Few events are as iconic—and as brand-centric—as Easter Jeep Safari, held each spring in Moab, Utah. But what’s it like to bring something to EJS that isn’t a Jeep? Maybe something weird; perhaps a 1992 JDM Mitsubishi Pajero XR-II with a Hyundai turbodiesel engine swap? We invaded EJS with our diesel Pajero SUV and this is how it went.
“What Is That Thing?”
We drove what was essentially a short-wheelbase, right-hand-drive, turbodiesel second-gen Mitsubishi Montero from Portland, Oregon to Moab, a two-day trek. We had a minor brake problem on the way out, but thanks to the crew at Advanced Suspension Design in Twin Falls, Idaho, we made it to Moab in time for the festivities.
As you roll into town, the streets are lined with Jeeps. New JL Wranglers, old flat-fender CJs, and pretty much everything in between. Our straight-piped turbodiesel, aka, “The Ralli Tractor”, makes some wicked turbo noises (but don’t worry, it’s slow) and turns heads because of it. But frankly, it’s also simply a curiosity. It’s not a Jeep. It’s not even a Mitsubishi Montero … it’s a JDM Mitsubishi Pajero, and it was never sold in the United States.
First stop? The car wash.
I scrubbed off 1,000+ miles of bugs and road grime to get the Ralli Tractor looking clean knowing full well it’s going to get dirty the next day. As my wife, Mercedes, and I were drying off our JDM SUV, an onlooker walked over. “Man, this thing is sick! I’ve seen them on the internet but never seen one in person!” In my experience owning four JDM Mitsubishi 4x4s, they attract attention from a few different groups: 4×4 enthusiasts, JDM fanboys, diesel dudes, and random gearheads.
Once to our hotel parking lot, the JDM Mitsubishi Pajero is dwarfed by Gladiators on 40s, lifted JKs, monster JLs, and full-size tow rigs. Frankly, it’s not exactly huge. It’s 163 inches long, 70.3 inches wide, and about 6 feet tall stock or about 6 foot -4 inches high with our baby lift and 33-inch BFGoodrich KM3 tires—just a bit shorter than a stock JL Rubicon.
If people don’t hear the whistle of its recently swapped Hyundai D4BF turbodiesel, they might simply notice I’m driving on the right side of the car. This always brings questions including: Is it hard to drive on the right? How do you shift with your left hand? How long did it take to get used to it? Or simply “What is that thing?”
JDM Mitsubishi Pajero: On The Trail
This year I spent two days on the trails, specifically White Wash Sand Dunes just outside of Moab. This is a great area for our Pajero since the trail isn’t overly difficult. This rig has a legitimate two-speed transfer case, IFS with torsion bars up front, and a coil-spring rear axle. The front flex isn’t too impressive; the rear isn’t bad. However, we generally stick to trails with a rating of 5 and below at Moab. With a limited-slip diff in the back and open front, it’s not exactly a crawler, but it does surprisingly well and is a champ in the sand.
On both days I was surrounded solely by Jeeps and a couple of new Broncos. I don’t think there was anything else on the trail with us. But the Pajero never flinched in the dirt or in the dunes. In fact, it was able to make it up the steeper dunes better than some of the Gladiators that were likely close to pushing past their GVWR. While the Ralli Tractor’s diesel mill only makes about 100 HP and 170 lbs/ft of torque, it isn’t too portly. Factory curb weight is about 3,800 lbs. Thanks to our steel WARN Crawler Bumper, ZEON 8-S winch, and larger BFG tires, we’re probably a tick over two tons.
We had a big windstorm blow through Moab that moved some of the sand dunes around for our second day in the dunes. I took the same line from the previous day but neglected to notice a steep cornice that wasn’t there before. I ended up lawn-darting the rig into the sand sending the Pajero’s interior contents flying past me, hitting the dash. Luckily, the Pajero has an over-built platform and it held up just fine. There wasn’t any damage except perhaps to my ego. I took a different line and it immediately clawed up the dune. Once I reached the top, I got out only to notice large mounds of sand piled on the bumper and mashed around my winch drum. Everyone on the trail had a good laugh.
Trouble In Pajerodise
Unfortunately, the rig’s 31-year-old radiator started to give us fits and was causing the engine to get warm. To eliminate some variables, I swapped out the thermostat in the hotel parking lot (I had a spare, but it uses a common part number anyway). After a messy swap and a test drive, the engine still was getting warmer than it should have. The water pump appeared fine (and only had 10,000 miles on it), so it’s likely the radiator wasn’t flowing well, if at all. And while I can get most chassis parts for the Pajero easily (remember, this is just a Montero), a radiator wasn’t going to happen as it is specific to the Pajero and it’s a turbodiesel engine.
There was no way to get the radiator re-cored in Moab either. However, thanks to my employer, Warn Industries, I was able to get the Pajero on their trailer, and I drove a company Jeep Gladiator back to Oregon.
A Rare Ride In The Red Rocks
Whether climbing or descending slick rock or driving over dunes, the Pajero did great off-road. It went everywhere the Jeeps did; I’m always impressed with the Ralli Tractor’s capabilities. No, it’s never going to be a hard-core crawler, but I’ve never set out for it to be as such.
It’s fun to have something different, something unique, and something that turns heads. It’s also always great to connect with other gearheads when they want more info about the oddball vehicle. Yes, parts are usually a concern if you’re wheeling a rarer rig. If I’d had an XJ, we could’ve picked up a new radiator at any of Moab’s multiple auto parts stores and changed it out relatively quickly. But these are the pitfalls of having something different.
Some people think we’re pushing our luck driving our oddball to rig to places like Moab (or the Arctic Ocean in February as part of the Alcan 5000 Rally), and I suppose we are. But we love the challenge and like being the underdog. Don’t get me wrong: Jeeps are amazing, and I owned a Cherokee. But we’ve always done things differently.
Most gearheads, and that includes Jeepers, simply love 4x4s. In my experience, they love anything with four wheels and an engine. We got all sorts of positive comments about the Pajero from the Jeepers at EJS, and scads of help when we had issues. I mean, in the end, we’re all just off-roaders looking to tackle the trails, go wheeling, and take a break from the daily grind. Some of us just do it differently.
Fish Out Of Water: JDM Mitsubishi Pajero At Easter Jeep Safari
Photos by Mercedes Lilienthal