An in-depth look at the 1998 Mitsubishi Montero, one of the best off-roaders ever built at any price.
Every single conversation I’ve had during the past few weeks in Los Angeles has inevitably turned into a discussion of impending doom. A global pandemic continues racking up its toll on both human lives and economic prospects. Civil unrest has been only exacerbated by political division and the seemingly unavoidable collapse of American democracy. And to top it all off, the worst fires in recorded history have turned LA’s skyline into a smoky Blade Runner grey, just without the flying cars and murderous robots (for now, anyway).
But amid all the fear and uncertainty, I find solace in my recent acquisition of a 1998 Mitsubishi Montero, one of the best bargain off-roaders on the secondhand market and an SUV that I’m absolutely certain will survive the apocalypse—even if I don’t.
Overlooked No More
For over two decades, Mitsubishi’s Montero has lived in the shadows. Even among Mitsubishis of the era, it’s been relegated to a level below the rally-bred Eclipse and Lancer sports cars. And among its contemporary SUV competition, the Montero commands much less respect than a late-90s Toyota 4Runner or Land Cruiser.
And yet, that tide may be in the process of turning. Jalopnik recently wrote about the Montero’s own rally history, reminding readers that there’s a good case to be made that the Montero is actually the most successful rally vehicle of all time, having dominated the Dakar endurance event with 15 all time wins out of 32 races.
Of course, the Montero that won those races was badged as a Pajero—the moniker most of the rest of the world uses for this truck—and it was a highly-tuned homologation special. But the body-on-frame layout, pickup truck DNA, and rugged utility of the Montero still remained in place.
Meanwhile, compared to the Toyota-badged competition, the full-sized Montero—it’s important to note that this is not the smaller Montero Sport—sits somewhere between the 4Runner and Land Cruiser in terms of size and sellers ask a mere fraction of the prices of used Toyota SUVs on the secondhand market today.
But how does the Montero compare to new off-roaders on the market? Well, as the social media feud between Jeep and Ford heats up, I can’t help but chuckle. Sure, my Montero doesn’t have electronically disconnecting sway bars, multiple suspension settings, or an eight-speed automatic transmission. But it can do 90% of the things a Wrangler Rubicon can at about 10% of the price.
My Montero Is Perfect
Okay, to be fair, this Montero isn’t perfect. But at a $3,500 entry cost, it’s hard to beat. The previous owner, Tyler, might have even gotten a bit more than this Montero was worth with just over 212,000 miles on the clock. But he was entirely forthcoming and honest, and it was clear he’d loved this car during his many years and hundreds of thousands of miles of ownership. Why was he selling? Well, therein lies a story.
During the test drive, he admitted that the coolant system leaked like a sieve—luckily, only when the Montero was sitting, so the test drive was (relatively) safe. But that brings us to a discussion of this particular Montero’s quirks and foibles.
As Tyler described it, the truck dumped all its coolant as soon as the engine shut off. Unfortunately, that pointed to a water pump in desperate need of replacement. Even more unfortunately, the Montero’s 3.5-liter V6 is an interference engine, so a water pump replacement dictated a timing belt replacement—about an $800 job at a mechanic’s shop or a complicated process of disassembly and installation at home.
No More CEL But Check Out That 4WD Display
It also wouldn’t pass smog due to the Check Engine Light being illuminated. All things considered, Tyler was a bit short on money due to family concerns and just couldn’t keep his beloved Montero, which he’d thoroughly enjoyed camping all over the Western United States and Mexico. And so, it hit Craigslist with an ask of $4,500.