Pick Your ’90s Oddball Off-Roader: Flying Pugs or Intruder Convertibles?


These days, almost any vehicle on the road with even a hint of off-roading pretense sports some combination of boxy styling, tall tires, and hoisted bumpers front and rear. They’re dirt-aggro, in all—or most of—the right ways.

But that wasn’t always the case. Back in the 1990s, things got a little, erm, weird. Case in point: The two off-road oddballs you see here.

Meet contestant number 1, a 1998 Mitsubishi Pajero Jr. Flying Pug, a boxy, topply little thing with a face best fit for radio. The one seen here is part of Mecum’s Indianapolis auction, slated to cross the block on Thursday, May 16.

1998 Mitsubishi Pajero Jr. Flying Pug exterior front three quarter

The Pajero Jr. was an off-road SUV produced for the JDM market exclusively between 1995 and 1998. Riding on the platform that underpinned the contemporary Mitsubishi Minica, a tiny little hatchback also only sold in Japan, the Pajero Jr.’s svelte footprint allowed it to fit under the “small size car” limitations of the Japanese government, thus lowering the tax burden owners would face when they bought the little two-door ute.

1998 Mitsubishi Pajero Jr. Flying Pug engine detail

Despite the tiny proportions and a 1.1-liter, 79-hp four-cylinder engine, this thing had real off-road chops. Power routes through a wee three-speed automatic transmission that turns the rear wheels by default, but the real four-wheel-drive system offers high- and low-range capabilities.

1998 Mitsubishi Pajero Jr. Flying Pug interior 4x4 selector detail

To drum up interest in the little dirt devil, Mitsubishi created several special-edition versions of the Pajero Jr., including the Flying Pug. (Brief moment of appreciation for the idea of a snub-nosed dog cruising through the air. Probably with a cape, because these little cars are nothing if not optimistic.)

The Flying Pug was the third special-edition Pajero Jr., styled to look like a classic British car. Built from September 1997 to June 1998, the Flying Pug was Mitsubishi’s attempt to capitalize on the rising popularity of older British cars in Japan. The results were … well, not great. The contemporary motoring press criticized the Flying Pug for having an ugly face, and although 1000 units were planned, a mere 139 saw the light of day before Mitsubishi axed the thing due to slow sales.

Styling notwithstanding, this little fella is in remarkably good condition, with the wine-colored paintwork still shining brilliantly, and the gray interior showing very few signs of wear. According to Mecum’s listing, this one has plenty of nice features, including air conditioning, power locks, power windows, tinted glass, and a folding rear seat that gives our little Pugger quite a bit of cargo capacity. The odometer displays 116,044 kilometers, which translates to about 72,100 miles. Our regards to the brave soul(s) who bopped about in this thing.

1998 Mitsubishi Pajero Jr. Flying Pug exterior rear three quarter

Tea-time trucklet not really your vibe? Might we interest you in contestant number 2: The 1996 Heuliez Intruder convertible? This one-of-one concept, which debuted at the 1996 Paris Salon, will cross the block tomorrow at Bonhams’ Miami auction, and woof is it a sight to behold.

1996 Heuliez Intruder exterior low front three quarter top down among plants

The shapely convertible bodywork comes courtesy of French coachbuilder Heuliez, a shop founded in the 1920s that spent decades designing buses and commercial vehicles through the 1970s but then turned to cars. Among Heuliez’s body of work are two ’80s rally icons: the Renault 5 Turbo, a mid-engine, boost-huffing, flared-fender Group 4/Group B monster, and the Peugeot 205 T16, a similarly riotous little hatch that nabbed two World Rally Championships in Group B.

This beast, however, is very much not of that ilk. The Intruder rides on the chassis of a Mercedes G320 off-roader—that’s right, there’s a G-Wagen under there. The bodywork is unique from the floorplans up, styled by and constructed under the watchful eye of designer Marc Deschamps. It’s part Tonka truck, part contemporary SLK, part G-Wagen, all absurdity.

