When Subaru and Mitsubishi put insanity on the roof

Long before Subaru became a triple World Rally Champion, the favorite brand of America’s dog lovers and producer of a family-hauler with 19 cupholders, it launched a tiny kei van called the Libero. You may know it as the Sumo, the Estratto, or the Combi, while the Japanese bought it as the Domingo. Yet no matter how it was badged, Subaru’s kei-sized van featured the beefier 1.2-liter three-cylinder engine from the Justy mounted at the rear, as well as selectable four-wheel drive engaged via a button on the shifter.

Subaru Libero

And since the 1983–98 Sumo was mostly bought with the high-roof option ticked, it didn’t take Subaru long to figure out how that plastic dome could be turned into something that can get you closer to a healthy dinner, as well. That’s right. Not only could your compact van tow your fancy jet ski, but it would also detach its roof so you could have a tiny Subaru-branded fishing boat at hand!

With this Subaru, just throw in a Swiss Army knife, and the world is your oyster.

Subaru roof top boat

When it comes to JDM factory options, up until recently, I thought it would be really hard to beat Toyota and Nissan, who offered mirror or side-window wipers on their models for 1988. That seems quite excessive, until you learn about the options list of the 1987–91 Mitsubishi XYVYX, a domestic version of the mighty Mirage with a neat rear spoiler.

white Mitsubishi Mirage

As auto writer Michael Banovsky pointed out on Twitter, what the February, 1988 issue of Popular Science described as “a special sports model with a tongue-twisting name” could be yours as a panel van, or as a three-door hatchback with a twin-sliding glass sunroof. Yet your best roof option by a mile was Mitsubishi’s customizable module, which could turn into a tent, house scuba-diving an other sporting gear, or become Sony’s advanced “AV-Capsule,” an integrated mobile theater system.

Mitsubishi Mirage ad

Complete with its own antenna, remote control, VHS player, and multi-format tape deck, the Sony AV-Capsule was truly in-car entertainment at its best. It’s just strange you could have it with a Mirage, because while the XYVYX’s 16-valve “Cyclone” engine may sound exotic, it’s the same 125-horsepower mill Americans could get as an option in the Eagle Summit LX.

In the end, it’s hard to pick a winner between Subaru and Mitsubishi. If only Sony’s AV-Capsule couldn’t also act as a boat…

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