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Michael's Mitsubishi Pajero Evo
FeaturesSaturday Morning Car Tune!

Up close and (too) personal with my Mitsubishi Pajero Evolution

When I drove down to the Port of Los Angeles to pick up the 1997 Mitsubishi Pajero Evolution that I had won at an auction in Japan just four months prior, only a teensy little bit of drama ensued. I expected a dead battery after such a long post-auction waiting period plus weeks on a ro-ro ship, but when a jump pack couldn’t even spark the engine to life, two good samaritans with two different trucks and two sets of jumper cables needed to come to my rescue. 

Such is the power of the enthusiast automotive industry, and I chuckled to myself as I sat powerless, occasionally pumping the throttle while surrounded by an expansive parking lot chock-full of (presumably also dead) JDM icons. That rescue attempt proved short-lived, though. After the Pajero’s engine finally cranked over, all of a sudden, a searching idle and lurching acceleration cropped up as I headed for the customs shed to sign some final forms on the dotted line. The truck died twice more throughout those few hundred yards before I nearly wheeled up onto a flatbed trailer. I already felt grateful for the Dakar-developed suspension, to say the least. 

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Bringing this old dog home

A dead battery. Gnarly noises from the engine and transmission. Maybe a dry gas tank. On the long drive home, my mind raced along at breakneck paranoiac pace, wondering what I’d gotten myself into.

Back home, I poured in a few gallons of 91 octane and then checked the automatic transmission fluid dipstick—yep, those exist—only to discover the transmission pan even drier than the fuel tank. Four or five quarts of Mitsubishi Diaqueen SPIII later, I went for a test drive. The engine finally revved happily, and the gearbox shifted smoothly until I switched off the ignition again and hopped out, only to audibly hear fluid flowing out, piddling onto the concrete slab. Oh boy.

Hey, on the bright side, all the mechanical drama gave me an excuse to skip the 405 freeway as my first right-hand-drive experience in the United States. But this first day owning a homologation special went rougher than expected, nonetheless. And that’s considering how many sleepless nights I spent preparing for every last eventuality that might possibly emerge while picking up a rare car with 237,000 kilometers on the odometer and a laundry list of even rarer parts that are almost impossible to find in Japan, let alone the United States. Luckily, the Pajero Evo also shares many parts with Gen 2 and Gen 3 Mitsubishi Monteros sold here in America, and I quickly installed a Montero oil cooler line to replace the burst piece on the PajEvo.

Happily ever after, at least until I used Google Lens to translate the sticker on the timing belt cover, which seemed to suggest the last timing belt job had been completed in ‘22—next, I realized that in Japan, that “22” meant the twenty-second year of the previous emperor’s reign, or 2012 by my math. So the Evo sat for a couple more months while I sourced a timing belt, water pump, and various other “while you’re in there” parts from Japan, Dubai, and, somewhat surprisingly, Rock Auto. With the truck finally running at full gas—knock on wood, I know—seemingly everyone who knows anything about anything wants to learn more about this rare Dakar racecar for the road, especially since its recent uprising in Hagerty prestige. So buckle up, kiddos. Let’s talk about the Mitsubishi Pajero’s Evolution.

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A totally different beast

Pictures of Pajero Evos online only tell part of the story. Yes, those hilarious fender flares and Bat-manga-ear vertical stabilizers look awesome on a short-wheelbase truck, but beneath the skin lurk miracles that Mitsubishi’s engineers worked over to produce the Dakar Rally’s winningest vehicle ever (though Can-Am believes the Maverick X3 might soon be able to take the record by managing similar miracles, perhaps). 

The biggest difference between a Pajero Evolution and the utilitarian, almost Spartan run of Pajero and Montero (and Shogun) SUVs sold worldwide involves significant revisions to the suspension in order to cope with racing through the African desert. Mitsubishi raced first-gen Pajeros before developing the Evo proper, which received different unequal-length A-arms and coilovers for the independent front suspension versus a standard version while simultaneously ditching Pajero’s traditional solid rear axle in favor of independent rear suspension. Looking back, the layout blurs the lines between Gen 2 and 3 Monteros, though, unlike the Evo, the Gen 3 switched to a unibody rather than a body-on-frame chassis.

Michael's Mitsubishi Pajero Evo
Image credit: Michael Van Runkle

I noticed one of the most impressive parts about that suspension system the first time I got my Evo up on a lift, as the front wheels and tires drooped down and outward rather than swinging inward. Ideal for catching air and nailing landings, obviously, just like those vertical stabilizers. Of course, in a similar fashion to the more well-known Lancer Evolution compact sports sedan, the Pajero also uses a much more powerful engine—though not by bolting on a turbocharger, something of a bummer but a detail which I hope should help to improve reliability and longevity of my high-mileage truck.

Instead, the Evo’s 3.5-liter dual-overhead-cam V6 uses some components from the second-gen SR engine, with an early application of Mitsubishi’s MIVEC valve timing system for the heads. Think VTEC, VANOS, or VarioCam, but the resulting peak of 276 horsepower during the Japanese automaker “Gentlemen’s Agreement” definitely feels underrated once the Evo comes onto that second cam at about 5,000 RPM. 

Michael's Mitsubishi Pajero Evo
Image credit: Michael Van Runkle

Meanwhile, the Gen-2 Montero’s Aisin three-speed automatic with overdrive went out the window in favor of a new five-speed automatic. The factory offered a stick shift, though I believe the Dakar race trucks actually used a manual gearbox built by Holinger in Australia for V8 Supercars. That Aisin trans appeared later in the Gen-3 Montero, but desert racing in the Evo’s dictating shorter gear ratios and a reprogrammed TCM that holds gears higher into the rev range.

The four-wheel-drive transfer case also resembles a Montero’s, with a similar Super Select gear lever that allows for shifting between 2-Hi and 4-Hi on the fly to produce all-wheel drive, as well as locking the viscous center differential for more traditional four-wheel drive. Switching to 4-Lo requires coming to a stop in Neutral, though the live axle trucks’ optional rear locker gives way to Torsen automatic torque biasing front and rear differentials on the Evo.

On the interior, the racecar theme continues with unique Recaro seats—most similar to an Isuzu VehiCROSS, actually, but with adjustable bolsters and different cloth upholstery. The Evo, therefore, rides tighter and higher than a Gen 2 Montero, allowing for better visibility over the hood. Almost every Evo needs repairs to the cloth bolsters from drivers and passengers sliding up and into the seats, though, and that cloth also attracts dog hair better than velvet, even though I’ve only allowed the dog in the car twice ever. 

