SH Garage: Why ’90s Japanese 4x4s Are My Latest Obsession

In this era of content creation, it’s easy to fall victim to the algorithm overlord – the little thing that rewards us for posting more frequently and then punishes any image uploaded in landscape format.

Shorts and Reels are a must because we all have terrible attention spans, yet the monetisation of long-form content now means even basic videos require 15 minutes of chat beforehand.

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Social media can be a confusing place. Because none of the above issues consider that little thing called actual life. No algorithm factors in delays or issues. It doesn’t care if you are skint, nor does it worry about your motivation or mental well-being – unless it’s trying to sell you a Better Health advert.

The more it engulfs you, the more you realise the actual winners of social media aren’t those boasting millions of followers. It’s the individuals who can dip in and out whenever they please, posting whatever they want with no plan or agenda.


Now there’s a fitting summary before I jump into this Speedhunters Garage post – my first in the best part of two years. There is no algorithm in the world I can blame for that.

I could blame becoming a father for the second time and embarking on too many long-term project cars, which are still months (if not years) away from completion. Dare I say, my garage has been a bit dull recently, although I have also started watching cow hooves being trimmed on YouTube, so perhaps I’m not the best indicator of what is actually interesting.


I’m also closer to being 40 than I am 30 now. I remember paying £6,500 (approximately US$8,000 in today’s money) for an R32 Nissan Skyline GT-R – that’s how old I am. But it might also explain why, in the last year, I’ve developed a bit of an obsession for more practical cars, specifically older Japanese 4x4s…


Unlike other avenues of Japanese car culture, I’ve never really dived into the world of 4x4s, which is why it all feels new and exciting. But more importantly, it’s still possible to find and buy decent examples without needing the backing of a private hedge fund. Something otherwise impossible with anything JDM and interesting from the ’90s.


The trigger for this started early last year during an innocent but routine browsing of Facebook Marketplace. 

No longer is it simply a case of browsing whatever Facebook suggests; I search every city, territory, and vehicle term within a 400km radius. This is a bit silly because a 400km radius also includes cars from Ireland, France and Belgium – destinations that require a ferry trip to reach.


Buried deep within the search results was a 1989 Mk1 Mitsubishi Shogun Wagon. It was cheap and looked quite cool, but inevitably needed work – the trifecta of red flags. Up until this point, I knew very little about Shoguns, other than they seem to be favoured by people who ram-raid cash machines at 3:00am. So, was this early Mk1 cheap by accident, or is that just the going rate for ‘em?


I can’t speak for the rest of the world, but in the UK at least, this era of Japanese 4×4 is still relatively cheap. They were sold in fairly decent numbers thanks to their rural, rugged nature, and just like early Land Rover Defenders, it was this functionality that made them so popular long before they became fashionable.


The same could be said for Toyota’s Land Cruiser. There are still plenty of expensive ones around – particularly those 60 and 70 Series variants – but an 80 Series from the early ’90s? Yours for a few thousand pounds, and it will (mostly) work exactly as intended, hence their popularity all over the world.


Seeing as I’d bought this Mk1 Shogun rather impulsively, I felt obliged to pledge my allegiance to the world of Mitsubishi 4x4s rather than those from Toyota or Nissan. And while this particular example is a bit crusty with an interior full of fungi, I am secretly glad I did. Because the Mk1 Pajero (known as Shogun in the UK) is also the genesis for one of the best 4x4s ever made.


To this day, the Mitsubishi Pajero remains the most successful car ever to compete in the gruelling Dakar race, taking the overall top spot 12 times, along with 150 stage wins. I know that is a slightly skewed fact – a bit like how Lancia remains the most successful WRC manufacturer to date – but don’t forget those early Dakar racers weren’t exactly space-framed, million-dollar monsters either. They were toughened-up production road cars.


However, while the Pajero remains the most successful car at Dakar, it would seem its greatest challenge to date would be surviving rural England for a few years. When I bought this car, I knew it would fail its MOT (roadworthiness inspection) the moment a rubber wiper blade disintegrated like an ancient Egyptian curse had been placed on it. But what I didn’t expect was two pages of failures, which included the words ‘corrosion’, ‘rust’ and ‘structural integrity’. 


By this point, I had heavily invested myself into Pajero ownership, because what’s a bit of rust between friends? It was cheap after all. And this is where the slippery slope of obsession starts once again…

Suddenly, every aspect of your car’s history and production becomes a topic of research. You join the relevant Facebook sale groups, you start following other owners on Instagram, and your hunger for more knowledge becomes a tad all-encompassing. I’m not entirely sure if this is a healthy approach, but it is massively fun.


