Junkyard Gem: 1983 Mitsubishi 4WD SPX Truck

Mitsubishi began building the Forte small pickup in 1978, and Chrysler quickly started selling the Forte in North America with Dodge D-50/Dodge Ram 50/Plymouth Arrow Truck badging. Mitsubishi-badged vehicles first showed up on our shores as 1983 models, with four models available: the Cordia liftback coupe, the Tredia sedan, the Starion sports car and the Truck. Today’s Junkyard Gem is one of the very first of those Mitsubishis to be sold in the United States, found in a Denver self-service car graveyard recently.

This series is all about gems of automotive history, and we’ve got a really rare bit of Mitsubishi Motors history here with this August 1982 build date. I’ve documented six discarded (Mitsubishi-badged) Mitsubishis from the 1983 model year prior to now, and none had build dates earlier than January of 1983. This pickup may have been on the first shipload of new Mitsubishis to arrive at San Pedro (while the town’s most legendary band was just becoming known outside of Southern California). Even my discovery of one of the very first Camrys sold in North America (in the same junkyard a few years back) isn’t as cool as this.

The commonly used name for all of the first-generation (1983-1986) Mitsubishi pickups is “Mighty Max,” but a look through contemporary price guides (of which I have an extensive library) and Mitsubishi Motors USA’s own marketing materials shows that the official name for this truck was “Truck,” available in Mighty Max, Turbo Diesel and SPX sub-designations. Other Japanese manufacturers also sold vehicles named Trucks and Vans here, with the Toyota Truck (aka Hilux everywhere else in the world) being the best-known.

Later on, Mitsubishi fully embraced the Mighty Max trim level as the model name for all the Forte/Triton-based pickups it sold here. For the 1983 model, the Mighty Max was the cheapest Mitsubishi Truck, sold only with 2.0-liter engine, rear-wheel-drive and four-on-the-floor manual transmission.

This is a 4WD SPX with automatic transmission, the most expensive Mitsubishi Truck available in 1983. It has the 2.6-liter Astron SOHC four-cylinder engine, rated at 108 horsepower and 142 pound-feet. The Astron went into a wide variety of U.S.-market vehicles over the years, including Chrysler K-Cars and Dodge Challengers.

Such luxury!

The Dodge-badged version of this truck, the Ram 50, remained available all the way through the second generation of Forte and the 1994 model year. This seems odd, given that it competed directly for sales with Chrysler’s own Dodge Dakota once that truck debuted as a 1987 model.

Mitsubishi was still using five-digit odometers when this Truck was built, so we can’t know how many miles it really drove during its life.

It’s rusty, battered and coated with many layers of flat-black rattlecan paint at age 40.

Once occupants start tagging the interior of a vehicle, the junkyard beckons.

In the end, it got red-tagged by the Arvada Police Department and towed away.

The oil-burning first-year Mitsubishi Truck was called The Turbo Diesel, according to this commercial.

The price tag on a loaded ’83 SPX was nearly double that of its Mighty Max sibling, so Mitsubishi pushed the entry-level model the hardest.

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