Mitsubishi’s second-gen Montero isn’t collector-grade yet, but that’s a good thing
Let’s begin this article with a confession: My search for a rough-and-tumble SUV didn’t start with a Montero. In fact, it didn’t even start with Mitsubishi. I’d venture a guess that a decent portion of today’s Montero owners would share a similar story. In the world of off-roading, more specifically off-roading with Japanese machinery, the hunt almost always starts with Toyota. Far too often, it ends with Toyota as well, and Mitsubishi never comes across a would-be owner’s radar.
Shame, really. Because the Montero deserves every shred of respect it gets in the off-roading community—and then some.
Vintage SUVs are one of the collector market’s hottest segments. Coupled with the growing popularity of RADwood-era cars, many of which hail from Japan, vehicles such as the Toyota Land Cruiser, the 4Runner, and even the creatively named Toyota Pickup are rapidly gaining fans—and value. A side effect of that climb, aside from pricing many entry-level enthusiasts out of great machinery, is that there’s a certain reticence to actually use those rides for the purposes they were built for. By and large, the Montero manages to escape that.
Mitsubishi’s golden years in the 1980s, ’90s, and the early 2000s are the stuff of dreams. Dominance in multiple motorsport disciplines, cutting-edge technology, and compelling offerings across many segments made the Tri-Diamond logo an enthusiast favorite. Toyota and Honda might have dominated the sales charts, but Mitsubishi, along with Nissan, fielded plenty of equally compelling offerings. (The same can’t really be said of contemporary Mitsubishi, and can only barely be said of Nissan today.) Each of the four contributed mightily to what’s widely considered the golden age of the Japanese automobile.
Like the Land Cruiser, the Montero (as it was known in North America, Spain, and most of Latin America) was sold all over the world, though often under the names Pajero or Shogun. Whatever you know it as, it’s impossible to separate the platform from its reputation built through transcontinental rallying, where through the years it helped cement Mitsubishi as the all-time winningest manufacturer at the grueling Paris-Dakar rally.
Being such a prolific car on a global scale, the lifespans for each generation of the Montero overlap considerably. Dig into the history of this thing, and you’ll find a lot of instances where “X country got a new Pajero in this year, but the old one soldiered on in Y and Z countries for another half-decade.” (There were also versions licensed and produced by other manufacturers, just in case it wasn’t already tough enough to follow this lineage.)
Generally speaking, however, the first-generation Montero spanned from 1981–91, the second-gen model ran from 1991–99, and the third-generation Montero, the last one sold in the U.S., ran from 1999–2006. We’re going to focus on the second-gen model here.
Throughout the ’90s, the American car market saw a slow but steady growth of rugged, body-on-frame, true 4×4 offerings. Toyota’s Land Cruiser was fresh off the debut of an all-new generation, the much-lauded 80 Series. Land Rover had been making the boxy first-gen Discovery since 1989, and the more luxurious Range Rover would debut mid-decade in 1994. Jeep was in on the action, too, with its venerable XJ Cherokee and the Wrangler.
Mitsubishi had originally pitched the first-generation Montero as a luxury off-road competitor, eyeing the Land Rover Discovery and even the Range Rover as its competitive set. The second-generation Monty backed off the luxury angle a tad, though it was by no means spartan. It claims a number of technological firsts among Japanese 4WD vehicles, including electronically-adjustable shock absorbers, multi-mode ABS, and, most importantly, Super Select 4WD. This groundbreaking tech (marketed in North American Monteros as Active-Trac) utilized a viscous-coupling center differential that offered the advantages of part-time and full-time four-wheel-drive, as well as on-the-fly shifting from 2WD to 4WD at speeds of up to 48mph in most versions. When the going got really tough, the transfer case was also able to deploy 4-high and 4-low, both with a locked center diff.
Styling for the second-gen car softened the boxy first-gen design a bit, canting the windshield and grille back for mildly improved aerodymnamics. In 1998, general export Monteros, such as those headed stateside, received a facelift that included flared fenders, a new grille, new bumper, and more. These models are commonly referred to as “gen 2.5” or “blister-flare” Monteros, and are considered the best looking versions to make it to the U.S.
I’m biased, of course; I’ve called a gen 2.5 ’98 Monty mine since 2021. It wasn’t just the looks I was after—I wanted a capable off-roader that, so long as I continued to care for it, wasn’t likely to strand me mid-adventure. Nearly 25,000 miles and two-plus years of ownership later, the Montero has delivered on that promise.
Together, this truck and I have wandered through everything from Utah’s high desert to the water-logged fall foliage of Ohio’s Hocking Hills region to the sand- and snow-covered forest service roads here in Northern Michigan. And when we get there—wherever “there” is, I’ve never had to back out of a two-track for fear of overmatching my Montero. When the day is done, we simply pop open the tent and call our parking spot home for as long as we choose. It’s opened up adventures to me in a way that none of my previous cars have.