The problem with talking about Pajeros is there’s one specific model that everyone knows and will reference, regardless of what other variant you own. Yes, I’m talking about the Pajero Evolution. How many of us have thought it would be quite cool to own one? Their proportions are ludicrous; the 3.5-litre V6 seems quite punchy with 276hp, and any model built specifically for homologation just oozes cool.


Mitsubishi made 2,693 examples of the Pajero Evolution – 2,059 with an automatic gearbox and 634 with a 5-speed manual. I am not entirely sure why you would want a manual version; they’re far from a driver’s car, and if we are getting super nerdy, all of the Dakar winners were automatics anyway.

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Fast-forward a year into my newfound Pajero obsession and the want for an Evolution became a tad obsessive, not helped by fellow Speedhunter Chaydon, who had been having a similar crisis too. Chaydon found one near his home that had been parked up for years and needed a serious overhaul. Unfortunately, its owner took the attitude of ‘I know what I’ve got’ resulting in the car being hugely overpriced and still sat rotting many months later.


My inability to tackle even basic mechanical work ruled out any kind of ‘Project Evolution’ – especially having taken the best part of six months to get the Mk1 Wagon roadworthy again. A limited budget also meant a pristine example like the one at 4 Star Classics would be out the window, too. The solution? Ignore every red flag once again and find the cheapest running Pajero Evolution for sale… on eBay. What could possibly go wrong?


Once again, another Pajero turned up without any prior viewing and – from the outside at least – everything seemed pretty good. The numberplate was broken and the bumper had been repainted, which unsurprisingly could be connected. There were various dents across the bodywork and the windscreen wiper arms were a little rusty. But the underside? That seemed pretty solid. Its MOT history wasn’t terrifying either, even if the Pajero had been recently undersealed.


On the inside is where things get a little more bodged. Where the radio once was now lurks a huge clip-in Android tablet, which is mounted so low it is impossible to see, and its start-up volume seems to default to ‘Air Raid Siren’. In every footwell lurks a mass of green neon lights, and the cigarette lighter has four items powered from it, including a rear-view screen that replaces the mirror. Albeit with Japanese writing in the middle of it.

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There are speakers wired in every corner and a small subwoofer (also powered by the cigarette lighter) hard-mounted under the passenger seat, which works brilliantly at rattling every panel inside. Not that you can tell which vibration is from the speaker, as the rear shocks seem to have collapsed, meaning the smallest bump feels like you’re in an Impala from the Still Dre music video. Then there are the indicators, which flicker at 160bpm.

But all of that is fixable, and a bit of wacky wiring seems like a small win compared to chopping out and replacing entire sections of the sills. The question is, which issue to tackle first? Er, the wheels, of course!


I already had a set of 16-inch OZ Racing wheels I had bought for the Mk1 Shogun earlier in the year, and while they look brilliant on that, they were just a bit weak on the Evolution. An inch too big in size and an inch too narrow in width if we’re being incredibly geeky. You could argue that is a small issue compared to say, the rear shocks just not working, and you would be absolutely right. But I am incredibly fickle with my priorities, somewhat backwards.


Thanks to a man called Stefan, who runs the Instagram page FoRRtune, sourcing the right set of OZ Racing wheels turned out to be unusually easy. Stefan specialises in rare and hard-to-find wheels, but he is also a fountain of knowledge when it comes to choosing sizes and corresponding tyre specs. That’s why – using his advice – I found a set of 15×8-inch OZ Racing Route Rally wheels with equally appropriate Toyo Mud Terrain tyres, and the fitment couldn’t be more perfect.


Rectifying the Evolution’s issues first might have been a more sensible approach than fitting jazzy wheels, but I’m going to go out on a limb now and say these classic OZ Racing wheels are the best-looking off-road wheels you can get for a Pajero. They just scream Dakar… in the middle of rural Northamptonshire.


It has now been around a year and a half since I bought my first Shogun, and six months since the Evolution arrived. Both still work, and the most I have spent on actual maintenance is a replacement gear selector cable (let’s not mention the suspension issue). But what I thought would be a short-lived obsession has now entirely engulfed me. I still trawl Marketplace most evenings in the hope of uncovering more odd and unusual variants.

