1962, Japan: Mitsubishi introduced consumers in that country to the first car of a series it called Kei Cars. Basically the name referred to lightweight micro cars, with very little power but street legal on all Japanese roads. Most importantly, they were inexpensive and thus accessible to masses of consumers.
It was at this juncture in time that Mitsubishi, as we know it today, took shape and took flight. The company, the origins of which stretched back to 1917, had experienced its share of ups and downs in the years leading up to World War Two. After the war, it had also been parceled up into several divisions by the Allied command. It wasn’t until 1964 that Mitsubishi Motors officially came into being.
At the same time, the Japanese economy was quickly regaining its strength, making the acquisition of affordable cars possible for a population that was looking for greater freedom. The Minica pointed its little snout at just the right time.
From the 360...
The model was in fact based on a pickup truck born the year before, called the 360. A devoutly minimalist car, the Minica was equipped with a 2-stroke, 2-cylinder air-cooled 359cc engine, which managed a mind-blowing output of… 17 hp. It was rear-wheel drive, and the suspension was, how should we put it, simple, with its single rigid beam in the rear and blades both in front and in back.
You can imagine pretty rudimentary driving dynamics and just as modest capabilities, but since the car weighed all of 1,000 lbs soaking wet, people got by with it just the same.
As for the configuration of the Minica’s body, it’s funny to note that the doors opened from the front in order to make getting in and out of thing easier.
The Mitsubishi Minica remained essentially unchanged until 1969, when the second generation made its debut. Incredibly, it would remain on the market until 2011, when the model was finally replaced by a model in the eK series – a logical followup to the Kei Car series.
As for the Minica, no use looking for a copy in North America – it was never sold here. If you do manage to find one, though, you can bet it carries a rich history, including a trans-oceanic boat trip to get here!