Mitsubishi Magna an unloved classic

Has anyone seen a first generation Mitsubishi Magna at a classic car show?

No, neither have I.

Despite it being 38 years old and eligible for “classic car” status in Australia, it is not a car that collectors want to collect.

Indeed, it is one of many mid-1980s cars that have fallen into the black hole of collector indifference.

And yet, the 1985 Magna was one of the 1980’s cleverest examples of re-engineering a car for Australian conditions.

It re-shaped the Australian motor industry.

Prior to the Magna, the only big car Mitsubishi had to rival the Falcon and Commodore was the aging Valiant, which they’d inherited in the takeover of Chrysler Australia in 1980.

It was quickly given its redundancy notice, leaving Mitsubishi with the rear-wheel drive Sigma as its largest offering.

When the Sigma’s front-wheel drive replacement was in the development stage in Japan, Mitsubishi’s Australian research indicated that car width was a key buying factor for Aussie drivers.

That’s when someone had a bright idea.

“Let’s make the new Sigma wider!” a smart ex-Chrysler engineer said.

“And we can use the big 2.6-litre four cylinder engine, too” another added.

So out came the chain saws and they cut a prototype Sigma in half, inserted a 6.5cm metal divider and welded it all back together.

The result was visibly obvious.

Here was a wider car with a spacious interior and powered by an economical four cylinder engine.

Upon release the Magna had an immediate and lasting impact.

In comparison existing Camry and Commodore both looked and felt narrow, and the Falcon looked a little too large.

The motoring media loved the Magna and praised Mitsubishi for “inventing” a new category of car.

The wide-bodied Mitsubishi also gained acceptance in the USA, where it was marketed as the Diamante.

Toyota and Holden eventually got the message.

The 1989 Camry and Commodore were wide-bodied versions of overseas models.

The Magna went through four generations before it disappeared in 2005.

Those collectors who see value in the Magna go for the rare, all-wheel drive V6 VR-X built from 2002.

But a word of warning. Stay away from any first model with an automatic transmission — the gearbox is rubbish!

David Burrell is the editor of retroautos


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