A Japanese Pony in America: 1959-61 Mitsubishi Mustang Tricycle Truck (TM-15)

Mitsubishi Motor Company predecessor's first attempt at penetrating the US market.

11w ago
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May 1959 "Popular Mechanics" listing)

May 1959 "Popular Mechanics" listing)

In my articles, we have covered so many strange & bizarre classic cars, through a mix of diecast, vintage ads/literature, period photos, and current states of survivors, so I figured I'd throw one out there that is so obscure that few Tribeys will have any idea about it.

Chassis plate on an example for sale in 2015

Chassis plate on an example for sale in 2015

Much as the British had their infamous "Export or Die" edict for automakers and other heavy industry following the last World War, and Israel, Czechoslovakia & East Germany all had a strong export drive, the Japanese were gearing up for export to the US, with the Showa government encouraging exports. Among all the microcars out there, this was the only true micro/mini Japanese one on the US market, until the Subaru 360 landed on American soil with the backing of Malcolm Bricklin in the late 60s. In spite of the hated/feared reputation of the Mitsubishi name & logo, some brave souls in New York City, who owned the "Tri Wheel Trucks, Inc.” import/export company, brought the Mitsubishi TM-15 tricycle truck over, with US customary/English System measurement and calibrations on the gauges, left-hand-drive, and sealed beam headlights. They were legally considered an enclosed motor trike by most states, and they seemed like an unlikely addition to the USDM import wars of the early Cold War era.

History of the "Mitsubishi Mustang"

The Mitsubishi Mizushima, also known as the Mustang, Go, or TM-15, is the first of a series of three-wheeled cargo carriers made in Japan by Mitsubishi between 1947 and 1962. A number of prototypes were built in 1946, leading to series production beginning in May 1947. Along with the Silver Pigeon scooter (sold in the US by Montgomery Wards as the Riverside Waikiki), it represented the company's first contributions to the Japanese post-war personal transport boom.

The Mizushima Aircraft works was founded in September 1943 to build the Mitsubishi G4M2 (504 examples) and later the N1K2-J Shiden-Kai (7 planes completed). The factory was built on mostly undeveloped land, and the township of Mizushima, Kurashiki was established around the plant. The factory was heavily damaged in a 22 June 1945 B-29 bombing raid, and no more planes were produced, owing to the international agreement that Axis countries cease production of aircraft and aero-engines. In November 1945, the Occupying Forces were petitioned to allow the company to be reorganized for peacetime activities, and Mizushima Engineering Works was born.

Originally part of Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, the zaibatsu (business conglomerate) was broken up into three separate companies in January 1950, with Mizushima becoming part of Central Japan Heavy-Industries, Ltd. This company was renamed Shin-Mitsubishi Heavy Industries in May 1952, as the occupation ended and the Mitsubishi name was once again allowed to be used. The Mizushima factory changed its name again in October 1960, becoming the "Mizushima Motor Works."

The Mizushima XTM-1 prototype was completed in 1946. The original production version (TM3A) appeared the following year and was a mechanically simple and rugged vehicle, with a 400kg (882lb) carrying capacity. Unlike most three-wheeled trucks in the market, however, the TM3A was equipped with a folding canvas covering and a windshield to protect the occupants.

Engine of a USDM "Mustang" version.

Engine of a USDM "Mustang" version.

Later models would be introduced offering greater load-bearing abilities and a wider variety of body styles. The 1948–50 TM3D model was built with a hardtop passenger cabin in response to customer demands, while the final development of the Mizushima line, the TM18 Mitsubishi 1500 pickup introduced in 1955, could carry up to two metric tons in its cargo bed. The first models had air-cooled single-cylinder engines, but with the 1955 TM7 a 1.3-liter OHV twin-cylinder engine with 36hp (26 kW) appeared. This engine type diverged into a 1145 and a 1489 cc version in 1958, to help cover weight classes ranging from one to two metric tons (2,200 to 4,400lb).

During the Mizushima's life approximately 91,000 were produced, before it was replaced by the Mitsubishi Minicab and various other four-wheeled light- and medium-duty trucks in 1962. It is not known how many ended up in the US, but most have been modified, scrapped, repatriated, or wrecked, or else left to rot. As for Tri-Wheel Trucks, Inc., it faded into history circa 1960-61, and as to these trucks themselves, they don't have the charm of a Guzzi Ercole, an Innocenti Lambro, a Piaggio Ape, or their rival the Daihatsu Midget/Trimobile/DSA trike truck, and the parts situations for all of the above are generally far better than for these early USDM Mitsus.

What about the Mustang name and Mitsubishi itself, you might ask? Ford made the Mustang name and image a true American icon, while Mitsubishi started conquering Europe and the Americas with cars rebranded as Colts (Dodge or Plymouth in the US, just Colt in Europe) in the early 70s and partnered with Chrysler Corporation soon after. It's sad what has happened to Mitsubishi, all things considered.

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Comments (8)

  • I remember seeing this machine back in 2015 on Bring A Trailer. Incredibly interesting, but I don't recall it selling for a lot, I think less than $1,000. Either way, good to see an article on it.

      2 months ago
    • I remember one each on BaT, Barnfinds, and Hemmings.

        2 months ago
    • The BaT one got a Goldwing/Valkyrie bike engine and final drive stuffed in from my research.

        2 months ago
  • Fascinating. I recall seeing the shape in images of articles about Japanese three wheeled trucks before. I seem to recall an image of a bunch of different sizes of similar vehicles stacked in the next size up's bed. Not sure who thought Americans wanted to buy them though. They do seem to be a lot larger than the things Cushman was making at the time, the closest comparison I can seem to make.

      2 months ago
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