My appreciation extends beyond the fact that the Montero will happily go anywhere—I know that it’s going to get me home, too. You can’t say the same for any 25-year-old, high mileage car that’s regularly used as intended. That it has never failed to start on the first crank and has stood up to all I’ve thrown at it give me the confidence to know I’m just a key turn away from my next adventure.
The root of that dependability is the robust drivetrain. A 3.5-liter, 24-valve SOHC V-6 provided around 200 hp and 228 lb-ft when new, and it paired with a four-speed automatic transmission with an electronically-actuated button-style overdrive. The combination is pretty much stone-dead reliable, provided you’ve kept current on regular maintenance items.
That said, there is one malady that every one of these Monteros suffers from: Due to a poor design, the factory crank bolt will, over time, develop fatigue cracks which can lead to it breaking off in the crankshaft. Luckily, Mitsubishi revised the design for the bolt (twice, actually) and a new one can be found without too much difficulty. If you’re ever inspecting one for purchase, you must ask about the bolt; many of these have had the replacement unit fitted to them already, but if the one you’re looking at hasn’t, you’ve just found the first item for your to-do list.
Another common issue with these engines is that the valve stem seals will harden over time, eventually causing the engine to pull a little bit of oil past the valves in high-vacuum situations, like when you’re idling for a long time. So long as you keep a regular eye on the oil levels (I check mine before every fourth or fifth drive, or after long periods idling), you can simply add a bit of oil to keep things topped off. The fix is a bit tedious and time-consuming, but with a decent set of tools and some time, it’s manageable. As with basically every known failure point on this thing—and there aren’t many—the thriving community surrounding these machines has plenty of walk-throughs and guides for the fix.
Living in Northern Michigan has highlighted this Montero’s winter package, an option that provides some very warm two-mode seat heaters and, perhaps the most desirable option on these machines, the locking rear differential.
Speaking of the rear end, The rear differential in the gen 2.5 had the lowest final-drive ratio (4.27:1; the other generations offer 4.88:1 and 4.63:1, depending on year and package) which helped lower emissions and return marginally better fuel economy, but it also resulted in it being rather sluggish off the line. Getting around town is still a breeze, but you’ll want to plan on-ramp merges carefully.
The cabin is remarkably capacious and presents a commanding view that’s perfect for trail use. The upright driving position can leave you feeling like you’re sitting on a barstool if you corner too enthusiastically (body roll is amplified if, like me, you’re carrying adventure accessories like a heavy tent on the roof). Then again, no one buying a Montero is looking to maximize their lateral g forces. Most folks ditch the folding third-row seats in favor of added trunk volume. The controls are all straightforward and functional, though radio upgrades are a popular mod—as with many vehicles from this era. Driver’s seat wear and splitting in the leather is common, and my example is no different. I’ll be on the hunt for a new seat next year.
Typically, these spotlights tend to focus on the collectibility of the subject vehicle. That discussion is conspicuously absent here because, for the most part, Monteros are still cars that are well-used—often times quite hard. But that also means that prices for them have remained relatively accessible.
While we do not track the Montero in the Hagerty Price Guide, data suggests that interest for the off-roader is increasing. Average insured value (AIV) is on the rise, from $6250 in 2018 to $8900 today. But the list of solid, reliable off-roaders that can be had for mid- to high-four figures is small, and dwindling. I’ve seen plenty of solid gen 2 and gen 2.5 Monteros sell or be offered for sale at figures closer to that $6250 figure in recent months.
Policy count, while only in the double digits currently, is also climbing. The number of Monteros insured by Hagerty has doubled since 2020. Boomers make up half of policies, with gen X and millennials following at 30 and 20 percent, respectively. The share of boomer ownership outstrips their overall share of the market, but gen X and millennials still track with their overall shares.
Still, it seems a bit of a stretch to think the second-gen Montero (or any Montero, for that matter) is going to suddenly catch up to the golden child, the Toyota Land Cruiser. Given that reality, I’d offer this encouragement: Unless you’re hell-bent on finding the perfect, time-capsule Monty to pickle and hold, consider shifting your perspective. The Montero—while remarkably capable, worthy of your respect, and significant for Mitsubishi’s history—is best enjoyed through its use.
There are plenty of attainably priced examples out there and a thriving community of enthusiasts and aftermarket support to make this a perfect platform for the 4×4-curious, the Japanese-vehicle curious, or for those who, like me, can only swing one interesting car with their current budget. It’s modern enough to benefit from diagnostic tools such as OBDII, stout enough to take a little beating without asking too much in return, yet interesting enough to be a great conversation point at your local cars & coffee or off-road rig meet-up.
Find one, point it toward the nearest trail, and make memories that will outstrip any resale potential.