Weather was good, the Pajero ran great, and we figured if our ancient tires hadn’t blown out by now, we’re probably good to go … and we were.
We rolled into Portland, our only luggage being spare wheels and tires and two backpacks, got home and parked the Pajero. This little truck, bought sight unseen, had taken us 2,300 miles from Houston to Portland without incident. That’s a pretty good test of a used vehicle.
We welcome the Mitsubishi, now our third, into our stable and look forward to building it up and turning into a great adventure rig. And as usual, we have plans. This was undoubtedly one of the craziest vehicular adventures we’d done, but it was awesome. We’d do it again in a heartbeat, but hopefully without the head cold.
Photos by Mercedes Lilienthal