A nice set of original front floor mats features a rubber inset to collect dirt and pebbles while off-roading. Other fun details include carbon fiber trim to distinguish the Evo’s dash from more pedestrian and otherwise identical Pajero dashes. That carbon fiber optionally extended to the tall gearshift lever, which allows for bang-shifting using an early Tiptronic-style selection, with Up towards the front and Down towards the back (the inverse of a present-day sports car’s automatic or a racecar’s sequential). My truck came in relative poverty spec, though, and I do wish I could find a few of the dealer options like front light pods, a ski rack, and an aluminum fuel filler door.

The biggest bummer? Probably that no Evo has cruise control. Because racecar, duh.

Keeping a Mitsubishi stock? Surely not…

The obscure Dakar legend of a short-wheelbase, cartoonified racing truck helps to explain why anyone who knows about the Pajero Evo gets absolutely stoked to see one. I bought the truck to share with the Montero community—which partially explains why I chose an automatic, too—and have met many other owners both online and in person so that we can coordinate parts sourcing and modifications.

I plan to keep my PajEvo as close to stock as possible, other than swapping on a three-spoke OEM steering wheel from a Mitsubishi Eclipse to replace the delaminating rim on a surprisingly bland four-spoke that matches an otherwise standard Montero. And I just love a three-spoke steering wheel anyway.

My Evo also arrived with tired Yokohama HT street tires that aren’t even sold here in the States, so I swapped on a set of incrementally taller Geolandar A/T rubber that might better take the beatings I planned to dish out in the dirt. While chatting with some of Yokohama’s engineers at Nitro Rallycross last year, I learned that any of the historical photos I found of Dakar race trucks wearing Yokohama tires probably showed privateer teams. Mitsu’s factory trucks only used BFG and Michelin, apparently. 

Michael's Mitsubishi Pajero Evo
Image credit: Michael Van Runkle

So far, those Geolandars have held up quite well, both on-road and off. About 5,000 kilometers in, the front shoulders already show a bit of wear, which I attribute to my penchant for ripping this body-on-frame truck faster than most Porsche 911 or Ferrari owners up in Malibu—but I figure that’s to be expected while driving high-sidewall LT-metric truck tires mounted on a high-powered 4,300-pound vehicle anyway. At highway speeds, the tires barely peep. (No, I haven’t found any snow yet, sorry.)

I also swapped out the flimsy steel underbody panel for true skid plates built by Adventure Driven Design. In fact, the OEM piece looked more sturdy than the typical plastic used by most manufacturers these days, but thicker aluminum should hopefully prevent any flying pebbles from damaging unobtanium parts under there. Again, the similarities to Monteros helped here since only one little tab on a Gen 2’s transmission skid needed trimming to fit the Evo’s revised control arm mounting location. After my guinea pig experimentation, I sent the correct measurements to Adventure Driven Design, so the site now sells perfect Evo skid kits online, along with a host of other Montero and Pajero parts.

Michael's Mitsubishi Pajero Evo
Image credit: Michael Van Runkle

Aftermarket parts support for Monteros and Pajeros from companies like ADD, in general, makes up a tiny sliver of the off-roading industry here in the United States. However, the passionate community relies heavily on international suppliers who stockpiled OEM parts before Mitsubishi’s steady decline left everyone in the lurch. For both the Monteros and the Pajero Evo, I regularly order everything from suspension components to oil cooler lines from Partsouq in Dubai, and shipping isn’t even too terrible. 

I’ve also struggled to get mixed results with the incredibly frustrating order systems of Amayama and Nengun Performance out of Japan. I just took a quick gamble on some front upper ball joints from Megazip that actually arrived fairly promptly. But availability for the Evo specifically depends partly on the fact that Mitsu never actually built much in the way of spare parts, so a number of companies in Australia and Europe also cater to custom requirements. My replica aluminum side steps came from Paves Garage down under, while EVO Shop GmbH (in Switzerland, I believe) has sent me a few targeted ads on IG for bushings, brake lines, and other components—priced just high enough to tempt me if a fit of desperation hits.

Sorting out the little details

A little detail that I learned quickly about bringing a JDM car to the United States required much longer to solve than expected: it turns out that AM and FM radio frequencies vary across the Pacific. And my OEM radio, which previous owner(s) clearly never bothered to replace, only made bad noises through what sounded like blown-out speakers. I tried a cassette adaptor, tried swapping in my Montero’s original radio, and even tried to splice in a Bluetooth adaptor through the empty CD changer port. 

Eventually, I broke down and bought a retro-styled VDO Continental aftermarket head unit that almost, but doesn’t quite, match the rest of the Pajero’s blue-green dash lights. The head unit allows for Bluetooth, my main requirement, but not dimming of the screen or button bulbs—so I put a thin dimmer film on the screen to prevent nighttime glare. All this to avoid a double-DIN screen low down in the dash, so that I can keep the so-damn-Japanese felt-lined sunglasses drawer and pull-out cupholders. 

Another “because racecar” moment arrived when I discovered that the Pajero Evo lacks door speakers, despite the standard Pajero front door cards, which do have speaker panels built in. So I broke down again and bought Pioneer four-inch dash speakers in the hopes of gaining a bit of audio crispness with minimal effort involved (pulling the 6×9 rear speakers will eventually happen, but it requires popping off almost all of the rear interior paneling).

Michael's Mitsubishi Pajero Evo
Image credit: Michael Van Runkle

A fellow PajEvo owner also came to the rescue in a big way quite recently when he sent me instructions for how to reprogram the OEM key fob that came with my car but seemed not to work despite its little red bulb flashing and a battery replacement. I won’t share the exact details of how to reprogram the fob because it was literally so easy that I’m now scared to park the Evo anywhere even remotely sketchy and plan to wire in a hidden kill switch (and almost certainly invest in The Club as an additional visual deterrent, too). But the simple act of locking and unlocking without needing to slide a key into a tumbler makes the Evo feel so much more modern.

Keeping the Dakar dream alive

Meanwhile, I installed a set of phone and camera mounts from Bulletpoint Mounting Solutions on the original dashtop gauge cluster to hold my phone in place of a double-DIN screen (don’t worry, I found a replacement gauge cover to drill into). And I slid an Element fire extinguisher into the little retaining clip that originally housed a by-now-missing flare in the passenger footwell. Similar other details point to Mitsubishi’s incredible attention to detail during the 1990s, from the rear door toolkit’s easy access and useful selection to the rear wiper’s pour funnel that prevents messes while refilling fluid.

Michael's Mitsubishi Pajero Evo
Image credit: Michael Van Runkle

I want to keep the original Japanese stickers on the windows as long as possible, but I did add a few warning stickers from my time in Saudi Arabia at the 2023 Dakar Rally on the driver’s side sun visor. And even if an Optima Yellowtop stands out like a sore thumb in the engine bay, I figure a better battery makes sense given my travel schedule—no matter how much I daily drive the Evo while at home, I’m still not home nearly enough.

