Need a spacious family workhorse? The Delica ticks those boxes and then some. I bought the cheapest out there – how bad can it be?
Stop the presses! Another vehicle has joined the family fleet of shitboxes. The guilty party this time isn’t me, though, but my brother in law Robert. His new ride? None other than the Mitsubishi Delica.
On paper, this makes for an eminently sensible family moving machine. There are seven seats, a part-time four-wheel drive system and copious storage bins. It also has charm and charisma by the bucketload. A quick foray onto Instagram will tell you that this is a cool car. It’s loved and admired by thousands all over the globe, just not so much by the neighbours.
Launched way back in 1968, the Mitsubishi Delica is now in its fifth generation. At its peak in 1995, a massive 109,930 units rolled off the production line, proving beyond any doubt that it’s a capable and long-lasting machine.
This particular third-generation model spent the last few years as an expensive driveway ornament. The owner, Dave, intended to fully restore it. However, with a growing family and another earlier L300 van to care for he decided it was time to let it go. It came as no surprise when he decided to message me, my penchant for rust-riddled machines now well known. Realising Robert had three children, two project cars and a new job to keep him busy, I, erm, pressured him into buying it. Sorrynotsorry.
The Delica’s current state of health is a mixed picture. The engine and gearbox seem to be strong and full of vigour, kicking into life at the first turn of the key and no ominous clouds of smoke. As it currently has no MOT, we could only test drive it over a short stretch of private land, but it ran beautifully. The bodywork requires more attention, with various areas that require patches fabricating and fixing into place. I’m fairly confident that the Fred Flintstone spec hole in the footwell wasn’t an optional extra. It currently has four seats, three short of a full set, the missing piece of the puzzle being a three-seater bench. Most of the electrics seem fine, and even the roller blinds in the back still work.
Robert’s worksheet is comprised mostly of welding, thankfully something he’s well versed in. His estimation is around five full days of work. Measuring, making templates, cutting sheet steel and welding into place all takes time. The upside is he’ll save a fortune in garage bills. Other than that, a breakers yard rear bench and a day spent with the machine polisher and the Delica should be adventure-ready.
It’s clearly going to be a whole lot of fun. We took the three smallest members of the family along to view it and they adored it. The sense inside being very much of a living room on wheels thrilled them. The rotating chairs, the tank-like exhaust note and the way it bounced over the rutted track made adults and children alike grin with appreciation. If it could talk, this bus would be telling you to pack a bag, switch the phone off and strike out into the wilderness.
Once the Delica is roadworthy once more, Robert intends to use it daily. It’ll spend most of its time commuting the short distance to and from his work, a round trip of 26 miles. Those miles will be expensive ones, though. A Delica downside impossible to ignore is that these machines have quite a thirst. According to owner reports, he can expect an average consumption figure of around 20mpg. A vehicle in which to use the ‘smiles per gallon’ unit of measurement, perhaps.
Delve into the wildlands of Internet forums and the Delica has a big following. We’re talking hardcore mud pluggers to off-grid campers and everything in between. With prices starting from as little as £1,000 they seem to make perfect project vans, and thanks to their global sales and a blossoming aftermarket scene, there seem to be no issue sourcing parts. So far, the plans are to retain a stock spec for this Delica. We also struck gold – it came with the desirable JDM options of wind deflectors and spoiler for extra Instagram cool points.
If you’re tempted, I’d advise you to set some eBay saved search alerts. The prices of Delicas seem to be heading north, and bargains are hard to come by. Factoring the current demand for camping holidays, it’s undoubtedly a sellers’ market. A quick scan of the classifieds shows several priced well above £10,000 for the cleanest examples, although a third of that will still buy you something with MOT. If you have the space, time and skills to repair one you can pick up MOT failures for as little as a grand. Make sure to have a thorough inspection first though. What on the face of it seems to be a bargain-basement steal can quickly snowball into a financial disaster. See my accounts of Suzuki Jimny ownership for proof of that.
If your budget can stretch to it, then consider an import. Japanese models can be had from around £9,000, and having spent their life in the salt-free land that is Japan you should encounter no issues with rust. Buying from a specialist importer will also mean all the fees are paid. It is viable to import a car yourself, but the amount of paperwork is horrific. You can hire experts to help manage the process, which is money well spent if you value your sanity.
With a busy summer ahead and free time at a premium, our Delica project may well sit a little while longer. Hopes are high for an MOT to be achieved before the summer is out.
Whatever happens, I will strive to photograph, document and report back on Project Delica. I’m hoping to rekindle my welding skills too, since it would save me a fortune. On the other hand, after a gruelling year, it’s vitally important that we all spend our money locally and I worry for my independents if I learn to weld. My decaying fleet is holding up the local economy on its flaky jacking points. I’m nothing if not thoughtful.