Experience What Van Time Was Like In 1987 With MotorWeek

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I see right-hand-drive Japanese market vans nearly every day here in New York City and it makes a lot of sense to me. For the slight inconvenience of driving on the right, you get a practical, often all-wheel-drive shape that’s maneuverable in town. But while that seems to work for these New Yorkers, MotorWeek wasn’t quite convinced back in 1987.


This head-to-head test is between the Nissan Van (yeah, just ‘Van’) and Mitsubishi’s Wagon, which is what the company called the Delica in the American market back then. The two vans here were up against a similar offering from Toyota that was available in the American market in those days, as well as GM’s Astro/Safari twins and Chrysler’s famous minivans. They’re not present in this test, but you should keep them in mind as you see how well these vans do when put through their paces.

Motorweek put the two vans to the test, comparing their driver ergonomics, loadspace flexibility, and driving characteristics. The main takeaways seem to be that Nissan’s van, though roomy, didn’t quite have the oomph necessary to move its bulk, and that the Mitsubishi was a little sprightier, but its styling didn’t quite appeal to the MotorWeek team.

The MotorWeek team thought that the two vans had enough good between them to build one van composed of features from both. That wasn’t possible then, but perhaps the subsequent generation of vans, the ones that are taking American shores by storm now that they are import-eligible, do a little bit better.

I really like to get a glimpse of what the MotorWeek crew was looking for in cars back in the ‘80s. For someone who wasn’t born yet back then, it gives a lot of context for the assortment of cars I grew up seeing as a kid, these vans included. If you like these videos too, check out some more of them right here.

Max Finkel is a Weekend Contributor at Jalopnik.


teamtestbot - the David Tracy of Vans

Yes! Finally a chance to flex. I have (against most odds) been operating a USDM Delica/Mitsu Wagon for about 6 and some years now. I contend that cab-over vans were never done justice in the U.S. and is the best shape for urban usage - go figure since they evolved in the context of dense Asian cities. Highways though.... it takes some effort, and of course a spiritual acceptance of always being first to the scene of the accident.

I think Nissan handled best the massive snout that all of the Japanese models had (in order to ‘There was an attempt” at crash safety). Toyota is a second, and Mitsu just phoned it in. The USDM Delica has the most obscene snout I’ve ever witnessed on anything. It’s hard to get an angle where it looks reasonable. Probably “low and not-quite-1/4" is my favorite.

Any other angle and it just....uhh, sticks out.

The Mitsu is disturbingly serviceable even with the engine hidden under the seats. Most service can be done top-down with a good right angle ratchet, including all accessory drives as well as the timing belt. The only fiddly stuff is on the intake which is partially obscured by the driver’s seat structure which can be removed.

Also it’s deceptively sporty. Almost even (I think 52-48) weight distribution, a lot of tire for the weight and bulk, and front sway bar means I tend to throw mine around like a go-kart to the horror of everyone else. It’s been on the Dragon a few times.

I’m pretty sure that there are now more JDM Delicas running about than USDM ones still on the road. But that means USDM owners were the hipsters BEFORE the hipsters...

For the record, this is what a JDM/international front looks like on the lower trim Delicas and L300s of the time.

Highly reasonable.

The Nissan Van was a federalized GC22 generation Vanette, and it, too, had a more reasonable nose.

(I personally really want Regular Car Reviews to do an episode or podcast on the 80s minivan scene because the Japanese entries are all immensely fascinating - did you know that the Nissan Van had a Corvette-style transverse leaf spring front suspension, and the Delica had front torsion bars?)