In terms of maintenance, after getting the engine and trans running without leaks, my main focus lately has been refreshing the front steering and suspension. Again, most steering components drop right in from a Gen-2 Montero, including the tie rod ends, idler and pitman arms, and steering box (the latter with a tighter ratio, though). Swapping in new pieces for all of the above, plus upper front ball joints, already made a huge difference in tightening up some of the vague play that I formerly attributed to the truck-ness of the Pajero Evo (and I’ve got a story on that, too).

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Just don’t ask how many pullers I needed to actually get the pitman arm off or how much the penetrating oil costs. I still need to pull the hubs to replace the front lower ball joints and maybe a CV boot that I tore in the process of struggling without having the right tools in the past. The Evo, unfortunately, also seems to suffer from the same degraded “redball” transfer case shifter as Gen-2.5 Monteros. Luckily, I have a spare “whiteball” shifter sitting around, but I need a hydraulic press to swap it into the Evo’s shift lever, which bends in the opposite direction compared to an LHD Montero. Then, with a few dash bulbs replaced for the 4WD and gear selection gauges, I should be all set with my (current) to-do list.

But other maintenance items have left me in the lurch. The entire rear suspension uses ball joints and bushings that come built into the arms—more unobtanium. I want to do a valve cover gasket job to stop some slight oil seepage, but I can’t find the wasted spark plugs’ wires with the correct size tubes to fit the taller MIVEC heads. Should I wait and hope to find either OEM or aftermarket parts, or just try to cobble a solution together? A bit of Mickey Mouse mechanical skill already fixed a clunking and squeaking rear door latch, after all, requiring more than a few hours spent fiddling with seals and striker plates and rear cargo area lighting.

So yes, owning a high-mileage Pajero Evolution ends up testing the concept of a labor of love. But I never thought I’d be able to check off owning my third-favorite car of all time by the age of 35 (behind a Lancia Stratos and Porsche 959, no less). And I truly chuckle every single time I see the PajEvo, not to mention every time I rip up a canyon in Malibu or along a dirt track out in the desert. 

Daily driving an RHD JDM legend isn’t even all too bad in traffic, and it has inspired me to keep an eye out for a few others on the off chance I can scrounge up a bit more cash. But in the meantime, I keep reminding myself how lucky I truly am to have taken a leap of faith and imported this homologation special from Japan. So to all those would-be JDM enthusiasts out there, if you happen to see a guy grinning ear to ear from the wrong side of the road in a Pajero Evolution, rest assured that with a little bit of luck (and maybe a lotta bit of) elbow grease), you too might one day soon live out the same dream.

Michael's Mitsubishi Pajero Evo
Image credit: Michael Van Runkle

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Pajero Evo RHD
FeaturesSaturday Morning Car Tune!

Let’s make a case for right-hand drive in American traffic

This past Wednesday, my 1998 Mitsubishi Montero with 245,000 miles on the odometer went into the shop. Not for a breakdown, rest assured, but because I want a professional to install 4.90 final drive rings and pinions—but much more on that build coming soon here at Acceleramota. 

More importantly, with the Montero getting work done, I now face the all-too-real prospect of full-time daily driving my 1997 Mitsubishi Pajero Evolution in Los Angeles traffic. Not that I avoided right-hand drive in LA previously, but until a press car arrives or the weather improves enough for me to ride my 2006 Ducati Monster S2R 1000, the PajEvo is the only running car in my garage.

And I can admit, before I bought the Pajero, the prospect of daily driving a JDM (or UK) import made me a little nervous. So I’m here now to nudge along anyone who might feel similar hesitations, which may or may not be the reason they haven’t purchased the JDM (ahem, or UK) car of their dreams: Do it. You get used to right-hand drive surprisingly quickly.

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Picking up a PajEvo at the port

My non-Lancer Evo arrived at Long Beach just over a year ago, four months after a slightly lucky situation in the Japanese auction houses left me a surprise homologation special with my name on it. I knew almost nothing about the importation process previously, but I worked with Rami Fetyani at Inbound Motorsports to handle the shipping and customs paperwork. Extensive COVID delays outside anyone’s control while booking a ro-ro spot meant that I doubted the Evo’s battery would arrive in America with enough juice in the tank to turn over the engine, so I showed up to the port with a jump pack and trailer just in case.

Good thing, too, because a bit of drama promptly ensued—the long story short, it involves two trucks with jumper cable leads revving at the same time, an empty gas tank, a bone-dry transmission pan, and full-sending the new-to-me PajEvo up onto the trailer bed. And yet, as nervy as the day went, I almost breathed a sigh of relief because my first RHD experience wouldn’t be stop-and-go commuting north on the 405 freeway during rush hour.

Pajero Evo RHD
Image credit: Michael Van Runkle

I had rented RHD cars in St Lucia and Scotland previously, but in those environments, all the signs and lanes and other cars help with the adjustment to steering from (objectively, or so I formerly thought) the wrong side of a car. In the good old US of A, I imagined the experience differently because I rarely see other RHD cars. Surely, bumping off rearview mirrors and head-on collisions leap up in frequency, right? Tracking in lanes without overthinking, left-hand turns with zero visibility, and high-speed passing on two-lane roads also nagged at my subconscious. Eek.

Sure, I’d also tracked a center-seat F4 racecar for a hard day at Radford Racing School without any struggles adjusting, but that hyperactively paranoid mindset also helps explain why I decided on a Pajero Evolution with an automatic transmission rather than a manual. And not just to keep me from adjusting to RHD with a stick shift in the left hand, but also in the hopes that my friends could drive the truck without undue concern for damaging an awesome piece of Dakar history (through an accident or frying the clutch or grinding the gears). 

Michael's Mitsubishi Pajero Evo
Image credit: Michael Van Runkle

Mild inconvenience or major pain in the…

I plan to share more about the long process of getting the Pajero up and running soon, too, but in the meantime, I found myself quickly adjusting to steering from the right (wrong) side of the road. The first few times out, luckily, I drove out on empty desert roads down the hill from Wrightwood, CA. Those ruler straights interrupted by occasional long sweepers helped me overcome a noticeable sense of awkwardness and at least establish a bit of confidence before I drove into town. Of course, I mixed up my turn signal and windshield wiper stalks constantly once I needed them changing lanes or while making turns, while also spending far more time correcting my positioning in lanes than I would more fluidly driving a left-hand-drive car.

Luckily, I noticed that on the Evo, that cute little Japanese parking mirror on the left of the hood just happens to give a perfect view of the lefthand lane stripes from the right-hand driver’s seat. When Doug DeMuro brought a Pajero Evo onto Jay Leno’s Garage, Leno spent the whole time raving about the mirror and glossing over the rally history—but in reality, it’s probably an even bigger help here in an LHD country than while parallel parking in Japan.

