Recently I wrote up an article comparing 17 new vehicles on the market that were ideally suited to adventure travel and immediately I started thinking about how I could apply this to the used market where, realistically, most of us will go in looking for a dependable and durable vehicular travel companion. When the thought of trying to track down and catalog the dozens of possible contenders and rank them in a similar manner, my brain exploded. After picking up the pieces and regrouping I settled on the idea that I can find one ever week or so and do a small writeup about it, I call it "Overland, Under budget".
I picked the following criteria and did the best homework I could, but I'm still probably wrong in lots of places.
ABILITY – How far can it take you.
LONGEVITY – How's it holding up in its old age
SUPPORT – Aftermarket kits, community support and parts availability.
LIVABILITY – What its like to actually live with.
The Pajero (Montero/Shogun) is actually a much more serious name in off road travel that people give it credit; A Pajero has won 15 of the 32 total and 7 of the last 10 DAKAR races in its class. As a bonus Pajero means "wanker" in Spanish…so there's that. Of all the generations and body styles (4 and 5 respectively) I'm picking the 93-96 Montero SR as my pick in the Montero family tree.
In 1993 the Montero SR got a new, larger 3.5 liter V6 putting out a respectable 215 hp and 228 ft-lbs of torque from as low as 3000 rpm, not great today but pretty great in in the 90's. Despite a porky, worst in class curb weight of 4465 lbs the SR wasn't the slowest car in its class but actually one of the fastest, blitzing the run to 60 in 9.9 seconds, courtesy of a 4.27 axle ratio I suppose.
The upside to all that weight is toughness; the SR gets a fully boxed frame, super strong wishbone front suspension with torsion bars and a very stout 9.5 inch semi-floating rear axle supported by coils and 3 links. Housed in that 9.5 inch axle was an air locker, yup an actual air locker like you would buy for a competition 4x4 rig, only it was made by Mitsubishi and run from a small electric air pump instead of a heavy compressor.
On the topic of traction the Montero is famous for having the most options you could possibly ever want in a transfer case - called active-trac, you could select; 2wd, 2wd lock (rear locker on), 4H full time, 4HLc (4wd high locked center diff, i.e. true 4x4), and 4LLc, as well as neutral and could be electronically shifted into all modes (but 4LLc) at speeds up to 62. It had a decent sized fuel tank (24.3 gallons) and fair mileage (14/18) which meant it had the legs to take you where you wanted to go as well and with a payload of 1375 lbs and 67 cubic feet of space with the back seats down there was room to take it with you as well, though not to the extent of its larger and more expensive piers.
The Montero's single best virtue was its dual nature purpose, good on road and good off, but despite the great rear axle articulation and the rear locker, the front had poor articulation and there were only 7.1 inches of clearance available, as well as relatively poor approach, departure and break over angles.
The trouble with the budget overland vehicle is that the 90's was the golden age of the capable suv, but it was almost 25 years ago and many of the vehicles that make great travel vehicles are getting up there in age and its not uncommon to find the car you want with 200,000 or more miles on it.
The good news is that Montero's of this generation are very durable vehicles, with extremely reliable 4 speed transmissions that are smooth and tough. The 6G74 iron block engine is known for reliability if taken care of, with major issues being the timing belts that need to be replaced since at regular intervals (its DOHC and interference) as well as oil guide seal that are known to go bad burning extra oil. The interiors are very well made and hold up pretty well to the test of time.
The frames can rust pretty badly in salty states, but no more than anything else in that region. Being Japanese and from one of the worlds preeminent electronic corporations, the electrical isnt a big issue but like most things with this age you should look out for actuators for the 4wd and locker pump as well as window regulators and the like…normal wear and tear.
The Montero sold in good numbers in the US, Canada and especially internationally and despite Mitsubishi's current troubles in the US parts are relatively easy to come by in most places. There are some special parts, like that locker air pump, that can be tricky to find new but because they sold so many that finding the hard stuff in a scrapyard isn't a nightmare. The aftermarket support is pretty strong from manufactures in Australia and here in the US and lifting is as easy as a torsion bar tweak and new rear coils and dampers and once done you can get that magic 33 inch touring tire in there without too much trouble.
The online community is fairly robust though not like the Jeep, Land Rover or even Samurai Communities; it's a loyal, if small, following that should provide you will all the help you need.
The truth is that most overland travel takes place on the tarmac and not on the trail and so a good overland rig needs to be both a beast of burden…and not a beast or burden. With new vehicles this isn't as much a factor as they are all fairly refined and easy to live with, but vehicles from this period are from a time when creature comforts were being added begrudgingly in a haphazard effort to appeal to the American market and the shift from capability to cup holders which meant it was a confusing time to be an SUV.
Good news here again, the Montero was a delight to drive, it was quiet, the transmission was silky smooth as was the surprisingly good sounding engine and road manners were above average, as were acceleration, braking and handling. All in all it's a GREAT vehicle to live with. It doesn't hurt that the model the US got is a semi high roof that I think looks FANTASTIC!
Jeremy Clarkson reviewed the 91 with the 3.0 liter when the new body style came about and he didn't hate it, so that's something
This is The World By Vehicle or, in summary, my rambling stories about seeing neat things by car or how to do the same.