Known in the US market as the Montero, the Mitsubishi Pajero is one of the most popular and longest-lasting SUVs in the world, and several million have been sold since the model’s introduction in the early 1980s. The Pajero’s ruggedness and durability under harsh conditions didn’t just make it a popular choice in the far reaches of the world, though. These qualities also made it a popular choice for one of history’s toughest motorsports events – the Paris-Dakar Rally.
Started in 1978, the rally raid set off from France with competitors in cars, trucks, or motorcycles traversing thousands of punishing miles through rocks, boulders, dunes, and rivers throughout North and West Africa. Hopped up Mitsubishi Pajeros won the event more than any other automobile, with 12 wins and 41 podium finishes. Pajeros even swept the podium at Paris-Dakar five times. It was a rules change for the event in the late 1990s that led to the most extreme version of all – the Mitsubishi Pajero Evolution.
Mitsubishi had to build a road-going version of its Dakar racers in order to homologate them. In road trim, the Pajero Evo can easily be distinguished by its beefed-up appearance with fender flares, mud flaps and graphics, while underneath are independent suspension, 3.5-liter V6, 5-speed gearbox, and triple differentials. As Pajeros won the Dakar in 1997 and took the top four places at the event in 1998, about 2500 Pajero Evos for the street sold to customers. It’s easy to view it as the SUV equivalent to the rally-bred Lancer Evolutions that have been popular with enthusiasts for decades. While none of the Pajero Evolutions originally sold in the United States new, they are now eligible to bring in thanks to the 25-year import rule.