Michael's Mitsubishi Pajero Evo
Image credit: Michael Van Runkle

Parallel parking an RHD car here in the USA, meanwhile, makes doing so in an LHD car seem unbelievably difficult and unnecessarily complex. Just look down. The curb is right there, no problemo (the Evo’s short wheelbase and incredibly tight turning radius also help, without a doubt). 

From a visibility standpoint, I can admit that making left turns in city traffic does kind of suck. At least the Pajero’s stance and upright Recaro seats let me look right over most cars and through any big American SUVs. But when I get stuck behind a panel van or an SUV with tinted glass, I quickly learn that patience becomes the name of the game. Not my strong suit, to be sure, but you just have to accept that the car in front of you almost needs to clear the intersection entirely before enough of the road becomes visible to make a safe decision about whether to follow. I also believe I probably check the driver’s side door mirror rather than the main rearview more often than on an LHD car.

On the other hand—another bad dad pun, get used to it—I can confirm that my other main concern, about passing on highways, definitely 100% sucks. Again, patience. Inching out around slower cars to check for oncoming traffic requires a tentative peek around the right side first, then a quick jab out for an initial glance to the left. Next, downshift (using the PajEvo’s sick tiptronic-style automatic shift lever) and rev up to the moon, ready to punch that throttle if a window opens up. But maybe also hover over the brakes with your left foot…

Pajero Evo RHD
Image credit: Michael Van Runkle

Unexpected challenges that I never pre-visioned also crop up now and then. The left A column creates a weird blind spot when inching forward to make a wide right-hand turn. Shifting into Park to climb across the passenger seat while grabbing tickets at a parking garage entrance never looks smooth—the best bet is to only use parking garages with a friend in the other seat. And speaking of it, I often wonder whether cops only check the right-hand seat while scanning for offenders in the carpool lane. Probably better not to risk it, given my historical luck with Murphy’s Law, but I suspect that RHD cars might get more frequently mistaken for HOV-eligible passenger vehicles. 

Hilariously, I also now mix up the wiper and turn signal stalks repeatedly on LHD cars that aren’t mine (of which I drive an inordinate number in this game). And I’ve noticed that passengers often climb into the PajEvo’s passenger seat only to subconsciously put their right foot on a non-existent brake pedal.

Ha, gotcha suckers.

Pajero Evo RHD
Image credit: Michael Van Runkle

Avoiding cyclists becomes far easier, too, and in fact, a bigger challenge for me has been constantly converting kilometers per hour on the speedo and Celsius on the climate control to Imperial units.

The absolute strangest experience since adjusting to right-hand drive here in the USA? Flying to the UK and then driving a LHD Porsche built there. Talk about a real mindfuck. I spent the whole time shifting badly and overcorrecting, entirely baffled by roundabouts and oncoming traffic throughout the solid half-hour of an embarrassing performance. Luckily, the owner of that half-million-dollar build braved the experience better than my fragile male ego.

A shopping list for the growing love of JDM classics 

Equally luckily, roundabouts are still rare here in the US. I expect they’d provide a bit of a challenge for JDM or British car owners new to RHD, but that experience of acclimating to a new car actually provides part of the appeal to me now. And there are so many awesome cars that we simply never got a chance to enjoy Stateside. Fair warning: I know my taste is odd, but a few I have my eye on now:

Nissan Pulsar GTI-R

One of the most underrepresented hot hatches ever, with an SR20DET turbo-four, the ATTESA all-wheel-drive system from a Skyline GT-R, and a five-speed manual. A curb weight of only 2,690 pounds and an easily tunable 227-horsepower four-banger allowed the Pulsar GTI-R to beat a Porsche 911 in a quarter-mile at the time. Now imagine with modern tires and a bit more boost, all in a cute little package complete with a hood scoop and a big rear wing. Heck yes.

Mitsubishi Delica

The Delica, van form of my Montero and Pajero siblings, is available with a similar Super Select four-wheel-drive system and plenty of suspension travel. The “van life” and overlanding trends make these awesomely capable vehicles somewhat more valuable now, but as an enclosed replacement for either a kei truck or an American-market Mighty Max pickup to haul motorcycles, a Delica might just do the trick perfectly.

Honda N360 (N600s pictured)

An early kei car with an air-cooled two-cylinder engine and chain drive, the transmission mounted in the motor’s oil sump, and quintessential 1960s Honda style! Think about the lil’ N360 or its Westernized twin, visually-identical N600, with a Hayabusa swap (heresy!) or, at the very least, a higher-performance Honda motorcycle engine.

Toyota Century

I probably want a second-gen Toyota Century to live out my dictatorship dreams with the Rolls Royce of Japan, complete with a V12 engine, and gotta have the lace blinds. Too bad my chauffeur would have to handle navigating this big RHD boat while shuffling me around parties in the Hollywood Hills, but the ride home afterward would be absolute bliss (because I’d be sound asleep, cradled in ultimate late-1990s luxury.

A case for right-hand drive

That Toyota Century daydream, however, loses track of one of the best aspects of dailying an RHD car in the United States: namely, that most JDM cars take up far less space on the road than typical American cars, trucks, and SUVs. Even the Pajero Evo, which shares plenty of components with the full-size Gen 2/2.5 and Gen 3 Monteros sold here in the United States, somehow still feels small and nimble thanks to that short wheelbase.

Speed helps, too, especially for highway passing. Unlike most kei trucks and vans that are blowing up in popularity these days, the PajEvo counts as legitimately quick, if not truly fast. And not just in a straight line, where the 276-horsepower rating of the Japanese “Gentleman’s Agreement” feels entirely underrated. But also while cornering. I even chased down a Ferrari 360 Modena recently in the Malibu canyons (the guy was driving hard but not well, clearly). Not that I’d ever forget this is still a body-on-frame truck wearing high-sidewall LT-metric off-road tires that also flex and lean while turning. But still, Evolution definitely means something.

Michael's Mitsubishi Pajero Evo
Image credit: Michael Van Runkle

Then there’s actual off-roading, which of all the Pajero Evos I’ve yet seen in the USA, mine undoubtedly does the most. Out on fast-graded roads and in wide-open deserts, the RHD adjustment period just flies right by. But on tighter or rockier trails, where tire placement becomes extra important, I still need a bit more practice. Tilted over to the right, either from the left tires riding up on rocks or while cornering hard in the canyons through a left-hander, still creates a bit of vertigo as I occasionally sneak a glance down. Keep those eyes where you want to go. I can hear the Radford crew shouting.

