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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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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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