Mitsubishi 500 or the beginning of the modern era

Although the 1917 Model A was the first Mitsubishi automobile, the small 500 launched in 1960 was the commercial starting gun and the beginning of what we know today as Mitsubishi Motors Corporation, also registering the first sporting victory of the brand with the three diamonds. in 1962.

In the context of rebuilding Japan after World War II, the production of passenger cars for personal transportation was not considered an immediate priority, not even in a country that already had the Mizushima XTM1, a three-wheeler. who collaborated decisively in the reconstruction of infrastructures in 1946.

In parallel, Japanese automotive brands of the time had to face another major challenge: after decades in which they had dedicated their high-tech skills to the development of heavy engines, trucks, buses or airplanes, they lacked technical knowledge to develop production cars. affordable and modern series.

Aware of these limitations, the Japanese authorities gradually applied measures between 1952 and 1955 that would allow the birth of a modern national automobile industry, either through aid to the industry, favorable purchase tax schemes or restrictions on imports. .

These government measures culminated in the "National Vehicle Plan" announced by the Ministry of International Trade and Industry (MITI) in 1955 and aimed at developing a Japanese "popular car" defined according to standardized criteria of weight, speed, fuel consumption and even reliability.

After several ventures in the passenger car sector with vehicles built under Western license (in 1951 with the Kaiser-Frazer Henry J and then in 1953 with the Willys Jeep), Mitsubishi decided to join this government initiative by carrying out the Mitsubishi 500 , the first vehicle of the modern era one hundred percent Mitsubishi.

Scheduled to be presented at the 1959 Tokyo Motor Show, but introduced to the Japanese market in 1960, the new Mitsubishi 500 was a compact family car that sought simplicity and rationality in design.

It was sold at an affordable price of 390.000 yen, a fact that made it headlines in Japanese newspapers at the time. The 500 was based, to a large extent, on Mitsubishi's know-how in aeronautical engineering. Built in monocoque bodywork, the vehicle was tested in lengthy tests on demanding unpaved roads and was also the first Japanese car to be tested in a wind tunnel.

The Mitsubishi 500 featured a design oriented to practicality and simplicity, with a 493 cc, 21 hp twin-cylinder engine and rear-wheel drive. It had a single windshield wiper and the interior was notable for the absence of gauges, except for a turn signal mounted on the central pillar. The 500 was the symbol of the Japanese economic miracle of the 60s and was later replaced by the Mitsubishi 500 Super Deluxe in 1961, which offered seating for five occupants and a 594cc 25hp engine.

In total, 13.289 Mitsubishi 500s were built until 1963, followed by the Colt 600, the first Mitsubishi with the Colt name, of which 13.739 units were sold between 1963 and 1965.

The 500, the first serial passenger Mitsubishi in history, also ushered in another new era for the Japanese brand: motorsports, making its racing debut at the 1962 Macau Grand Prix, where four 500s they occupied the top four positions in the “Under 750 cc” category. Its successor, the Colt 600, followed in its footsteps and at the Macau Grand Prix the following year it took the podium in the “Under 600 cc” class.


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Automundo is the blog about news from the automotive industry, motorsport and the culture of the region. Director: Diego Durruty.

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