All of the great homologation specials — the BMW E30 M3, the Lancia Delta Integrale, the Plymouth Superbird — have all been discovered and cost more and more every year. Except for one. This is the Mitsubishi Pajero Evolution, and you will be amazed at its reputation just as much as its shockingly low price.
The Mitsubishi Pajero Evolution, PajEvo for short, was built from ‘97 through ‘99 as a means of sneaking into the Dakar Rally’s production-based T2 class. The Dakar Rally is the toughest car (and bike) race in the world, and building a car for it is a serious task. It should come as no surprise that the PajEvo is a serious car.
The PajEvo got all new suspension, new differentials, a unique 276 horsepower, 257 lb-ft variable valve timing 3.5 liter V6 engine, skidplates, Recaro seats, a widebody kit, and mudflaps. Gotta love those mudflaps.
The idea was to sneak a super-strong car into the otherwise-tame stock class by selling 2500 beefy specials to the public. That homologates them for the stock class. It’s a way to sort of stretch the rules by following them to the letter of the law but not the spirit.
All of this means that the Pajero Evolution remains to this day tougher than just about any other production car on the market. Here’s how one owner, David Williams, described his in an email to me. He rallies his (find his Youtube channel here) as if simply driving one wasn’t enough.
So you know all about the 6G74, with its fancy intake, and heads, and stuff that I hope never breaks because it will cost me an arm and a leg to fix. Even things like the alternator are a part specific to the Pajero Evo, so a new one is something like $1300.
So, suspension. It’s basically completely different from the regular Pajero. The regular Pajero of that year had independent suspension with torsion bars in the front and a coil-sprung live axle in the back. The Evo is double wishbone with coils in the front, and has multi-link independent suspension with coils in the back. It’s also got a wider track in all 4 corners, and wider tires stock (265s all round). I’m not exactly sure what’s different about the shock absorbers, other than that they cost more than twice as much to replace as the base Pajero’s.
Other things it has over the basic Pajero is the really nice Recaro seats, The skid plates covering the entire underside of the vehicle, and the INVESC-II transmission, which is tuned pretty aggressively. It’s sometimes jerky at low speed in town, but in manual mode at high speed it provides shifts that are quick enough I don’t miss the manual too much. They did make some manual transmission Evos, but I’ve heard that they had reliability issues, plus the auto is nice for slow speed off-roading without killing a clutch. It’s got the same style of center diff as the other Super Select 4WD Pajeros, which can be either RWD only, 4WD unlocked (in which case it’s a viscous diff), or locked 50/50. But where the regular Pajeros came with open front diffs and either open rear or with an optional locker, the Evo has Torsen diffs in the front and the back.
Driving it is a blast. It laughs at terrain that stumps the Imprezas in the rallies I do. There’s definitely a fair amount of weight to throw around (It’s around 4600lbs with me, my codriver, and a full tank of gas), but it’s fairly controlled. Driving fast on concrete you get a fair bit of roll, they key is to get the power on to keep it from overwhelming the front outside tire, but when rallying you can really just throw it into the corner, and then power out, letting the 3 diffs pull you through. The wheelbase is almost square, so it’s definitely happy to rotate. Luckily I have yet to ‘Orlove’ it :P
It only feels about as fast as something like a hot hatch on the road, but of course its strength is that its the same speed on gravel or snow. I love mine, never intend to sell it.
All of this totally paid off! Mitsubishi not only dominated the T2 class with this car, they dominated the whole Dakar Rally. Here’s the car out in ‘98 thanks to Mitsubishi’s amazing heritage web page.
Here are some more photos from the ‘99 running.
Pajero Evolutions didn’t just win their class; they won overall! PajEvos took the top three spots in 1998, beating even the supposedly faster T3 class cars. They covered over 10,000 kilometers in 18 days, and finished five hours before the next competitor. PajEvos and are part of a winning career for Mitsubishi that is hard to even believe. Pajeros have won nearly half of all the Dakar Rallies — 15 wins out of 32 events. That’s insane.
I was talking with a guy who runs an off road racing shop in Dubai and he was more than confident that an old PajEvo would run with a brand new Ford Raptor on the high-speed stretches of the open desert.
And while prices for other homologation specials grow ever higher, Pajero Evolutions are impossibly cheap. David owns chassis 2023 out of 2500. He imported his from Japan into Canada with 130,000km for 15,000 CAD altogether. That’s including import fees. Go and look around for pricing and you’ll see that he’s not an extraordinary case. Pajero Evolutions are almost criminally undervalued.
I can sort of understand why. It’s an SUV not a sports car. It’s from the Dakar not the WRC. It’s not advertised like a Subaru or a BMW or anything else. The world sort of missed the Pajero Evolution at its start and has only forgotten more about it ever since.
Mitsubishi did indeed put out a brochure for the Pajero Evolution, and here are the best images and information gleaned from their archival sites and the excellent minkara.carview.co.jp, which lists the vehicle as “FANTASTIC SPORTS MACHINE.” Sounds about right.
I’ve seen a lot of pictures of PajEvos in black, but the brochure says you could get the car in Satellite Silver, Sofia White, or Passion Red. Here’s the red one.
As I said, horsepower was listed as 276, following Japan’s gentleman’s agreement not to produce anything more powerful than that. Torque from the 3.5 liter 6G74 MIVEC V6 was 256 lb-ft. Mitsubishi listed the figure in kg-m!
That vented hood is aluminum, as are the skidplates all under the car.
The suspension, unique to the PajEvo, was dubbed ARMIE by Mitsubishi. That stands for All Road Multilink Independent suspension for Evolution, if you’re curious. The car’s track was widened by 125mm at the front, 110mm at the rear. Suspension travel is 240mm (9.5in) at the front, 270mm (10.6) at the rear. The dampers aren’t deeply discussed, other than that there’s a ball joint type stabilizer. I do not know what that means.
The interior was super rad, with a leather-wrapped wheel and a unique cloth pattern on the Recaros.
Here are some optional extras available, including rally lights, and a rack for your skis or snowboards. I need this.
So if you’re looking for the last great undiscovered race car for the road, look to this widebody, growling, jumping Mitsubishi. Get yours before everyone else gets theirs.
Photo Credits: Mitsubishi
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