Like a very early Mk1 Wagon – a 1985 year – with the bubble/safari roof. I can’t show you any proper pictures of this yet because (out of sheer excitement and idiocy) I committed to the sale before realising where it was in the world. So, if anyone fancies driving an old Pajero nearly 11,000km from Cape Town in South Africa to Kettering, England, hit me up. Although, the fuel alone would cost almost twice the value of the car.

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But that’s what makes this latest obsession all the more entertaining. Bargains – and interesting cars – still exist out there if you’re prepared to do the digging and shut out the noise of certain social media. And with so many oddities, limited models or general weirdness from over 40 years of production, I’m fairly sure my Pajero ‘phase’ is only just getting started.

Mark Riccioni
Instagram: mark_scenemedia
Twitter: markriccioni



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Social media has ruined a lot of things. Automotive journalism being one of them. The average person in this industry now has never built an engine or tuned a carburetor but will talk ad naseum about laminar flow, downforce, and engine design like they actually have a clue. Very funny to watch. This generation is completely tarded.


Actually the Gen Z are very adept at driving.

I was in the canyons yesterday April 21 and I saw a bunch of Gen Z guys in their cars, driving quite spiritedly. I started following each of them, one at a time. All of them had crazy tight lines, kissing the apex, out-in-out. One of them (shout out to the British Green miata if you are here) was clearly exhibiting advanced driving techniques like heel-toe, Superdownshift (5 to 2 no clutch) and even some left-foot throttle.

The emptiness of your life, commenting here with an anonymous name full of's bizarre and amusing.

Frank Profera aka "The Wave-Tossed Man"


I met Jackie Stewart a few weeks ago in a security line for an event. We briefly chatted about my experience in Motorsport etc.

When I told him who trained me and who I’ve driven with he said, “I know all of them. You have some very fast company.”

We then chatted briefly about my kart build and the coaching I’ve been doing the last few years.

Nothing you can say to me matters to me. I have the blessings of some of the greatest men to ever wrench of drive. You’re a canyon squid.

Say whatever you want. I’ve worked and raced with two people connected to Senna now. Have raced with Le Mans winners. NASCAR pros etc.

You’re just some old man with a pocket book and a fried brain.


What is left-foot-throttle


Also -- the techniques he is describing like heel toe are very entry level techniques. I teach this to 15 year olds when I coach. Nothing special. This is a prerequisite to being able to drive on a race track. Hitting an apex and out-in-out is literally hour 1 stuff...this is taught to children in karting.

"Super downshift" is absolutely BS in a road car on a canyon road with synchros and a clutch. This is only applicable if a car is capable of slowing down so fast the shift to 4th and 3rd cant be don't quick enough. So many factors / conditions come into something like this and it only matters if you are being timed on a stop watch after you are capable of producing very consistent lap times.

People like Frank and other amateur drivers love the idea of this fantasy land Initial D "Supa supa late o burakingu tekuniku" / God Hand / God foot crap.

Assuming he meant left foot braking that doesn't even hold merit. A good right foot braker will beat a mediocre left foot braker any day of the week. Trying to measure any of this stuff in "the canyon" is a load of crap. I should know! I used to have an entire telemetry system wired to my car when I was a die hard canyon junky. Logged over 100,000 miles in those roads and lived through the operation safe canyon days.


Left foot throtlte is what you do when your brain turns to noodle soup from old age.



lmao why bring this negativity? besides, reading any technical discussions anywhere on the internet, at any time in history, makes clear that *nobody anywhere at any time* has ever understood actual automotive engineering.

least of all you bro. anyone who thinks they get it doesn’t get it. if it were that easy, auto companies wouldn’t have staffs of thousands of engineers dialing cars in for years.


Quantifiably false statement JD. I met someone on the net a long time through a forum and he turned out to be a multi time world champion who taught me how to build my own engines. I just did a 8 hour video with him about a racing engine we built that will turn 18,000rpm.

Most people don't know what they are talking about. That doesn't mean everyone is ignorant. This person I'm speaking of also rivaled an Indy lights team from his basement on a budget about 1/10th of what the top teams were spending. One person can get it. But that one person has to be extremely dedicated.

You guys aren't like me. Never have been. Never will be. It seems impossible to you because you've never seen someone do it. I have. And I am living it. I get paid to do this stuff.


The more I talk to the general public the more I realize how accurate the bell curve of intelligence is.