1996 Heuliez Intruder engine detail

Power comes from the G320’s M104 3.2-liter twin-cam inline-six, which is rated for 208 hp. The Intruder retains all the G320’s other running gear as well, including the four-speed automatic transmission; the live front and rear axles; and the locking front, center, and rear differentials. There’s a full 12 inches of ground clearance under there, meaning this thing could really get down and dirty if you needed it to.

The interior is mostly off-the-shelf Mercedes parts, including the seats, although those now wear wild blue leather. The convertible top is fully functional, according to the listing, and can either be stored in the trunk or removed entirely.

After a tour of the show circuit, where the Intruder wore many different paint jobs, including red, white, and the silver you see here, it arrived at DK Engineering, a restoration firm in England. There, the Intruder was treated to an extensive restoration that reportedly cost around $300,000. It was imported to the States earlier this year and is now offered for sale with promotional brochures, extensive documentation of the restoration, and much more.

You could have any old Bronco, Wrangler, or 4Runner for your off-roading exploits, but where’s the fun in that? If you want to go that extra step, perhaps you need a little Flying Pug or (a lot of) Intruder in your life. Variety is the spice … well, you know the rest.


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    Went grocery shopping in the Pug yesterday. Easy to park and reasonable power but not geared for the freeway. Great vehicle!

    The Intruder was sold for $73K. When I first saw it, I thought it was a tribute car commemorating Aurora HO slot cars from the 60s. That’s how they looked with a set of AJ slicks. It still needs a center mounted vertical guide pin to keep it on the track.

    Ok, the Intruder is objectively a bit (ok, a lot) homely, but given the specs and what lives under the skin, I would absolutely get that just to confound the Jeep neanderthals on trails. No disrespect to the Jeep Wrangler or its predecessors, it’s the drivers vocally looking down on any off-road vehicle that isn’t a Jeep and the whole “It’s a Jeep thing, derp” that makes me want to point and laugh at them from this as it goes down the trail quite capably (assuming I put on different wheels and tires, like some black steel rims with WildPeak AT3Ws or KO2s, because what it is wearing now is awful).

    I say Flying Pug because it is simpler and maybe it could get some JDM upgrades (maybe). The Mercedes inline 6 and weirdo body though sound interesting also

    I’d go for the Flying Pug, it’s sort of like a 4×4 Triumph Mayflower. The Heuliez looks like a Lexus SC430 with a lift kit and proves Heuliez should stick to Citroens

    Neither look as unusual as an Isuzu Vehicross to me and that truck(?) actually sold in decent numbers

    There is a fellow that lived in NYC named Jim Rogers and he had a similar Mercedes like car with 4×4 G chassis and body with a retractable roof of a SLK 230. The diesel engine was also Mercedes made. He claimed in the late 20th Century it cost him over $500,000 to make the one off car with a matching trailer that was put together my a non-Mercedes company. He took the bright yellow car around the world and got married to his partner page Parker on Millennium eve. He wrote a book about the trip called “the Millennium Adventure” He did an earlier trip around the world on a BMW motorcycle after he made his first million in the stock market. He also wrote about that trip. The most memorable parts were exchanging money and obtaining gasoline. He claimed he had a lot of difficulty in third world nations obtaining gas but diesel was readily available everywhere encouraging him to get something with diesel power. A Gwagon would have been fine but he went all the way and had that custom car made. The book was called “Investment Biker”. When he was on his trip I used to correspond with him and then later I met him once at the Greenwich Concourse. The Internet says the car was sold and it was his first car. Ive always wished I could find one of my first cars. I love to travel in different ways. I enjoyed both books. In fact the first book Investment biker I found as an autographed copy at the Delta bookstore at LGA airport. The clerk said the author was flying out of there and signed a number of the copies. I bought one and then somehow found his Email address and confirmed the signature. Now I wonder if he had some sort of Warrantee from Mercedes like like Rosen back in the sixties would get his customers at Motion Inc for their 427 factory engines put into new Nova’s and GM cars

    Something must be wrong with me (an occasional comment I overhear) because neither look that bad to me. The Mitsubishi was apparently inspired by Tracker/Sidekick/Samurai which have loyal fans everywhere although that nose seems a misstep. I quite like the Intruder, and it’s got enough power to be taken seriously.

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