Did You Know Mitsubishi Made an Old-School Willys Jeep Until 1998?

They built around 200,000 of the off-roaders under license.

byVictoria Scott|
History photo

Few vehicles in history have had such a profound impact on the world as the humble Willys Jeep. The original military-commissioned Willys MB, launched in 1941 with a microscopic 84-inch wheelbase and 4WD, was the perfect formula to cross the globe during World War II. War correspondent Ernie Pyle, once wrote "Good Lord, I don't think we could continue the war without the Jeep. It does everything. It goes everywhere." It came as no surprise, then, that the post-war civilian CJ model was also popular, with the consumer version selling over 1.5 million units before it was discontinued in 1985 by Jeep's then-owner, AMC. 

What does come as a surprise, though, is that Mitsubishi also made the Jeep CJ, and right now, you can buy one

From a glance at the Northeast Auto Imports listing, it appears to be a normal CJ-3 Jeep—after all, it has "Jeep" stamped right into the sheet metal on the front quarter panel. But look closely and you'll spot a few clues about its true identity. For one, it's right-hand drive and bears a faintly visible Mitsubishi badge stamped over the iconic bar grille; for another, more obvious hint, instead of a Willys Hurricane inline-four, under the hood is a 78-horsepower Mitsubishi 4DR5 diesel engine. That 2.6-liter inline-four is mated to a four-on-the-tree manual that drives all four wheels, in true Jeep fashion. This specific example was built in 1977 as the Jeep J3, nearly a full decade after the stateside CJ-3 was discontinued.

Even more surprisingly, though, was that Mitsubishi started production of the J3 in 1953 and did not stop building Jeeps until 1998. That's right, in 1998 you could buy a brand-new CJ-3 Willys Jeep, functionally identical to ones that served in the Korean War, except powered by a Mitsubishi diesel motor. Over nearly a half-century of production, Mitsubishi sold 200,000 Jeeps in some form or fashion; not only was the soft-top, short-wheelbase version currently for sale by Northeast Auto Imports available, but there were also long-wheelbase versions, hardtops, and four-doors, sold with both gasoline and diesel power plants. 

Four-door hardtop Mitsubishi Jeep, By Tennen-Gas - CC BY-SA 3.0

I've always wanted a classic Jeep; while the modern Wrangler has plenty of off-road prowess, it still doesn't change the fact the shortest version on sale in 2022 is still a full 16 inches longer in wheelbase than an old Willys CJ-3. Throw in a stout Japanese diesel motor, something I'm already completely sold on because I own one with more-than-satisfactory results, and I'm absolutely in.

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