Dodge’s Dead Import Trucks (Part III)

In a captive import business that began in 1979, Dodge sold Mitsubishi’s compact pickup (aka Mighty Max in North America) to compete with models like the Ford (Mazda) Courier and Chevrolet (Isuzu) LUV . Named the Ram 50, the truck was sold over two generations, 1979-1986 and 1987-1994. By the 90s, the second generation was showing its age, and Dodge decided to focus instead on its own midsize truck, the Dakota.

But there was another captive import that arrived alongside the second edition Ram 50. Say hello to the Raider.

In the early to mid-1980s, the truck-based compact SUV was just making its debut. Think of the Chevrolet S-10 Blazer (1983), Bronco II (1984), XJ Cherokee (1984) and Toyota 4Runner (1984). Grab a truck, add a back seat and close off the cargo area, and maybe another set of doors. Boom! You now have an SUV with much larger profit margins than a simple pickup, thanks to an American clientele eager to be perceived as exciting and cool.

At the start of the class around 1983, Chrysler offered exactly one SUV: the two-door full-size Ramcharger. Originally launched in 1974, the Ramcharger was updated to a second generation for 1982. The lineup was consolidated that year, as customers proved (again) that they weren’t interested in a Plymouth-branded truck: Plymouth offered the Trail Duster version of the Ramcharger from 1974 through 1981. The TD’s later years were shared with the poison lot that was the Arrow, the Plymouth version of the Dodge D-50.

Keep in mind that the new Ramcharger was more of a refresh than an all-new model. Like every other full-size pickup at Dodge, the new Ramcharger used the same platform as the old one: Chrysler’s AD that debuted in 1972 on the D-Series. Obviously, that wouldn’t work for a compact offer. The Dakota should morphed into the Durango around 1987, but Chrysler decided against it. The answer to compact SUVs lies with Mitsubishi.

And not just any old Mitsubishi, but the legendary Pajero (RIP 2021), which you would know as Montero. The Montero was a new offering from Mitsubishi in 1982, having made its fall debut at the 1981 Tokyo Motor Show. The SUV gained almost immediate off-road pedigree when it finished third in the grueling Paris-Dakar rally in 1984. It should be noted that the truck used in the race was a slightly modified version of the production Pajero.

The Montero was Mitsubishi’s first in-house SUV and replaced the licence-built Mitsubishi Jeep Delivery Wagon. This was the final nomenclature for the Jeep CJ and marked the conclusion of an agreement that dated back to 1953. Around this time, Jeep was first introduced to Japan when Willys allowed Mitsubishi to sell its goods there in competition with companies like the Toyota Land Cruiser and the Nissan Patrol. Mitsubishi would reduce its Jeep production after the debut of the Montero, although said production continued until 1998.

The initial form of Montero was the three-door, short-wheelbase version, which could be fitted with a canvas or metal roof. Mitsubishi aimed for technology and sophistication in its new SUV, unlike the agricultural nature of the Jeeps it was so used to building. The truck was released with a selection of turbodiesel engines and had standard power steering and double wishbone suspension up front.

Unlike much of the domestic or other competition, all Pajeros had four-wheel drive; there was never a 2WD trim. Most early examples paired the engine with a five-speed manual transmission, but an Aisin four-speed automatic was also available.

It was always intended that the Montero would become a mid-size model, which was achieved via the introduction of the five-door long-wheelbase version in early 1983. With a wheelbase one foot longer than the shorty model , the five-door was a true mid-size SUV. The three-door’s wheelbase was 92.5 inches, while the five-door’s was 106.1 inches. The three-door’s overall length was 157.3 inches, while its bigger sibling was 183.1 inches. The five-door was half an inch wider than the three-door, at 66.6 inches overall. The five-door was taller, too, at 74.4 inches versus the three-door’s 72.8.

Of absolute importance was Mitsubishi’s correct assessment that buyers would want a third row in a midsize SUV. The five-door version had seven seats when equipped with a folding third row. Montero has beaten many manufacturers to market with this option, and today selling a midsize SUV or crossover without a third row is a bit of a splurge.

From a stylistic point of view, the first Montero consisted of two boxes on wheels: a box for the engine and a box for the passenger compartment. The looks were the logical shapes that everyone expected from a utility vehicle at the time. There were two round headlights in front, separated by an egg crate-shaped grille. Bumpers were chrome with black rubber caps. There weren’t many details on the body apart from a power bulge hood, a simple character line that ran horizontally and captured the door handles, and a strip of trim on the lower half of the body.

