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1997 Mitsubishi Pajero Evolution - An Unappreciated Dakar Raider

The Mitsubishi Pajero Evolution is a street-legal Dakar raider that’s relatively affordable

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It’s no secret that Mitsubishi is a pale shadow of its former self. Having numerous successes in rallying, the brand has switched to making bland, cheaply-made crossovers and compact cars. Although Mitsubishi currently finds itself in a state of survival (they put the Eclipse name on a crossover), things were quite different in the 1990s. Not long ago, we talked about the 2006 Mitsubishi Eclipse Ralliart, which was essentially the two-door “EVO” everyone wanted but never got. But long before it, there was this – the short-wheelbase-only Mitsubishi Pajero Evolution. And there’s a lot to say about it.

This isn’t just an SUV modified to go racing.

The Pajero Evolution is a homologation special.

On the off-chance that you don’t know, in the past, a car needed to be homologated in order to participate in motorsports. For this to happen, a certain number of road-going cars needed to be built and sold to the public.

The Evolution’s main goal was to allow Mitsubishi to enter the rally raids with the end goal being to dominate the Rally Dakar. It was based on the second-generation Mitsubishi Pajero and was built from 1997 to 1999. A total of 2,500 Pajero “EVO” were made.

Performance & Drivetrain

1997 Mitsubishi Pajero Evolution - An Unappreciated Dakar Raider Drivetrain
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The 6G74 3.5-liter V-6 engine mated to a five-speed automatic
276 horsepwoer at 6,500 RPM and 256 pound-feet (347 Nm)

While the normal second-generation Pajero was a famously sturdy SUV, it was powered by a variety of not particularly impressive inline-four and V-6 engines. The top of the line 3.5-liter GDI V-6 produced 245 horsepower and 253 pound-feet (343 Nm), which brought the 0 to 60 mph (97 km/h) time down to 9.5 seconds.

The Pajero Evolution was even more powerful. It had a beefed-up version of the 6G74 3.5-liter DOHC V-6, which had MiVEC, dual plenum variable intake, and Gasoline Direct Injection (GDI). Power was now 276 horsepower at (206 kilowatts) 6,500 RPM and 256 pound-feet (347 Nm). The unit was mated to a modified five-speed automatic that had a sport mode (manual shifting). Through locking differentials, power could be sent to the rear or all four wheels.

1997 Mitsubishi Pajero Evolution - An Unappreciated Dakar Raider Exterior
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A short production run
It was produced from 1997 to 1999

Actually, that 276-horsepower figure we mentioned was due to the infamous Japanese "Gentleman’s agreement". Many claimed an actual horsepower figure of around 300.

The Pajero Evolution also received a bespoke multi-link independent long-travel rear suspension and the front now featured coil wishbones. A reinforced frame, skid plates, and mudflaps ensured the car’s survivability even in the harshest of terrains.
Thanks to the central locking differential, the 4WD system gave you a choice between 2Hi, 4Hi, 4Lo. It also gave you front and rear Torsen limited-slip differentials.

1997 Mitsubishi Pajero Evolution - An Unappreciated Dakar Raider Exterior
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Fin-like dual rear spoilers
Although removable, they gave the SUV a distinctive look

Moreover, you could switch between 2WD and 4WD on the go at speeds of up to 62 mph (100 km/h). Naturally, performance was rather impressive, with a 7.6-second sprint to 60 mph (97 km/h) and a top speed of 130 mph (210 km/h).

Mitsubishi Pajero Evolution specifications
Engine 3.5-liter GDI V-6
Power 276 HP @ 6,500 RPM
Torque 256 LB-FT
Transmission five-speed automatic
0 to 60 mph 7.6 seconds
Top Speed 130 mph

Exterior

1997 Mitsubishi Pajero Evolution - An Unappreciated Dakar Raider Exterior
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It shared a lot with the actual Dakar Raider
Essentially, a road-legal Dakar racer

Although the Pajero Evolution was still undeniably a second-generation Mitsubishi Pajero, plenty of changes were made to let you know this isn’t your regular short-wheelbase SUV. The front got a bespoke bumper, which incorporated dual fog lights on each side and allowed for increased approach angle, while the front hood now featured a large dual hood scoop for better cooling.

Interior

1997 Mitsubishi Pajero Evolution - An Unappreciated Dakar Raider Interior
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Recaro sport seats
The only difference from the standard interior

Among the key differences in the interior are the new Recaro seats, which provide great side-bolstering. Other than that, it’s your typical second-generation Pajero interior.

Can I buy one now?

1997 Mitsubishi Pajero Evolution - An Unappreciated Dakar Raider Exterior
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Front and rear Torsen limited-slip differentials
A central locking diff can switch from RWD to 4WD

If you find one for sale and have the money, yes. In fact, you may be surprised how affordable they are, despite their limited numbers. Just two weeks before this article was being written, a 1997 Mitsubishi Pajero Evolution, with 87,792 miles (141,287 km) was sold for just £15,000, after 24 bids.

In fact, the current average price for one of these is $15,812.

The lowest sale was at just $9,915, while pristine ones can go for around $60,000. Regardless of the example, these SUVs are as rugged as the Dakar-winning version, so even those with higher mileage are expected to last a long time.
Actually, according to the auction site, the recently sold Pajero Evolution was only sold because the owner didn’t have enough storage space.

How it went down in history

1997 Mitsubishi Pajero Evolution - An Unappreciated Dakar Raider Exterior
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More common than you think
2,500 units were made in total

The Mitsubishi Pajero Evolution is by no means a mass-produced car. With that being said, performance SUVs rarely (if ever) get the same amount of praise as other performance vehicles, like the BMW E30 M3 or the Porsche 911 2.7 Carrera RS, Nissan Skyline GTR, and others. This is the main reason why this small, rugged SUV is largely forgotten. On the plus side, you can still get them cheap and you’ll be able to enjoy a performance machine that’s just as rugged as the competition version.

Moreover, despite Mitsubishi’s current situation, they are still the carmaker with the most Dakar wins. Since 1985, Mitsubishi Pajero has racked 12 Dakar wins in total – a record it still holds.

Dim Angelov
Dim Angelov
Born in 1992, I come from a family of motoring enthusiasts. My passion for cars was awoken at the age of six, when I saw a Lamborghini Diablo SV in a magazine. After high school I earned a master’s degree in marketing and a Master of Arts in Media and Communications. Over the years, I’ve practiced and become skilled in precision driving and to date have test driven more than 250 cars across the globe. Over the years, I’ve picked up basic mechanical knowledge and have even taken part in the restoration of a 1964 Jaguar E-Type and an Alfa Romeo Giulia Sprint. Lately, I’ve taken a fancy to automotive photography, and while modern cars are my primary passion, I also have a love for Asian Martial Arts, swimming, war history, craft beer, historical weapons, and car restoration. In time, I plan my own classic car restoration and hope to earn my racing certificate, after which I expect to establish my own racing team.  Read full bio
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