Mechanical work on cars is OBJECTIVELY not that difficult. If you can build a thousand piece lego kit, you can probably do anything you need on a car, so I also am put off when I here a JOURNALIST say that they can't do mechanical work. Just figure it out, man.


lmao ok, you guys just keep it up and i’m sure you’ll make great automotive journalists. speedhunters will probably have a contract ready for you soon.


Lmao. If you only knew jd. If you only knew…


Generally that’s true. But to do that and understand how different things will effect lap time or driver feel is very high level and way beyond legos.


Man the Pajero Evolution has to be peak 90s JDM 4x4
Really it's one of the best homologation examples ever made


Great read and nice photos Mark!

Daniel Huneault

I have never seen or heard of this I want one. Thanks. Now I'm gonna spend the next 24 hrs on this new obsession


'A problem shared is a problem halved'


Awesome cars Mark. Despite not being into offroading I've recently purchased a soft top 1989 Suzuki Vitara - old japanese 4x4s are definitely where it's at.


Love it, the more obscure the better! Yet still immensely capable.


The Pajero evo was always peak performance suv to me. There's not many fast offroad suv's right now, only on road stuff. Great photos too.


Great article and thanks for shedding light on our Evolution's!
I acquired mine back in Sept. '22 from New Zealand to Detroit where I live. Unfortunately I received not what I thought I has everything, clean example no rust, chassis #2498 out of the needed 2500 for Homologation. the unfortunate is the engine, bad heads had me looking into parts which are near impossible to find. I managed to score a set of Mitsubishi OE Head gaskets (which are unubtanium in rarity) and a full engine rebuild kit from Switzerland.
Where I am today is, the engine has been taken out, fully disassembled and in the hands of a machinist. Cylinder walls need to be bored and Oversized pistons made. Camshafts are rusted so those are going to get re-trimmed/rebuilt. Radiator has been re-cored, oil cooler boiled for clean, block boiled 5 times to clean years of neglect...the list goes on.
I plan on starting an instagram page of the rebuild here soon, 4mingVoltron.

Love seeing yours being used you have a great example of one and I can't wait to get mine back out there soon!


Ouch, that's an absolute bummer with the engine but having a rust-free later chassis still sounds like a result. Am i right in assuming these engines don't really share any parts with other Mitsubishi V6s fitted to Pajero/Shoguns of that era?

Mine's currently having some gearbox issues and after digging around it seems that the 5-speed isn't shared with other models, and while you can still get new-old stock ones from Mitsubishi they're the best part of £10k or over £4.5k for used from Japan.

Still, will all be worth it in the end! When are you aiming to have yours finished or is it just a case of whenever time permits?


Man I feel like I make the same poor decisions as you do haha! I am also looking for some wheels and tires for my 74 Celica...ignoring everything else that needs to be done. I am also mechanically inept but I still live and breath cars.


While it could be deemed as foolish, i think we'd all agree that doing those little mods like wheels and tyres give any project a boost when it can otherwise feel completely overwhelming to sort all the niggles out!


Always love your random car purchases, you never know whats coming next! I agree that there are some cool jdm obscurities in this scene that can still be had for good money, and scratch that jdm itch! I am currently driving a 2001 Nissan Elgrand (e50 model), with the VQ35 and 4wd, and it had so much character to drive and does everything i need it to do with a young family! It makes great noises inside, feels faster than it should be, but doesnt brake or handle all that great.. but all makes for a fun driving experience!


I had no idea the Elgrand came with a VQ35... and immediately the appeal for some of the obscure JDM family wagons grows! That sounds wicked fun though, and talk about something unique on the roads too! What other engines did they do on the Elgrands?


Ha.. cant wait for the next fleet update! So the E50 model came with a 3.3 petrol V6 originally, and later models got the VQ35, only with a 4 speed auto though but isnt too bad (there is a diesel option too). The E50 model is essentially a old nissan Navara underneath, switchable 4wd, live rear axle, but built like a tank. I used to own a 1973 Dodge Van with a V8, and the Elgrand feels very similar to drive even though its like 30 years newer.. but i mean that in a good way! The later model E51 model carried on with the VQ35, but got a 5 speed tiptronic auto, and more sophisticated suspension, so drives more like a 'car'. Attached photo of my Elgrand, with my recently added stock car inspired steel wheels, as its very hard to find wheels to fit the 6 stud truck fitment!


LOVEEEE Pajero Evos!


Great pics and story. And wheels :). Off to the classifieds I go.