I Bought Another Weird Vehicle
Do I have a problem?
My taste in vehicles is quite eclectic. I have no brand loyalty. No love for any particular decade. No fondness for a certain design. I do not even care where it was made. All I ask is that it be weird. The car has to have strange mechanicals, whimsical design, and confuse the crap out of unsuspecting bystanders.
The United States has grown very conservative in many areas over the decades. Particularly in vehicle design. Our confusing and outdated vehicle laws coupled with some isolationist sentiment among our home field automakers, have left us with much of the same from all of our manufacturers. Boring designs, boring interiors, boring colors, and boring performance. At least, that is how I feel.
Now, having a fleet of unique antique vehicles gives me a few options for vehicular arousal. However, the average age of all my vehicles is 39 years old. Most of them having crossed the 100,000 miles threshold long ago. So they are old and well traveled. Which means they do need a bit more care than your normal everyday vehicle. Plus, all of my vehicles have been in the rust belt of the United States their whole lives. Keeping corrosion away and repairing rot is a constant battle. The salting of the roads in winter forces the old fleet into hibernation if the tin worm is to stay away. I needed something fresh with fewer issues that I could drive everyday and could rust proof before the corrosion set in.
I want to retire two of my daily drivers. My 94 Ford Escort and my 99 Mazda Miata. Both of which are starting to require overhauls and I have been struggling to find the time to make it happen. So I will be gifting them to some new owners who have more time and enthusiasm for them. With those two on to hopefully bigger and brighter futures, I was looking to what my new daily would be. Maybe something from beyond my borders.
The United States has a 25 year import rule. This means that after 25 years, any vehicle can be imported for road use and does not have to comply with current vehicle standards, unless you live in California. In 2020, this meant that a plethora of exciting and reliable vehicles from around the world could be brought in. Right up front, I am a sucker for efficiency. I love a vehicle that can get the most out of everything. For this reason, I was drawn to the Kei class cars from Japan.
The Kei class category was created by the Japanese government in 1949. These cars have regulations that specify a maximum vehicle size, engine capacity, and power output, so that owners can enjoy both tax and insurance benefits. It also encourages consumers to purchase vehicles that take up less space in a densely populated country. We can now import Kei vehicles from an era that has a little more room and engine sizes and horsepower that can keep pace on American roads. In 1990 Kei vehicles were allowed to be up to 10.8 feet long and 4.5 feet wide with a mammoth 660cc engine and up to 63hp! Another bonus is that many are very low mileage and have been extremely well taken care of due in part to Japan's rigorous vehicle inspection, the "Shaken."
My sights were immediately drawn to the Kei vans. I love vans, except the stereotypical soccer mom mini vans. They have always been the best canvas for automotive expression. But, as readers can surmise, I do not have room for the standard size van. Another reason for the appeal of the Kei van. Apart from the size, Kei vans are loaded with features. They can be had with four wheel drive, turbo chargers, super chargers, sunroofs, seating that folds completely flat for optimum cargo capacity, air conditioning, and excellent fuel mileage.
There has already been a decent size pool of Kei vans being imported into the U.S. So I had some to choose from. Just before the COVID-19 pandemic crippled the country, I narrowly missed out on a Supercharged 1989 Mitsubishi Bravo. With all the doom and gloom 2020 has offered, I lowered my hopes of getting my long pined for Kei van. But then, my saved alerts for Kei vans started to fill my inbox and I could not resist any longer.
A very nice van popped up that was within a day's travel for me just north of Des Moines, Iowa. It was a 1993 Mitsubishi Bravo. It had 30,000 kilometers (20,000 miles) on the odometer, was in overall amazing shape for a 27 year old vehicle, had the larger 660cc, 3 cylinder, 12 valve SOHC Hemi engine, a 5 speed transmission, selectable 4wd with hi and lo gear, all the import paperwork and registration was already taken care of, and the price was right.
While it did not have the sun roof or the supercharger that I wanted, the condition was just too good to ignore. So I went for a peek. When I arrived, I knew the owner was well versed. There was a collection of odd JDM motorama. There were two Nissan Fire trucks, a Toyota Townace, a Mitsubishi Pajero, and a JDM Volvo 240. All of which I neglected to photograph. Once I located the little van, it looked just as good as it did in the ad.
I was soon met by the owner and she let me crawl all over the little beast. There were some minor dents and scuffs, but that is to be expected from a vehicle of this vintage. The best part was the complete lack of rust. Every nut and bolt was absolutely pristine. All the hardware still has the factory yellow-zinc plating intact. All the belts and hoses were in good shape. There were no leaks to be found and all the fluids looked clean. I even found out through the export paperwork that this van was owned by Tajima Motor Corporation, the company owned by rally and hill climb legend "Monster" Tajima. It was used as a freight hauler at their maintenance factory in Fukuoka. So all that was left was a little test drive.
Being pleased with how it drove and finding the performance quite adequate without any forced induction, I sent Whitney a video to gather her thoughts. With the both of us approving, I trundled back to make a deal. I was able to get $400 off the asking price and became a giddy owner of a very small van. I went back home to get all the paperwork transferred and get it insured so that I could drive it back. The seller agreed to let the van stay until I could return on Sunday to pick it up.
I enlisted the help of my ever faithful sidekick Matthew to drive up and escort me and the van back to Illinois. We brought with us a set of tools, some spare fluids, and an oil change kit. I figured I would change the oil in the engine to give the Kei van the best chance I could to get it the 400 miles back home.
The crankcase now filled with fresh oil, I set off with Matthew following close behind. Thankfully, the drive home was uneventful. Apart from the tail light fuse having blown. I found out later that this was caused by a misplaced ground from the aftermarket stereo. The fuse would blow when the lights were switched on.
The van easily got up to 70 mph and cruised between 65-70 mph most of the way. The ride was bouncy, something a cab over, short wheel base vehicle is known for. And the looks! So many confused faces tracked the little van as it whizzed down the interstate. One motorist even raising his hands in confusion at the sight of it. I was quite surprised at how much attention the Mitsubishi was gaining. Compared to the other cars I own, I feel this one did not stand out that much.
The sun soon set and Matthew and I rolled the Kei van into my driveway around 9pm. The van sat proud and strong. Having completed the journey without ordeal, it had earned the honor of a name. I chose to dub the Minicab Bravo "Johnny" (Whoa mama!)
I have some fun plans for this little van. I have already made a funny video.
I even ditched the dry rotted winter tires and 12 inch wheels for a set of Datsun 280ZX wheels and fresh 175/60r14 tires. The wheels and tires alone really changed the look and feel of little Johnny.
Next up, I think I want to give Johnny a little more color. Maybe a little vinyl in some wacky pastel. But first, I am going to clean up the minor blemishes around the car and give it a thorough rust proofing before winter. Expect to see more from Johnny. I have yet to give a good test of the 4wd. So maybe an off-road adventure?