Mitsubishi marks centennial with resto-mod 1917 Model A

Larry Edsall
Special to The Detroit News

Resto-mods have become very popular with classic car owners, especially those who want to enjoy not just looking at their cars, but actually drive them.

So what they do is to keep the car’s exterior as close as possible to the way it looked when it rolled off an assembly line. But beneath that exterior, they bolt in modern powertrains, brakes and suspension systems to make the cars comfortable cruisers. In fact, in some cases, they start with a completely new and modern chassis.

In 2017, Mitsubishi celebrates the centennial of its car-building history by taking the resto-mod effort to the extreme. Mitsubishi Motors North America will work with West Coast Customs to re-create the first Mitsubishi automobile. It will mount new Model A bodywork on the platform of its most used technologically advanced vehicle: the Outlander Plug-In Hybrid Electric.

Mitsubishi goes back to 1870 with the launch of the Tsukomo-Shokai shipping company. The company was renamed three years later as Mitsubishi-Shokai. Mitsubishi is the Japanese word for “three diamonds,” which ever since has been the company symbol and the emblem carried by its cars.

Mitsubishi built its first automobile in 1917, the four-cylinder Model A. It was based on the Fiat Tipo 3 and used all Japan-produced parts, according to the Beaulieu Encyclopedia of the Automobile.

“About 20 of these cars, known as the Mitsubishi A, were built up to 1921, but competition from cheaper cars imported from America made the project uneconomic,” the encyclopedia’s authors said in an ironic note.

Mitsubishi got back in the game in 1930 as a truck producer. After World War II, Mitsubishi built Kaiser Henry J’s and Jeeps under license, and in 1959 re-entered the marketplace with its own designs, some of which were sold in the U.S. by Dodge and Plymouth.

It wasn’t until the 1983 model year that Mitsubishi established its own U.S. distribution network, offering the Cordia hatchback, Tredia sedan, turbocharged Starion coupe, Mighty Max pickup and Montero sport utility.

“The Mitsubishi Model A is the vehicle that paved the way for many other unique and exciting models over the years,” said Mitsubishi North American’s marketing director, Francine Harsini, “and we’re excited to re-design it with West Coast Customs. The Mitsubishi Model A will feature all the distinctive aspects of the 1917 vehicle, but will be built on the PHEV platform and offer the latest in automotive technology.”

Mitsubishi’s PHEV technology features a 2.0-liter gasoline engine, two electric motors and S-AWC — the Super All-Wheel Control system.

Ryan Friedlinghaus, founder and chief executive of West Coast Customs, which has facilities in Burbank, California, said, “It is an incredibly exciting opportunity to be able to integrate the history of the original Mitsubishi Model A with the technology of current-day Mitsubishi vehicles to recreate the Mitsubishi Model A.”

The build will be featured in an episode of the Velocity network’s “Inside West Coast Customs” television program and at is scheduled for its public debut at the 2017 Los Angeles auto show this fall.

Afterward, it will be featured a various automotive events as part of the company’s centennial.

Larry Edsall is a Phoenix-based freelance writer. You can reach him at