They say Dakar Rally is the toughest motor race on the planet. The gruelling 14-stage event challenges drivers and riders in cars, bikes and trucks to travel more than 5,500 miles along the west coast of South America, crossing three borders and traversing desert terrain in temperatures you could boil (and sometimes freeze) an egg in. Such a task requires two things: a fearless (and slightly mad) driver, and a purpose-built rally machine.
Back in 1997, Mitsubishi’s answer to the latter was based on the Pajero, also known as the Shogun because the other name is quite naughty in Spanish (we’ll leave you to Google it) and so couldn’t be used in Europe or any Spanish-speaking countries. The Dakar-spec Pajero faced a slightly different route to today’s racers, namely because the rally it competed in actually started in Dakar, before circling around the northwest wing of Africa to include Niger and the Ténéré desert. But the challenge was much the same as today: hot, gruelling and only possible in vehicles developed specifically for this type of off-road abuse.
To prepare the Pajero for the Dakar Rally, Mitsubishi’s engineers, therefore, had to extensively modify it. The rules for the T2 class it competed in dictated that competition cars had to be based on a production vehicle that Joe Public could buy, so Mitsubishi set about producing a limited run homologation special called the Pajero Evolution. It came in beefed-up Dakar specification to form a strong base for the competition vehicle to build on.
At a glance, the addition of underbody protection and mudguards were the clearest signals of its Dakar talents. But look closer and you’ll notice that the 4×4 had gained an aluminium bonnet to save weight and muscular wheel arches to cover widened tracks, which grew substantially by 125mm (front) and 110mm (rear). Two Torsen limited-slip differentials were also added, while suspension travel was lengthened to 240mm at the front and 270mm at the rear, giving the car sufficient spring length to handle the numerous jumps of Dakar.
Matching this beefed-up base was a suitably strong engine: an atmospheric 3.5-litre V6 that used variable valve timing, a unique intake manifold and forged internals. Officially, it was rated at 280hp and 256lb ft, but it’s reckoned the actual outputs were a little higher; some suggest a peak output of 300hp was more likely. No straight-line performance figures were provided for the Pajero Evolution, but owners claim a healthy car should hit 62mph in about eight seconds – not bad going for a naturally aspirated car that weighs almost two tonnes.
Only 2,500 Pajero Evolutions were built and they were never officially imported to Britain, meaning the one advertised here is a rare beast indeed. Chassis number 1566 was recently imported from Japan so, as the seller puts it, has spent most of its life residing “on the salt-free roads of Japan”, which means there’s no rust to worry about. It’s covered 52,000 miles so does have a “handful of light blemishes to report”, but mechanically, this car appears to be in great condition. No doubt this has been helped by the regular servicing recorded in its history.
The Dakar Pajero went on to dominate in its class, so each road going example comes with genuine motorsport history and proven capability. This means that at £13,995, our spotted car feels like a pretty good deal to us. Think of it this way, you’re getting a proper rally special Mitsubishi for the price of a boggo supermini…
SPECIFICATION – MITSUBISHI PAJERO EVOLUTION
Transmission:5-speed auto, 4WD
Torque (lb ft):257@3000rpm