The Montero’s interiors reflected the practical utilitarian spirit, with their boxy shapes finished in basic materials. The gauges were simple, complete, and finished with orange lettering on a black background. The passenger side of the dash was dominated by a large grab handle and not much else. It should be noted that the materials and trim of the seats and dashboard have changed over the years, as the top of the line SUV has become an entity and Mitsubishi has reacted accordingly.

Late in the first generation, there were wood trim appliques, an optional huge sunroof, heated seats, leather upholstery and plenty of luxury options in the Exceed trim. Handling niceties like standard disc brakes and adjustable shock absorbers arrived in the mid-1980s. There were also additional roof options for the five-door, and in many markets Pajero had standard, semi- -tall and high-roofed. It all depended on how much leeway a client wanted for their various safari adventures.

Initially, all engines were of the inline four-cylinder type. They were naturally aspirated if gasoline powered, and naturally aspirated or turbocharged if diesel powered. Base power on the gasoline side was via the 2.0-liter 4G63 that we’ve seen several times before, also used in the Ram 50. The top gasoline engine was initially the 2.6-liter 4G54, also from the Ram 50. By the demands of the North American market, a V6 was finally introduced (1988+), the 3.0-liter 6G72 that most people hated in the Ram 50.

As for diesel engines, there was a naturally aspirated offering: the 2.3-litre 4D55 which was offered for a very short time in the Ford Ranger. Other diesel mills were turbocharged and included the 4D55T and 2.5 liter 4D56T (1986+). The 2.5 proved a popular engine internationally and was also picked up by Hyundai for use. Amazingly, the 4D56T is still in production today and is built by Mitsubishi in Kyoto and Hyundai in Ulsan.

Speaking of Hyundai, they loved the first generation Montero. Mitsubishi was ready with the second generation Montero for 1992, so when 1991 production ended, they sold the tooling to Hyundai. Hyundai immediately introduced the Galloper. The successful product of the South Korean brand, the Galloper finds many buyers in its domestic market and is even exported to Europe. It continued to be offered through 2003, when the 21-year-old platform was allowed to die. Back to Dodge.

In 1987 there was a new Ram 50, a new Dakota and the new Raider to satisfy Chrysler’s need for a compact SUV. The transition from Montero to Raider was simple from Dodge’s perspective. Dodge chose a new grille design, one of the horizontal slats instead of the Montero’s egg crate look. Finally, there was a badge that said “RAID” atop the grille, instead of the blocky Mitsubishi lettering used on the Montero’s hood.

Dodge sold the Raider only as a three-door model and left the five-door model to Mitsubishi dealerships. With an identical wheelbase and nearly the same exterior length, the five-door Montero was far too close in size to the Ramcharger to be sold alongside it. At 27 inches shorter than the Ramcharger, the Raider was no direct competitor.

Dodge presented the Raider as a well-equipped vehicle, with its standard four-wheel drive and a “big” 2.6-liter inline-four from the get-go. A year later the 3.0 V6 arrived and came with a proud V6 badge in the grille. Raiders were often seen with two-tone paint, pinstripe graphics, bull bars, side steps, and chrome wheels. The black and gold color scheme was particularly pleasing.

The competition Dodge called for the Raider included the XE version of the Pathfinder and the Toyota 4Runner. Raider was much cheaper than the two as new and was backed by Chrysler’s 3-year, 36,000-mile warranty.

It’s hard to find price data broken down by trim or engine on the Raider. What your author can suggest is a base MSRP of $12,830 ($30,459 adj.) in 1989. Assume a decent price jump for the 3.0-liter V6 and modest increases for any dealer-installed equipment such as tape strips or fog lights.

Although it was well equipped for the money, the appeal of a Dodge-branded Mitsubishi SUV was weaker than expected. You could say that when the five-door Montero became available, many Montero buyers went to their Mitsubishi dealer to buy it instead. Almost all compact SUVs of the mid-80s were quickly transformed into five-door versions, as Americans wanted more space and easier access to the rear seats. Three-doors quickly went out of fashion and by the mid-90s they had all but disappeared.

Chrysler responded appropriately to the slow sales and canceled the Raider after only three years on the market. It wasn’t replaced by anything in the lineup, and Dodge didn’t offer another compact SUV until the 2007 Nitro (what a weird thing that was). Chrysler kind of caught up with its SUV offerings for a while: the company went without a midsize SUV until the Durango was introduced in 1998 and never fielded a Tahoe/ Suburban until very recently with various Jeeps. The Raider was just a dot on the radar, largely forgotten. But we will always be remembered here at Rare Rides and Abandoned History.

[Images: Dodge, Mitsubishi]

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