And yet, after about a year of on-and-off RHD experience and then a more solid block of time with my Montero in the shop and no press loaner in my garage due to the holidays, the confidence while driving from the right side only grew more and more quickly. So, to those on the fence about actually importing a JDM car, I say go out and get it. 

After finding the right car, importing the PajEvo wasn’t even too bad—I can highly recommend Rami at Inbound Motorsports. The only hard part about the whole process was having the patience to wait while shipping took four months. But after that waiting period, having the patience to get used to RHD will feel like an absolute cinch.

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Hagerty Bull Market BMW E92 M3
Buying GuidesFeatures

Here are my five faves from Hagerty’s 2024 Bull Market that you should buy before it’s too late

Hold up! This won’t be your typical listicle. Because this time, it’s all about my favorite five! Or who knows? They could be yours, too. Each year, at the beginning of December, Hagerty delivers an early Christmas present to the automotive community in the form of the annual Bull Market list. These predictions draw upon the brain trust that helps Hagerty accurately peg collector car valuations, using key statistics that range from insurance quote requests to the age of potential owners and even how many cars leave the country each year—all with the goal of selecting ten vehicles that seem set for a rise in value in the coming 12 months.

A word with Hagerty before we begin…

After perusing the list, I spoke with the Bull Market concept’s progenitor, Hagerty VP of Content Larry Webster, to suss out whether his impressions of the cars matched my own. But first, he cautioned me that nobody should just pick one of the cars at random and expect to make money hand over fist.

“We publish this data just to say we do have a sense that there’s some knowledge and some expertise here,” Webster said. “But you know, this is not to replace your 401(k), it’s just to show how cheap owning and enjoying one of these cars could be. That is the goal, first and foremost, is to really help people feel comfortable about investing a significant amount of money in a classic car.”

2023 Radwood SoCal
Image credit: Michael Van Runkle

In total, Webster estimates that over seven years of Bull Market prophecies, about 90% of cars have earned value since appearing on the lists. But as always, the old investing caveat that past success does not guarantee future performance comes into play. Actually, compiling this new list required a bit more effort than over the past handful of iterations since recent boom times (pandemic-related or not) seem to be nearing an end. 

“It’s definitely a buyer’s market at the end of 2023,” Webster said. “The past few years, taking a guess, you were likely to be right that the car would go up in value, especially as you factor in inflation. So now, the hardest part for us is making sure we have a good cross-section of cars. And that means not only price, but also era.”

For collectors and enthusiasts alike, our five faves may one day spike in value. But at the very least, anyone who decides to take a leap of faith can hope to potentially break even over the course of ownership, maybe with a little luck thrown in for good measure.

2023 Radwood SoCal
Image credit: Michael Van Runkle

This year’s Bull Market list ran the gamut from boomer backup options to oft-maligned 21st-century masterpieces. Here at Acceleramota, our predilections certainly lean towards the latter, so our favorite five cars mostly hailed from the late ‘90s and early 2000s: the Plymouth Prowler, Jaguar XKR, E92 BMW M3, Mitsubishi Pajero Evolution, and Jeep CJ-8 Scrambler. 

(Editor’s note: The added insight and provided photography wouldn’t be possible without the amazing people behind Hagerty. A million thanks to Larry Webster for chattin’ it up with Michael, and a million more to photographers Cameron Neveu and James Lipman. Don’t worry. We promise we’ll never stop driving.)

1997-2002 Plymouth Prowler

Of course, we need to start with the most controversial and unexpected inclusion on the 2024 roster: that unbelievable bit of retro nostalgia known as the Plymouth Prowler (later sold with Chrysler badging, in purest Chrysler fashion). No matter the nomenclature, though, nobody understood the Prowler when it debuted in 1997. Presumably, a bunch of Chrysler engineers came back from a bender with the goal of reviving hot-rod enthusiasm in Detroit, only to pitch the bean counters who then shot down any hopes of real fun.

The resulting parts-bin special lacked a V8 engine, instead using a 3.5-liter V6 paired with a four-speed automatic. Talk about missing the mark within a tiny, open-wheeled, fender-flared wedge body. A matching trailer even came optional from the factory to compensate for the lack of storage space, an indication that a lame powertrain and creature comforts simply couldn’t live up to what must have been a rip-roaring original concept. 

And yet, I recently rode in a Prowler and found myself surprised at the engine’s pep, the transmission’s aggressive shifting, and the overall fun of rolling around at axle height of modern SUVs and pickup trucks. Still, with other retro designs that include the Chevy SSR pickup truck, the PT Cruiser, and the HHR, the Prowler stands out as perhaps the boldest—and it could be argued that the retro craze it typified then helped to revive the Camaro, Mustang, Charger, and Challenger for the current modern muscle car era. Webster thinks Chrysler possibly jumped headlong into the historicity a little prematurely, way back when.

“I kind of wonder if that car was 20 years too early,” he mused, “You’re sort of aiming for this boomer audience that grew up with those hot rods… The idea of substitution is happening where, as the interesting cars go up in value, folks start to look around and say, ‘Hey, I’ve got 30 grand, not 60, what can I get and what’s fun and what’s interesting and what’s really uncommon?’ And the Prowler really fits that list.”

Whether enough Boomers decide to give up on their ‘32 Deuce dreams and buy a Prowler in 2024 seems dubious, personally, given the impressive range of current muscle cars on the market today. Then again, for pure entertainment’s sake, I sure hope to see more of these latter-day hot rods hitting the roads, and maybe Hagerty has provided just the nudge they need.

2000-2005 Jaguar XKR

Around the turn of the millennium, Jaguar also leaned into smooth retro-inspired styling to release the XK8 and its top-spec trim, the high-performance XKR. Both came in coupe and convertible form, helping to stoke a fire under Ford’s ownership that had dimmed into embers thanks to a series of bland touring sedans over the previous decades. The marketing push even included silver screen stardom—sort of, anyway—when Tim Allen drove an XK8 in the 1997 rom-com For Richer or Poorer. But the XKR’s powertrain, for the time, was definitely no joke.

Stepping up to the R added a 2.0-liter Eaton supercharger and dual intercoolers to the XK8’s 32-valve V8, bumping output up to 370 horsepower and 387 lb-ft of torque. Later years also included a step up to 4.2 liters and even a new ZF six-speed automatic. In my mind, the XK8’s clean lines always housed a rat’s nest of treacherous electrical gremlins, but Webster disagreed.

“A lot of people bought ’em and parked them, so they didn’t drive ’em,” he said, to the surprise of nobody. “And that was almost over a decade after Ford bought Jaguar, so I know there’s still a lot of jokes, and maybe that XKR is not as reliable as an Accord, but that Jaguar is just a lot of car for the money. You get a powerful, stylish, very comfortable convertible with a top that works. And the coupes are gorgeous.”

