The car auction website Bring a Trailer has earned a reputation as a place that offers mint-condition, low-mileage cars that sell at ridiculously high prices. Yet, on the site right now, with a current high bid of $700 with only one hour left, is a 1960 Mitsubishi TM15FL three-wheeler. And it is rusty and fantastic.
Check out Bring a Trailer at any given time, and you’ll find auctions for some seriously minty and pricey cars. Here’s a quick glance at the auctions ending soonest as of this writing:
On that list, one vehicle clearly stands out; it’s the Mitsubishi being sold out of Ferndale, Washington.
To be sure, Bring a Trailer has offered some clapped-out shitcans in the past, but they tended to be valuable vehicles that fetch at least six figures when fully restored. Like this junky 1958 Alfa Romeo Giulietta Sprint up for auction right now with a high bid of $600. You can be sure that the price will skyrocket in the next five days.
Anyway, back to this amazing Mitsubishi three-wheeler that even the poorer among us can afford.
It’s listed as a “TM15FL 3-Wheel Pickup,” and according to a January, 2015 Bring a Trailer post for a 1960 model being sold on eBay, these vehicles made their way to the U.S. via an “NYC-based company called Tri Wheel Trucks, Incorporated.” That story quotes a 1959 issue of Popular Mechanics, which proved some detail on the machine:
Three-Wheel Japanese Truck Hauls 3000-Pound Load
Built to take the punishment of Japan’s rough roads, the Mitsubishi Mustang three-wheel truck hauls a 3000-pound load at 50 miles per hour. And it does it while burning only one gallon of gas every 35 miles, says the manufacturer. The engine is an air-cooled, two-cylinder overhead-valve design that drives through the back wheels. More than a million of the trucks are in use in Japan. Price: About $1,800, port of entry New York.
That’s equivalent to about $16,000 in modern coin according to the Bureau of Labor Statistic’s CPI inflation calculator. The 1960 model sold back in 2015—a vehicle that was missing its bed, engine, and transmission, among other pieces—sold for about $2,300 per a commenter. So it’ll be interesting to see what this more-complete one goes for.
But though it may be “more complete,” than that 1960 model, this 1959 one is hardly “all there.” The seller bought the car back in 2015, after seeing an eBay link on Bring a Trailer. It wasn’t complete or driving then, and now, five years later, it’s not in much better shape. From the listing:
The TM15 is a heavier-duty one-ton development of the earlier Mitsubishi Mizushima, and the seller reports that the 1,100cc air-cooled parallel twin turns over by hand and by using the included electric starter. The truck has been partially disassembled under current ownership, and the removed bodywork and engine stow in the pickup box for transport. This TM15FL is offered in Washington on a bill of sale.
Attached to the 1,100cc air-cooled, dry-sump twin is a four-speed manual transmission. It’s not clear how well that works, but it is clear that the engine needs some serious work, because one cylinder makes a solid 100 psi of compression while the other only makes 55 psi, per the seller. I’ve seen motors run on roughly 60 psi, but for there to be such a huge disparity between cylinders on the same engine suggests a significant problem, likely related to the valves, but possibly related to the piston rings or head gasket.
I have to say, the body doesn’t look bad, with straight panels and only surface rust. Also, look at that gated four-speed shifter!
Especially without those front fenders or that fake front hood, it’s pretty obvious how motorcycle-based that front suspension is.
This is the kind of stuff I want to see on Bring a Trailer—affordable, rare, obscure junkers. Okay, I don’t mind seeing mint condition Ford Escorts, either.