Today’s Rare Ride is the second attempt Mitsubishi made to build its own full-size executive car for the Japanese Domestic Market. Debonair never moved outside its home market, and always played third fiddle to competition from the likes of Toyota Crown and Nissan Gloria (then a Prince model). Today’s example goes slightly further and adds AMG flavor to the front-drive mix.
There’s a lot of information to cover here, and today we talk about the model’s beginnings.
Mitsubishi introduced the Debonair in 1964 as their first executive flagship sedan. The largest car the company had built prior was the compact class Colt 1000, so Debonair was quite a leap forward. Introduced at the 10th All-Japan Motor Show, it was described as a dignified debut.
Designed by German and former GM designer Hans Bretzner, Debonair was inspired by the 1961 Lincoln Continental. It started out with a 2.0-liter inline-six and progressed eventually to a 2.6-liter inline-four used by some K-car variants. And that engine sharing was a hint at the first Debonair’s longevity: It was popular enough to remain a mainstay in Mitsubishi’s lineup, largely unchanged through 1986. Revised only lightly and just four times throughout its run, by the mid-Eighties Mitsubishi realized modernization was in order.
In 1986, the second Debonair debuted, with a swap to front-drive configuration. In its new format, even the shortest Debonair was longer than the outgoing version. Length determined which of three engines powered the Debonair. The 185-inch model had a 2.0-liter V6, while the 191.5-inch had a 3.0 of six cylinders. The range-topping and longest 197.4-inch version were called Royal 150. It had a supercharged 150 horsepower version of that 2.0-liter V6. The 3.0-liter V6 was Mitsubishi’s 6G72, which you’d know from the Dodge Caravan and Dynasty. The only transmission available was a four-speed automatic. Eventually, the supercharged 2.0 V6 was dropped, as in 1989 a twin-cam 3.0 debuted that upped power from 155 horses to 200.
The change to front-drive and the more pedestrian styling started the decline of the Debonair, and before long Mitsubishi needed to spread the development dollars around a bit. Next time we’ll talk badging and market share.