Having never even sat in an XK8 or XKR, I wondered whether Jaguar’s boat-like driving dynamics carried over to the new era under Ford. Hagerty’s team each year drives all the Bull Market cars, so I figured Webster might know first-hand. Sure enough.

“The XKR versions are surprisingly sporty,” he explained. “I know what you mean. Just a regular XK was exactly like you’re talking about. But when you went to the R version, they’re crisp, very responsive, and very capable sports cars that nobody thinks of in that way.”

At around $20,000 or so, Jag’s combination of design and power sounds moderately respectable, even if a curb weight of 3,700 pounds makes me doubt any true canyon carving capabilities. But with zero personal knowledge backing up that impression, I can only hope that this Bull Market entry can fly under the radar enough to help the potential purchase price stay low enough for the right buyer.

2008-2013 BMW M3

Probably the least surprising car on the 2024 Bull Market list also sits at the top of the performance spectrum: BMW’s E9X-generation M3. On second thought, though, the fact that anyone might have called the E92 M3 something of a sleeper seems doubly surprising. Doesn’t everyone already know about this car?

For enthusiasts in general and BMW fans in particular, this M3 stands apart from the pack as the only generation with a V8 engine, which received individual throttle bodies helping produce a screaming redline of 8,400 RPM. Sure, the curb weights started creeping up once BMW ditched the naturally aspirated inline-sixes of the E36 and E46 generations—and, critically, before turbochargers entered the conversation—but at least in coupe form, an E92 still weighed between 3,500 and 3,600 pounds.

That high-flying 4.0-liter S65 V8 also put down 414 horsepower. Don’t forget a six-speed stick shift. And, again, talking in strictly coupe form, it is quite possibly the last clean profile in BMW’s illustrious, then incomprehensible design history. But again, everyone knows all this, right?

“I did hear someone say we may have been maybe a year or two late on that E92,” Webster admitted. “A lot of what the Bull Market does, especially with newer cars, it just tracks when the depreciation curve bottoms out.”

High-mileage E9X M3s have long hovered above $30,000. And Hagerty believes excellent condition cars already sit higher than $40,000. I find an M3 trading hands for the same money as a 996 Porsche 911 Turbo completely insane, so the prospect of serious appreciation and profits here seems minimal—but for a driver’s car with the rod bearing job already done, maybe anyone who buys an E92 M3 can manage to at least avoid dropping too much cash throughout their ownership since it will inevitably drip coolant all over the driveway on a regular basis.

1997-1999 Mitsubishi Pajero Evolution

This year’s Bull Market list included one car never sold in America originally, something that Webster and his team typically try to avoid when possible. But nobody can resist the infection that already plagued me years ago, and it’s at this point that I must admit I already own a Mitsubishi Pajero Evolution. So, take everything from here on with a grain of salt, even as I attempt to do my utmost journalistic responsibility and present the greatest car ever made in a fair and balanced light.

The PajEvo, as those of us in the know call it, is obviously the star of the show. It’s also likely the second-rarest on this list, other than the Lamborghini Countach 25th Anniversary, with a total production run estimated at only around 2,500 units. And the Mitsu’s fender flares entirely outshine the Lambo’s since only one of the two cars can claim legit rally provenance as a true homologation special. Webster’s main reason to perhaps slash the Pajero Evolution from this year’s list came down to availability. 

“Last year, the valuation team had this Nissan Pulsar,” he revealed, “A JDM, really cool hot hatch. And I rejected it because I said, ‘Look, people have to be able to buy these things. If there’s five of ’em in the country, of course, they’re going to be worth more.’ And then when this one came up, I gave ’em the same argument, was very against it. But they convinced me that there were enough around that there actually is a market. You could buy one.”

Knowing a fellow Montero owner on the valuation team, I assured Webster of the relative availability. There’s even a nice one for sale in Downtown LA right now! In fact, once past the 25-year rule, a wave of PajEvos immediately hit auction sites and online listings, so my cohorts and I believe about 60-70 examples have already landed, with more on the way. But values definitely peaked early, then hit a bit of a trough—from which I keep waiting for this Evo to climb out.

As the winningest Paris-Dakar Rally car of all time, with hilarious Batman-meets-Gundam angles, a 3.5-liter MIVEC V6 engine with port injection tuned to “276 horsepower” during the Gentleman’s Agreement years, and a wheelbase about as short as an Escort Cosworth, this Pajero leaves all kinds of third-world truckiness behind. It’s fast! It’s a billy goat off-road! And it’s comfortable, with unique Recaro seats, too.

Of course, finding the boatload of parts unique to the Evo presents a challenge, and I do worry about ripping around on dirt trails—not enough to stop me, though. My main fear driving the PajEvo? That value will climb enough that I simply have to cash in and lock in my potential profits. So yeah, thanks, Hagerty.

1981-1986 Jeep CJ-8 Scrambler

For the most knowledgeable JDM collectors who do covet a Pajero Evolution and who have the money to buy a pristine example, any real off-roading will probably never take place. But anyone who wants a classic 4×4 to wheel with confidence can take a look at another of this year’s Bull Market inclusions, the Jeep CJ-8 Scrambler. Something of a predecessor to the modern Jeep Gladiator pickup, the Scrambler similarly tacked a small truck bed onto the back to mix off-road capability with work duties and daily utility. 

The Scrambler can easily match or eclipse the quintessential Americana of two other classic Detroit icons on Hagerty’s list, the Chevy Impala SS or Chrysler Town & Country (not the boxy minivan, though, which I’d love to see make an appearance someday). Surely, the pandemic-inspired off-roading boom helped Hagerty pick this Jeep, right?

“We’re just seeing so much more interest in vintage SUVs,” Webster said. “And you know, the funny thing is, you could count on your hand the number of off-roading vehicles built in the seventies and eighties. Scouts, CJs, Broncos, the early Blazers, and you’re done.”

Scouts and Broncos have already hit the moon, with the K5 Blazer well past low Earth orbit, too. But then I mentioned that I’m currently shopping for a Mitsubishi Mighty Max to haul around motorcycles—yes, I am aware that nobody can help me—and maybe a Scrambler might be a  perfect option, too. Webster laughed.

“You’re too young for this, but that truck had a really cool ad campaign, which I think does a lot for its value later on,” he recalled. “They had the Jeep Scrambler, the pickup version, with a couple of dirt bikes in the back, and that was the photo in their print ads. So my generation gets to that age where they have some disposable income, they’re going to look for something like that.”

In comparison to the Pajero Evo, finding parts and registering a Scrambler both sound much more reasonable. And much lower values currently for funky examples make a project truck turn into an overlander, a whole different can of worms, too. But if a Gladiator sounds too passé, maybe a CJ-8 Scrambler can more squarely nail the combination of classic style, four-wheeling fun, and daily driver, all with the hopes that dropping a chunk of change into a Jeep pickup won’t result in the same kind of immediate depreciation as buying a new truck. And that’s the whole point of Hagerty’s Bull Market list, after all. So jump in headlong while you can.

