At some point in the fairly recent past, the multiverse split and sent the world on a darker timeline. I’d venture it was around the year 2000, when we exited the bright optimism of the 1990s. Somehow vans, once the ultimate vehicle for families, adventurers and travelers alike, were immediately and unceremoniously ditched for the new SUV-shaped flavor of the decade. After spending a few days with a van, I hold this truth aloft for the world to see: The vans are good.
In the automotive enthusiast community, many of us are interconnected. We all need to work together to keep our automotive dreams alive. So when a friend of a friend needed a place to store his newly purchased mid-1990s Mitsubishi Delica Space Gear Chamonix 2800 intercooler turbodiesel for a few days, of course I offered my driveway.
The seller had driven this Delica down from Canada, where it had been imported from Japan several years ago, and was staying with family in the greater Reno area. The buyer was looking for a shipper to pick it up in Reno and deliver it to New York but couldn’t find one in time. That gap between the seller needing to leave the country and the date when the buyer’s shipping company could pick up the van — that’s where I come in. Anyway, what I’m saying is, be good to each other.
So, the buyer told me, while the Delica is in your possession, take full advantage by driving it around and putting impressions to digital interface. This is the result; you’re reading it now.
Because the Delica is fitted with four-wheel drive, chunky Hankook off-road tires and a not-insubstantial lift kit, I had to take it to my favorite local mountain trail. If you’re in the Reno area looking for a low-impact off-road trail to bomb around on, check out Toll Road. It’s a handful of miles of fun, rocky, washed-out, mostly hard-packed two-track trail that can be managed by pretty much anything with enough ground clearance.
The second-generation Mitsubishi 4M4 diesel engine is actually quite an impressive unit. While earlier Delicas are known for being quite slow, this 2.8-liter intercooled turbodiesel pumps out 138 horsepower and 232 lb-ft of torque, making normal highway driving absolutely possible. This van could easily hold 120 kilometers per hour on the highway without much effort, including uphill sections, which many big vans of this type can’t handle.
On-road manners are compromised by the van’s being a little top heavy as a result of the lift mod. You certainly have to slow down quite a bit for corners, and you’re not going to keep up with most of the traffic on the mean streets. As with anything old and slow, you just tend to your knitting and let people pass when they want to go faster. It’s not dangerously slow by any means, it’s just a big hulk of a machine with a big clattery diesel.
Out on the trail, the low gearing made easy work of the steep inclines, deep washes and large rock outcroppings. For the vast majority of the trail trek I didn’t even need to employ four-wheel drive. The exception: I took a tributary trail so I could park and get out for these photographs. It rejoined the main trail via a sharp sandy incline, which required the use of 4WD-low range, but for pretty much everything else, it was just carefully picking a line and crawling up and over. It’s a damn capable machine. I would feel perfectly comfortable hauling this out into the desert for a week of camping.
As for comfort, the inside of this van is practically a pleasure cruise. With three rows, it’s got enough seating to bring along the whole family. The middle row swivels around 360 degrees to face whichever direction you want, a neat feature. The third row folds up into jump seats at the back of the cabin for, you know, access to cargo or whatever. I didn’t mess with the seats much, but I appreciate the modular aspects of the interior. The front captain’s chairs are mounted high and offer a “commanding” view of the road over the van’s short nose. You can see everything from inside the giant egg — it’s comforting in a way I imagine being a yolk might be. You know, if yolks had feelings.
As my wife and I bumped, jostled, twisted and articulated down the trail, I couldn’t help but be astonished by the big egg’s ability to overcome everything I could throw at it. Sure, it’s a fairly easy trail, but this is a 25-year-old machine built for moving people over the roads of Japan, not bumping its way down a trail in northern Nevada. Once again, the van rules all. I wish Mitsubishi still built stuff that I cared this much about, that anyone cared this much about.
Would I buy one of these eggs for my daily use? No, I don’t think I would. If I did, I’d have to convert this thing to run on waste vegetable oil as quickly as possible so I could live with myself as an environmentally conscious person. Even then, I’d have some serious guilt. Also, as a 6-foot-2 human being, I’d need to lower the driver’s seat at least an inch to avoid contact between the top of my head and the sunroof surround. I can’t even wear a hat in the Delica.
While I will most certainly turn up my nose at the smoky and stinky diesel fuel that powers this van, and I probably would want a more reasonable lift height, I can’t help but revel in the Delica Space Gear Chamonix’s form factor. This would make all the sense in the world as a modern plug-in hybrid van for adventurers and van lifers. Why did anyone ever decide that a Suburban made more sense than this? I’ll never forgive them.
It’s time for the big van to mount a comeback. Folks, it’s always been van time.