IAIN ROBERTSON

Grateful for the opportunity to take a VIP role in remembering an illustrious past, Iain Robertson drove Mitsubishi’s first ‘Press Test Car’ (a Colt Lancer) on a joyous trip, only some 42 years since he first sampled the very same car.

For a brief moment, on the last day of September 2017, I was whisked back to a time when the enterprising owner of Richard Lawson Cars, of Kirriemuir, Scotland, one the new Colt Car Company dealers, handed me the keys to ‘SDG 1N’, a white Mitsubishi Colt Lancer. It was a car introduced to compete with the Triumph Toledo and the Ford Escort Mark Two. In two-door, ‘basic’ trim, it was a country-mile ahead of its British rivals, at a time when Japanese cars were just starting to make an impression on UK car buyers.

With its ‘standard’ MW/LW radio, tilt-adjustable steering column, reclining and perforated-plastic trimmed seats and a decent heater, it promised c.90bhp performance, 40mpg fuel economy and a modestly stylish, part-US, mostly-Oriental design stance, at around £1,100 on the road. It would be fair to say that we were both younger, slimmer and more capable in early-1975!

Mitsubishi Motors, which took over the Cirencester-based, Colt Car Company concessionaire a few years ago, is celebrating its centenary year. As a company, it could be said to have experienced a torrid couple of decades, since the DaimlerChrysler takeover activity ended. A ‘lost in the wilderness’ atmosphere existed for the marque that had once been a technological tour de force, a factor that exists no longer.

Yet, in many areas, a consumer enthusiasm is retained and none more so than within the ‘classic car’ arena. Of course, with most of its UK models having only enjoyed 43 years on our roads, it is a blend of ‘grey imported’ high performance examples, supported by the rally homologation Evolution variants that predominate in the area of ‘moderns’, especially since Mitsubishi (like Subaru) no longer carries any competition, or motorsport, connection worth mentioning.

Naturally, the Shogun, in both short and long-wheelbase forms has enjoyed an illustrious past and present for Mitsubishi, as an acknowledged workhorse. Fortunately, a solitary example of the latest Shogun Sport, which was present for company evaluation purposes at Cirencester (and ‘snapped’ furiously by me!), suggests that the model has plenty of future prospects. Several ‘classic’ versions of the SUV, which possesses an indefatigable reputation, were present at the Centennial event.

However, they were joined by a beautiful Cordia coupe (complete with its innovative twin-final-drive gearbox), of which just two examples remain UK road-registered, and a similar situation for the equally pretty Celeste coupe. The elegant Sapporo model was well-represented in both coupe and saloon forms, while a selection of Galant models from all decades enjoyed an active presence, as well as the excellent driving route between Cirencester, into the Cotswolds and across to Shelsley Walsh Hillclimb course in the Malvern Hills. Other rarities included the 1981 Mitsubishi-engined Jeep CJ-3B, complete with full wet-weather protection, useful in the changing conditions.

The UK boss of the company, Lance Bradley, piloted the firm’s own 1988 wide-body Starion coupe, which was a personal favourite of mine from that era. TV celebrities, Tim Shaw and Fuzz Townsend drove a 1975 Galant saloon, while Conor Twomey and Amanda Gibson enjoyed the business-like luxury of the 2006 Grandis MPV, also from the car company’s private collection. A 1999 L300 van had made the trip down from Aberdeen, while a Lancer Evo V from Holland added to the international flair.

The ’Tour’ took in the popular A429, a spinal route (The Foss Way) through the Cotswolds, before detouring at Northleach onto the Yarnworth road, prior to reaching the delights of the town of Broadway. Still packed with visitors, despite the autumnal weather conditions, the convoy of cars eventually stopped for a ‘comfort break’ at Fish Hill picnic place, located a few hundred metres up, in the hills above the town.

After 20 minutes, the entourage continued towards Chipping Campden, then Stratford-upon-Avon, before making a refreshments stop at the excellent The Four Alls public house in Welford, home to England’s tallest maypole. The final leg of 38-miles took in Radford, Flyford Flavel and Broughton Hackett en-route to Shelsley Walsh and its various attractions, which include a working watermill and a wooden church, alongside the historic competitive hillclimb track, which is home to the Bugatti sportscar club among others. Lunch was a massive picnic laid on by Mitsubishi for all visitors.

Of course, the Lancer in several of its guises was omni-present, from the delightful, rear-driven 2000 Turbo model, which enjoyed a stellar rallying history with ‘Flying Scotsman’ Andrew Cowan at the helm, through various Evolutions, some in slightly more than standard specification. The original Colt Lancer driven by my colleague, Rob Marshall and me, proved to be a centre of attention for many of the attendees, not least for its sparkling condition. We elected not to tackle the speed hillclimb course, with due deference to the car’s age and status, although it provided 70mph open road performance and energetic handling on the delightful driving route (before the rains attempted to blight the day!).

Rob is a keen ‘modern’ classicist and owns a Triumph Toledo that was a direct rival to the Lancer, when it was new. He was keen to highlight the relative refinement of the British product but also stated that he coveted the Lancer, purely for its more modern approach and surprisingly zesty behaviour. His verbal comparisons were very much the order of the day, with most of them being Mitsubishi-favourable. You can look forwards to a twin-car test of this pair of models in the near future.

Overall, as a celebration of Mitsubishi-ness, the event was no less than a thorough success and not even the rain could diminish the enthusiasm of all fifty participants on both the driving route and for those enterprising souls participating in the hillclimb. It is my sincere hope that Mitsubishi, firstly, imports the new Shogun Sport but that it also returns the company to a premier, recognisable status as one of the core brands of Japanese automotive enterprise. As a company, its most recent partnership with the Renault-Nissan organisation may provide it with a positive means to an end.

As far as the event is concerned, Mitsubishi has fans from around the world. While it is sad that Subaru’s past is being ignored and largely forgotten, apart from in the minds of several enthusiasts, Mitsubishi UK benefits from a management team that respects the brand’s past and recognises its importance to its future. I hope that the company will not wait for another decade, before hosting a re-run of this excellent, fun and well-attended event. So, how about another go in 2018, Mitsubishi?

About Iain P W Robertson

Frequently being told to 'go forth and multiply', Iain P W Robertson's automotive wisdom is based on almost forty years in the business, across all aspects from sport to production, at the highest levels. He likes dogs and drives a Suzuki (not related).