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2023 Radwood SoCal

The Raddening Strikes Back: Everyone needs to see Radwood SoCal and its celebration of retro car culture

The automotive phenomenon known as Radwood SoCal returns for another meetup celebrating retro cars and culture from the 1980s and ‘90s. Many of the enthusiasts passionate about all things beige and boxy, turbo’d and neon, might have loved the long-overlooked misfits that find a home at Radwood. But since the first iteration way back in 2017, the collectible car market’s upward swing in values attracted enough attention that Hagerty, the insurance company turned lifestyle brand, decided to spend big money and bring Radwood under its overarching umbrella.

Somehow, the timing never worked out for me to actually visit a Rad gathering previously, so I drove down to the Port of Los Angeles that played host to this year’s event, very curious to see how the enthusiast community might embrace a by-now established event under relatively recent corporate governance. But I also looked forward to partaking in the so-called “Rad Rally” afterward led by former Porsche driver Patrick Long, since the joys of park-and-show meets tend to fade in comparison to actually driving—and watching others drive—what I’ve always called some of the coolest cars on the road.

2023 Radwood SoCal
Image credit: Michael Van Runkle

Wake up for load-in

My Radwood started early, with a cruise down to Long Beach in my Mitsubishi Pajero Evolution, as the sun just started brightening. There was only a short wait to show credentials, mostly for a couple of toy haulers loaded to the brim with immaculate Benzes by CMS Motorsports and Restoration, and I pointed the PajEvo into a nice spot at the back of the “Royalty” section. Through roll-up doors, I heard the port canals splashing occasionally on pillars holding up the docks—at least when the burbling exhaust echoing throughout the building began to tone down.

The large parking lots surrounding the Royalty warehouse opened up for standard-ticket show cars half an hour later. Bright contrasting light glinted off the angular forms of Toyota Tacomas, crested the rolled fenders of a handful of BMW 3-Series, and glared off the stainless body panels of a cozy-looking DeLorean. All the while, drivers got out to fist-bump friends decked out in the brightest outfits anyone could get their hands on.

The homologation specials

I parked the Evo at the very far end of the show, where organizers waving flags assured me it would best attract spectators through to the rear of the massive building. A friend in his Escort Cosworth parked nose-to-nose, just below hilariously accurate tagging that read “You’re on thin ice” in a messy scrawled font. Two homologation specials to round out the Radtasticness, without a doubt, the two best cars in attendance (in my entirely unbiased opinion).

Figuring I might find a few other homologation specials to test my ‘80s and ‘90s nerdiness, I started wandering—the true art form of any automotive journalist. The first car that popped out from the crowd ended up being a 1981 Toyota Starlet, obviously refinished in bright blue, a BEAMS 3S-GE motor bedecked with independent throttle bodies nestled into the engine bay and fun custom mirrors matching a shift knob, all built by Mr Grip. The little hatch puts down 200 horsepower to the rear wheels and weighs only 1,800 pounds, making the nickname Starlet Johansson about as apropos as possible. Even if not a true homologation special, the Starlet stood out for me after I saw a stripped and caged example racing in the Olympus Rally early this year.

2023 Radwood SoCal
Image credit: Michael Van Runkle

By the time I meandered outside, where the harsh sun had created dark shadows that made my holographic eyeball sunglasses almost blindfolds, the lines for food trucks had already looked far too long. I figured I might swing by for coffee and maybe a donut after the rush died down. 

Guess again! I chatted with a few friends, checked in with Hagerty reps, and kept strolling. But when the general public gates opened at 10:15 am, the prospect of brunch started to fade. Good thing I always bring snacks.

Rounding a corner built out of shipping containers—again, about as apropos as possible for the scene—I stumbled onto a row of motorcycles. Having recently gotten my M1 endorsement, I stopped to take a closer look at these primitive pieces of rolling stock while remembering advice from many riding friends to always buy old cars and new bikes. Point taken, as proven by ratty exposed hosing, nearly hidden carburetors, kick-starts, and minimalist gauges galore. Sign me up for fuel injection and electronic starter motors, I thought. Then again… How about a 1976 Honda CB750K cafe racer? Not quite officially Rad, but I guess rules are meant to be broken.

Back inside the warehouse to shoot the growing crowds from elevation, I bumped into a “Baja Monkey” motorcycle build looking absolutely sick, brah, with a titanium exhaust and full suspension bolted onto the tiny frame. Right next to a scooter finished in art deco graphics over two-tone white. Totally on board, without a doubt.

2023 Radwood SoCal
Image credit: Michael Van Runkle

Another Pajero Evo joined the throng by now, in matching silver but with yellow mudflaps held up by straps to prevent problems in the sand, also known as quintessential Dakar style. And a Galant VR-4 with an absolutely awful white respray and hilarious roof rack also caught my eye. Okay, fine, I’ll stop talking about Mitsubishis. I also saw a sweet, bright red Dodge Conquest… Wait, nevermind.

Staying on target

Even if snapping pics made up most of my official “job” at Radwood, I also got an offer from Hagerty to take a Maserati Shamal out for a spin. Yes sir, where do I sign? Sure enough, right at the entrance awaited a slightly darker-black Shamal than I imagined, with tinted windows and what looked like OEM five-spoke three-piece wheels. I feared the prospect of no air conditioning in the increasingly hot sunlight, so I figured I’d better get the hard work out of the way early. Either that or I just wanted to drive an absolute 1990s-style icon.

Inside, the Shamal sports plush leather seats closer to a lazy boy than most sports car seats, with an upwardly canted steering wheel that I couldn’t figure out how to move for the life of me. Eh, all good. Since the A/C worked, my feet reached the clutch pedal just fine. My head never got close to the ceiling. Less educated spectators probably thought they passed a Biturbo, but guess again suckers! The Shamal rocked a twin-turbo V8 all the way back in 1990! Throw in a Gandini exterior clearly reminiscent of Countaches, Panteras, and maybe a few Alfas. Now add a real roll bar integrated into the roof, a gated shifter for the six-speed shared with BMW’s 850CSi, and adaptive suspension from Koni. 

2023 Radwood SoCal
Image credit: Michael Van Runkle

Let me tell you, the little thing rips. I wanted to let the engine get warm before throwing in too much boost, but the turbos started spooling up around 2,500 RPM, and by 3,000, I heard all kinds of good noises, rollicking forward on a surprisingly tight chassis as the shove began pushing me back into those soft seats. With a punch of the pleasingly firm clutch pedal, slap the shifter over through another gate and give the throttle more goose. 

On a couple of tighter turns, I even felt (or imagined I felt) the suspension working to keep this moderately light grand tourer, with a lower-than-expected curb weight of just 3,184 pounds, planted and confident. Maybe the heavy steering contributed to the sensation, but then I unwound and creeped up higher toward redline with the engine temps rising. Such a good thing, this Shamal. And apparently, despite a production total of only 369, it’s somewhat affordable, according to my Hagerty guy. Or at least affordable for millionaires. Not so much compared to most of the other good stuff at Radwood.

2023 Radwood SoCal
Image credit: Michael Van Runkle

Back to the Radwood show at hand

All good things must pass, including the 1990s turning into a horrid new millennium and my brief time with the Maserati Shamal. But I needed to get back to Radwood ASAP and find some snacks before I got hangry. By now, the sun just baked the parking lot, and almost everybody had made the wise choice to huddle inside the Royalty warehouse. On the second pass, I spotted some fun Porsches, a perfectly specced E34 BMW M5, and the undeniable king of the show that I had somehow missed the first time around.

Yes, you guessed it. An Isuzu Impulse RS. You know the one with Handling by Lotus? That turbo-four, manual trans, and all-wheel drive pocket rocket with cloth seats, hilarious gauges, and space shuttle-era switchgear? I’ll admit that maybe only seven people I spoke with shared my excitement about the little Impulse, but I knew all about this car because I follow the owner, Paul Kramer of AutoKennel, religiously on Instagram. Talk about serious royalty.

Then I dipped back outside to brave the scorching heat once more to check on the food truck lines, but another lap seemed important. Beetlejuice chilled next to his matching Autozam AZ-1, the Toyota tax on display with some built four-wheelers and BMWs from proud piles to concours perfection in the same line. Nothing’s more 1980s or 90s than a sunburn and Pit Vipers, I figured, but the setting began to make even more sense to me all of a sudden. After all, most of the imports here probably passed through the Port of LA on their journey to the United States from Japan, Europe, or beyond.

Accessorize, accesorize, accesorize!

One of the fun sides of car collecting that Radwood emphasizes, if most concours d’elegances scorn, is the glories of accessorizing with pure ‘80s and ‘90s trash. Car phones here, cassette tapes there, and a period-perfect Air Jordan jacket. One guy even towed in a boat complete with ancient water skis, a BMX bike, the de rigeuer boombox, and beach chairs. So lit, so fun! But awards from other car shows also dotted the crowd, along with original window stickers, explanations of rarity (read: documented Radness), and even a lei or two. 

Despite my clear inclinations to award the PajEvo (mine or my friend’s, honestly) as Raddest in Show, or at least the Impulse RS, the official panel of judges semi-officiously handed out a series of trophies at the end of the day that entirely overlooked my personal preferences and predilections. Heresy! The top award was a one-of-12 Rinspeed Porsche “969” finished in crispy white metallic. At the very least, a Renault 5 Turbo 1 that I spent some serious time lusting over took Raddest Import. And luckily for me, the Renault ended up on the Rad Rally as well.

The Rad Rally itself

By 3:30 pm, I felt baked, parched, hungry, and ornery. My PajEvo needed gas before any real rally might begin, so I tried to beg off early, but alas, to no avail. What else to do but chat up Patrick Long, former Porsche factory racer, current brand ambassador, real-life Hot Wheels car builder, and one of the brains behind the air-cooled Porsche gathering, Luftgekühlt? I figured Long might look forward to doing some actual driving just as much as I, a matching duo of jaded (read: spoiled) automotive aficionados such as ourselves. His own impressions sounded slightly cheerier—maybe he’d had lunch.

“I love the part of load-out because everybody’s had a great day, they’re stoked, they’ve made new connections,” Long told me, “You get to hear the cars, you get to smell the cars. That is fun.”

And what might the heretofore mysterious Rad Rally have in store for us, Mister Long?

“I don’t know what tonight’s gonna hold,” he admitted mysteriously. “It’ll be fun when we get on the 110 and head north. Maybe we’ll go over Palos Verdes.”

In a baffling turn of events, the eventual route ended up starting in Santa Monica, akin to the Lamborghini Bull Run Rally I had just attended. So first, every Rad Rally participant needed to battle 45 minutes of holiday traffic to meet at a coffee shop where, more bafflingly, we were not given time to grab coffee. On a tight schedule to catch some sunset shots in Malibu, we regrouped and jumped on the 10 West, then hit gobs of PCH traffic that split the group almost immediately. By the time we turned up Las Flores Canyon, I waited about seven minutes for everyone else to catch up (home-field advantage matters, it turns out) and then followed three Porsches and the Cossie in my body-on-frame homologation race car, er, truck. 

Sound like a showdown is coming? Not so much, since a minivan with photographers harnessed into the trunk led the pack. We wound our way up Las Flores and up past the summit onto Piuma, where the last rays of sunlight provided a picturesque backdrop for oodles more, you guessed it, photo ops. Once the stars began to poke through that violet sky, we turned on our headlights before ripping back down to the PCH in just about the seven minutes of real driving I experienced that day. Long had warned me:

2023 Radwood SoCal
Image credit: Michael Van Runkle

“I never push that hard in the canyons. Rule number one is to stay within your lane and not cross a yellow. So I’ll push as hard as it lets me to that point, keeping an eye on gauges and rattlesnakes crossing the road.”

But he snuck out of the overlook well ahead of me, so I enjoyed a chance to chase the pro down. Of course, in his “Dirtmeister” 944 on Pirelli Scorpion knobbies, he stood no chance against the sheer might of the winningest Dakar race vehicle of all time, itself on oversized Yokohama knobbies and with an absolute amateur behind the wheel. Suffice it to say, the Cossie and Renault simply couldn’t keep up, which I once again attribute to homefield advantage.

2023 Radwood SoCal
Image credit: Michael Van Runkle

The sun sets over Radwood SoCal

Back in stop-and-go traffic on the PCH, I let the Renault slip in front of me to appreciate those squared-off haunches and the growling exhaust note, but the wait also gave me a chance to reminisce on my first Radwood experience. Call it my first Raddening. It’s hard to go wrong visiting with friends and checking out my favorite era of cars—guess that makes me a millennial with disposable income (guess again, to all my aspiring journalists out there). The setting and scene came out perfectly, with the cars and culture of the era on full display. 

2023 Radwood SoCal
Image credit: Michael Van Runkle

Radwood undoubtedly takes the dubious fun of average Cars and Coffees, Concours judgings, and any other park-and-show meets to the next level. I definitely enjoyed the day, and with just a bit more planning for foodstuff and more avoidance of traffic on the rally, all would truly be Rad in the world once more.

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